America's Unofficial Ambassadors

We work at the grassroots level throughout the Muslim World to counter violent extremism before it takes hold, to promote tolerance and understanding, and to foster better relations with the United States.

Off to Tajikistan: Anabelle Suitor’s pre-departure thoughts.

AUA Anabelle Suitor will be teaching English at the Bactria Cultural Centre in Tajikistan!

The original post was written by Anabelle.

No one believes that I’m Muslim. I do seem like an ‘atypical Muslim’ to most. I’m white, I don’t wear hijab, my last relative that lived outside of America was my great-great grandfather, and he was a Jew from Russia. I am a Muslim though, and that certainly does not mean that I am not American. There are misconceptions held by both Muslims and non-Muslims living in or outside of America that the term ‘Muslim’ and ‘American’ are somehow mutually exclusive. Muslims are thought to look or act a certain way, while Americans look or act another way. There are those in segments of American society or those in segments of the Muslim community, that refuse to look beyond these misconceptions. There exists, in both societies, a fear of the other, born out of a simple misunderstanding of the other. This fear limits genuine and positive cultural interactions. By volunteering with America’s Unofficial Ambassadors and interacting with members of the Muslim community in Tajikistan and speaking to my community about those interactions, I believe I have the power to positively impact my community and the world.

I currently study international affairs. I came into this field expecting to find a community of students who genuinely wanted to increase understanding and cooperation with the Muslim world. However, I discovered that there was a stronger emphasis, amongst much of the elite in our field, not on understanding, but on securing American interests. When we discuss Central Asia, it’s always in terms of ‘our strategic interest’, how countries such as Tajikistan should cooperate with the United States to aid our war in Afghanistan.

Tajikistan, for me, is not relevant because of it’s relevance to the US. It is relevant to me, because of the history and culture of the people living there. Tajiks have been poets, writers, scientists, theologians, the creators of culture, but, when the Tajik state was made, the culture and society of the people were uprooted and reconfigured under Soviet lines. Major figures, al-Bukhari and al-Tirmizhi – two of the most famous Hadith collectors, Rumi – arguably the most famous Muslim literary figure in the Western world, have all been Tajiks. Tajik cities were at the center of the world. Persian poetry was written about the beauty of Samarkand. Muslims would travel from all over to study in the madrases of Bukhara.

However, these cities became part of Uzbekistan almost overnight. The religious heritage and customs of Tajikistan were suppressed. The Tajiks, having always been at the heart of the Islamic cultural heritage, were suddenly moved to the periphery of the Muslim world. Tajikistan was crafted by the Soviets to be a weak and unstable state. Civil war followed shortly after independence. A significant number of Tajik men, and some women, have had to leave their children and spouses to work in Russia. The inequalities left by the Soviets have even touched the unit of the household, leaving it too, in disarray. In a country where society, religion and even the history have been totally disrupted, it is a professional goal of mine to study the way in which Tajiks live and craft their own identity.

To do this, it’s necessary that I volunteer in Tajikistan. I am volunteering with America’s Unofficial Ambassadors because they have a very strong emphasis on giving back to the communities in which we become involved with. AUA aims to create lasting change. To create lasting global change, there must also be lasting domestic change. Whereas many other organizations aim to impact only the society abroad, AUA recognizes that there are problems in the society in which we live in. As an Unofficial Ambassador I will also work on fixing the problems of American society.

I will be serving at the Bactria Cultural Center, teaching English and helping arrange cultural activities. The knowledge of English is a valuable skill in a globalizing world. I was fortunate enough to gain a knowledge of English shortly after birth. It is worthy of lament that other languages – like Persian are deemed “less-relevant” to international organizations, when compared to the languages of the global hegemons of the recent past and the present. However, it is necessary that young Tajik individuals are able to participate in an international dialogue that has been often less accessible to those outside the West. I’ve heard stories of NGOs, unable to get funding because of a lack of knowledge of European languages. The language barrier prevents grassroots change in a flawed global system. I want to impart my English language skills on those who need it – so they can later engage with and reshape this global discourse.

I know life in Tajikistan is different in many aspects from life in the United States. There will be certain things that I will have to adjust to. I will certainly learn a lot, and I’m eager to learn as much as I can. I have studied the history and culture of Tajikistan. I know a lot about the country, but it’s something else entirely to experience the life, to witness the customs, and be engaged by the hospitality of the people. My Persian teacher always emphasizes that understanding the language is the most important step in understanding a culture. I have been learning the Persian language for two years. I have fallen in love with the phrases, the idiosyncrasies, the very sound of the language. I would be able to develop these language skills in Tajikistan while I help Tajiks develop their English language skills. I will aid in creating a cross-cultural dialogue amongst cultures by helping create a cross-cultural understanding by language.

As an American and a Muslim, I would love to contribute to a constructive dialogue and literature that could help diminish the misconceptions about the Muslim world. In Tajikistan, I want to be able to dispel any myths about Americans. I hope to be able to do this upon traveling to Tajikistan!

I’m including a picture of me with my closest friends, because I think this describes what I’ve done to prepare for Tajikistan, better than an image of what I’ve packed, what kind of shots I got or what I’ve bought could. We all went to go see a movie at a theatre together and it would be the last time we’d see each other until the end of the summer. To Tajikistan, I bring with me a warmth, compassion and friendship that I, as an America, hope to share with everyone.

Anabelle's photo

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