Teri’s Notebook: Cyclist talks tours of Muslim world

Rick Gunn, who has ridden his bike across the world, reacted strongly to the news of President Trump’s executive order that puts a three-month hold on immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim nations.

“It made me viscerally ill,” he said. “I was sick to my stomach.”

But when I contacted him to talk to me for this column, he was hesitant.

“This subject is a lightning rod,” he said. “No matter what I say, someone is going to get upset.”

So instead of talking about the policy, I asked him to tell me about his experiences visiting Islamic countries.

He agreed.

“It does me no good to attack any person,” he said. “I have plenty of friends on both sides of the political spectrum, people I love and care about. I want what everybody else wants. I want safety, peace, security. I just happen to believe that doesn’t come about through a whole-scale banning of people from particular countries. It sends out the wrong message.”

Most recently, Gunn, a South Lake Tahoe writer and photographer, volunteered at Syrian refugee camps in Greece and Turkey.

“I sat in a room with eight Syrian men, leaders of the first camp,” Gunn said. “As the lone American, I was treated as I always was in all the Islamic countries I’ve been to, with the utmost hospitality and respect.”

He cycled solo 700 miles across Oman on the Saudi Arabian Peninsula and through hundreds of Muslim enclaves during his 2005-2008 bicycle trip around the globe.

“It’s utterly and absolutely different than the accounts I’ve seen on the news,” he said. “The news is flooded with violence, horror and misinformation. It doesn’t represent the average person on the street.

“I would also be afraid if I watched extremist Muslims beheading people. I’d be deeply afraid. At the same time, all they see innocent people being killed by drones, in a lot of different ways.

“At some point, it has to stop.”

And he’s not alone in that sentiment.

“Most of the Muslims I know hate ISIS,” he said. “I would love to see ISIS eradicated.

“Are there radical terrorists? Yes. Should we use force to eliminate them? Yes. Should we do that working with our allies in a way that’s reasonable? Yes.

“The one thing we can’t do is take one brush and paint the entire Islamic community in the same light. That’s called bigotry.”

Gunn gives presentations to audiences at home and abroad about his travels, including a Tedx Talk in Iran.

“If there’s one thing I’m trying to offset, it’s the stereotyping and dehumanizing of an entire group of people,” he said. “My job is to humanize people.”

Teri Vance is a journalist, freelance writer and native Nevadan. Contact her with column ideas at terivance@rocketmail.com.


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