Sep 192004
Authors: Alicia Leonardi



Last Saturday I came face to face with Osama and realized that

traditional American education teaches us very little about the

rest of the world.

Instead of watching CNN or attending a memorial service for

America’s most famous terrorist attack, I spent my second Saturday

in Montreal doing what most college students do best – kicking back

and drinking.

The usual beer and buddies routine remains the same, but little

conservative Colorado can’t touch the huge variety of viewpoints

found here because of Canada’s less stringent immigration laws.

While sipping Labatt and making small talk, I met a computer

engineering graduate who had been in Monteal for the past three

years. Though he first introduced himself as Alex, after a bit of

conversation he smiled slightly and told me his real

name-Jihad-then introduced me to another Syrian friend of his,


Though I didn’t mean to, I must have flinched slightly upon

hearing their names because Jihad immediately asked me what

Americans think when they hear these words.

Honestly, I didn’t know how to respond. Having never been asked

such a direct question about such a taboo subject that was

obviously quite personal to these guys, I was pretty afraid of

saying the wrong thing.

I told him that I couldn’t speak for all Americans, but that I

never knew Jihad ever meant anything other than holy war and that

I’d never heard of anyone named Osama that wasn’t bin Laden.

Jihad said that my reaction was fairly common and his main

reason for using a nickname.

Osama, who had been Canada about three weeks, was considering

legally changing his name because he was having such a hard time

getting a student visa and work papers.

Though I consider myself socially aware and try to do my part to

combat injustice, in that moment I realized how clueless I really

was. I had no idea what it was like to be one of the thousands of

Arabs in North America who have to deal with racism every single


As our conversation continued, the guys told me that many people

have misconceptions about the Middle East. They said that thanks to

our media, many Americans tend to use the terms Arab and Muslim

interchangeably when they should not.

Arab nations are dictatorships in which most citizens practice

Islam, but not all Arabs are Muslim. Also, the religion of Islam

stretches far beyond the Middle East. In fact, the Asian island

nation of Indonesia boasts the world’s

largest Muslim population.

Though I knew that names like Mohammad, Moustafah and Ahmed are

common among Arabs, I did not know that these names had meaning

behind them.

Osama means lion and Jihad simply refers to a struggle.

Apparently, Jihad can be experienced over anything from homework to

childbirth to war.

We passed around a hookah of mint flavored tobbacco and I sat

back enjoying the cool Canadaian breeze and thanking my lucky stars

for the awesome opportunity that I was given to become more

culturally competent and more

complete as a person.

I had the good fortune to meet friends who helped me open my

eyes a bit wider and I encourage others to seek out similar

relationships. Education and empathy for our fellow humans are what

enable us to stand up and see the truth behind today’s fear-driven


Alicia Leonardi is a senior studying journalism and social work.

Her columns will run every other week in the Collegian. She is will

be studying abroad in Canada this fall.

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