With the 2012 Presidential election only a few weeks away, I took some time to look out on the political landscape of our Republic. What I found was shocking to say the least. Division has become the new normal, intolerance the new standard.
We are fortunate to be living in a state (Rhode Island and Providence Plantations) that was founded on the ideals of religious tolerance and freedom. Roger Williams came here to escape religious persecution. A lesson that we all learned in school. Yet, everywhere I look, I see outrageous comments. Some are flat out racist attacks, based simply on a person’s religion.
According to a recent poll, 64% of Republicans believe that President Barrack Obama is a Muslim. I sincerely doubt that he is, but I will ask the question. If he is, so what? Would it make a difference if he was Catholic? Or Episcopal? Or even Mormon? How about a Scientologist? Where is the line drawn, and more importantly, who drew it?
Since 9/11/2001, Muslims have become scapegoats for all things evil. In these 11 years, we have been told that Islam wants to take over America and/or ruin it. Fears of Sharia law replacing our system of jurisprudence ran amok just a few short months ago in the mid-west. And non-muslim attacks on Muslims in the US have skyrocketed.
Well, here’s what I know: The worldwide Islamic community is peaceful. As one website put it, “All Muslims are terrorists, except the 94% that aren’t”. In reality, less than 6% of Islam is radicalized. I was fortunate enough to meet literally hundreds of Muslims in several different countries over the last year. All were wonderful people. Most, offered to sit and drink coffee and have a conversation with me. The talks always broached the subject of US/Islamic relations. Time and time again, I was asked, “Why do your people hate us”. As always, my only response was, 9/11. “But how can you hate many for the acts of a few?” Tough question that I still have no answer for.
In my quest for self-enlightenment, I have read the Koran, the Torah, and re-read the Bible (new and old). I can only report one benefit from my comparative reading; we are much more alike than any of us wants to admit. In Islam, Moses is an honored prophet, as is Jesus. And the Torah is considered to be one of the fundamental tenets of Islam. But none of this fits into the image of Islam that we are being fed by the racists and xenophobes.
I doubt what I say here will change anyone’s mind, but, it needs to be said nonetheless. Before complaining that we need to “nuke” the Middle East into a parking lot, take a good, long look at what Washington wrote in his letter to Touro Synagogue in 1790:
“The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy—a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship.
It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.” G. Washington
In my America, the things that make us different, are reasons to have conversations. Not reasons to persecute.