Most of us do not like to think of ourselves as bigots. We know of the horrendous damage done to so many people throughout the centuries because of bigotry. The Roman oppression of the Jews and Christians, the Inquisition, the Crusades, Slavery, the Holocaust, Ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and now Kosovo. Bloodbaths in Rwanda, the Ku Klux Klan, the list goes on and on.
Bigotry seems to be ubiquitous - always with irrational, cruel, tragic consequences for huge numbers of innocent people.
Bigotry raises its ugly head in many ways. It arises from unfamiliarity with - and, therefore, fear of - those who are different from us. (See, for instance, Pat Buchanan's characteristically racist column in the August 25, 1997 issue of The Enterprise, in which he laments that, as Americans, we are no longer a "people of a common heritage, history, language, faith, culture, customs and heroes," but that we are letting immigrants enter our nation who are shrinking "our European ethnic core.") Bigotry is also promoted by a sense that our nation or religion is the best one, or the only "true" one, and others who are not a part of it are mistaken, inferior and perhaps even an obstacle to the will of God. Finally, the flames of bigotry are stoked by much of our press and many of our politicians.
We each may think we rise above those influences. However, we are all affected to some degree. For instance, ask yourself: What image first comes to mind when you hear the word "terrorist"?
Do you think of the CIA agents who counseled the Nicaraguan contras during the 1980's how to kill and kidnap government officials and instill terror in the civilian population? Does the word "terrorist" first bring to your mind Menachem Begin and his followers, who, in 1946, blew up a wing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, killing 91 people, and two years later massacred 254 defenseless Palestinian civilians (including about 100 women and children) in the peaceful village of Deir Yassin? Is your first association with the word "terrorist" the Christian Phalangists in Beirut who, in 1982, butchered hundreds of helpless Muslim men, women and children in the Shatila and Sabra refugee camps? At the mention of the word "terrorist", do you picture in your imagination the FBI agents who unnecessarily and sadistically pumped a debilitating, and often fatal, chemical (O-chlorobenzalmalononitrile, not tear gas as the press misrepresented following the debacle) into the Waco Branch Davidian compound, where 76 Davidian members, including 25 children (17 under the age of 10) and 30 women, were killed?
No. I would wager that your first association with the word "terrorist" would be either "Muslim" or "Arab". The truth is, many of us have become terrible bigots toward Muslims and Arabs. And, inexplicably, such bigotry has not yet attained the status of being politically incorrect.
As should be obvious, only a relatively few Arabs or Muslims are "terrorists". There are roughly one billion Muslims throughout the world, most of them law-abiding, peace-loving people who work and care for their families and friends like most of the rest of humanity. Further, with approximately seven million Muslims in the United States, Islam is the second largest religion in the United States after Christianity. If we are searching for shared traditions, most of us need look no further than to Abraham and Sarah, forebears of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
To smear all Muslims and Arabs with the perception that they are "terrorists" or supportive of terrorism is no more justified than saying that all Christians are terrorists because some of them engage in terrorism in Ireland, or asserting that all Jews are terrorists because of the shelling of innocent civilians in Lebanon by military personnel from Israel.
We would all be better served to portray Arabs and Muslims as the vast majority of them actually are - people of high values, huge accomplishments and rich cultures. And we should keep in mind that bigotry is harmful to everyone, creating unjustified misery for its targets and diminishing the humanity, and destroying the souls, of the bigot.