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Essay: Fighting Fire With Peace: Martin Luther King Jr. & Amani Al-Khatahtbeh's Method of Defeating Oppression

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The world has never been completely peaceful. At times, conflicts erupt and people fight one another. There will be bloodshed and there will be wars. However, why do these conflicts happen? There is no single answer to this—humanity has always fought over something, whether it is something as small as who gets the next bowl of food or something as major as the Holocaust. Some have fought back violence with violence, while others choose to fight back in a peaceful manner; the latter of which does not add gasoline to the fire. Examples are Martin Luther King Jr., Ghandi, Malala, and many more. These leaders showed that one cannot fight fire with fire, as it will only leave more destruction in its wake. Instead, the best way to retaliate against violence is to fight back with peace, as shown in “Letter from Birmingham Jail” by Martin Luther King Jr. and Muslim Girl by Amani Al-Khatahtbeh.

In both works, the authors aim their messages for peace at their oppressors as well as to inform society. King begins his letter to the Clergymen from Birmingham Prison with establishing his ethos through credibility. and his knowledge on the subject of racial discrimination and injustice.  The letter starts off with “My Dear Fellow Clergymen”. Through starting this way, he does not place himself above his followers; rather, he is placing himself on the same “level” as the clergymen. This goes to show that he is neither above or below them in terms of standing. They are human, and so is King. The first audience at which the letter is aimed is specifically directed toward the clergymen, who claimed King’s actions as “unwise” and “untimely”, but the letter also appeals to all people in general. For example, King employs allusions to the Old Testament of the of the bible when speaking of the prophets of the eighth century B.C., to appeal to the rabbi that criticized King and other people of the Jewish faith. He also makes allusions to the New Testament when speaking of the Apostle Paul to appeal to the Bishops and Reverends that criticized King. This also appealed to all people of the Christian faith. Later on in the text, King also appeals to people of other faiths or no faith by stating that, “Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.” This, in turn, appeals to the American audience, especially immigrants. He acknowledges that like him, they are people too, and they are welcomed in the land of the free.

Al-Khatahtbeh’s story is directed toward all sorts of audiences as well. Her primary audience seems to be society itself, as she intends to inform them that it is unfair to judge the entirety of Muslim people based only on the actions of Al-Qaeda and its leader. Her secondary audience would be toward fellow Muslims as well as minority races. Through sharing her memories, experiences, dreams, tragedies—all that she has grown up with, she is opening up herself to anyone who reads her book. This can be used as encouragement to her reader(s), seeing as after everything she has gone through, she stands strong and has written her own book. She tells her story to empower them; she shows that despite coming from a harsh background, she stood strong and fought back against all odds. Her audience(s) may utilize this to motivate themselves in the same way. Her use of pure emotions establishes pathos with her audience—her ability to resonate with their own emotions evokes feelings of connectedness and may even appeal to their background, if they have gone through similar childhoods.

The events of September 11th, 2001 had shaken the world and torn the United States asunder. Thousands of lives were lost, monuments and buildings were destroyed, and despite knowing the identity of the perpetrator, an entire group of people was blamed. Society stared down the Muslims with hatred, fear, disgust. Ever since the twin tower attacks, many Muslims living in the United States have experienced phobia-fueled attacks, hate crimes, acts of terror against them, and many other forms of islamophobia. To this day, some of islamophobia still exists in every shape and form. Recently, one brave girl told her story in the form of a book: Muslim Girl by Amani Al-Khatahtbeh. Through several instances of rhetorical devices such as ethos, memoirs, and tone, she tells her story to show the audience see the world from her perspective, not how society portrays her. Instead of utilizing violent ways to persuade her audience, Al-Khatahtbeh does so in a much more sophisticated and peaceful manner.

After September 11th, the United States’ completely changed its view on those wearing headscarves. At just nine years old, Al-Khatahtbeh heard her first racial slur. At 11 years old, television was flooded with anti-Muslim speeches when the United States invaded Iraq. Despite September 11 being only one day in the history of America, it “never ended for [them]”, as Al-Khatahtbeh wrote. However, she utilized all her experiences to inspire her readers and aims to accomplish activism.  Al-Khatahtbeh created a website called MuslimGirl; she was the editior-in-chief. There, she worked to dispel the myth that a headscarf makes someone a walking target

for terrorism. In addition, she shared both her own personal accounts and anecdotes from the “sisterhood” of writers that serve as her editorial team at the website. Al-Khatahtbeh’s heartfelt, urgent message is a deeply necessary counterpoint to the current rhetoric about the Middle East. However, despite all that was happening, Al-Khatahtbeh did not resort to hurting others. In doing so, she did not spur another fight nor did she spark violence. She did not add fuel to the fire; rather, she worked to extinguish it.

Furthermore, King’s letter had shown to be successful in persuading this intended audience. It was seen that several weeks after its publication, Civil Rights Movement really begun to turn its wheels. King’s letter was written on April 16, 1963; only a year later, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 required that all local and state laws end the terrible act of segregation. His letter was clearly effective, seeing as just a year later segregation was coming to an end. Today, there are no laws requiring segregation in any area. King did not fight back the violence. He did, however, fight back with peace.

These two authors resided in different centuries—King in the 20th and Al-Khatahtbeh in the 21st. Both were facing acts of violence and unjust treatment of a certain group of people, and both knew they had to do something. Neither resorted to violence. They fought back through sophisticated manners with peace. In a world like today’s, fighting fire with fire can only result in something worse than how it started.

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