A recent news report told about a reformed Skinhead who volunteers his time telling high school students about prejudice and extremism.
“We live in a world that is very complicated,” he begins. “Extremists want their world made simple. It insulates them from the truth… from reality.”
This wish for simplicity has parallels elsewhere.
In the rust belt of the US, the owner of a deli described his support for Donald Trump’s ban on Muslims this way: “Do you lock your door at night? I do. I don’t want just anyone to walk in. They (Muslims) are not being properly vetted.”
Is he right? Let’s see.
First, prospective immigrants to the United States must go through a vetting process that is among the most, if not the most, extensive in the world. This applies to every person seeking entry to America. Second, the image evoked by ‘lock your door’ deliberately reduces what is a complex issue that few comprehend into a misleading simile that anyone can grasp.
The practice of making simple what is complex is not new. We have become conditioned. This is the goal of product branding… bringing positive emotions to a visual graphic. It is also what political campaigning has become: attaching to your candidate a host of strongly affirming trigger words, while attaching to opponents negative labels that evoke loathing and distrust.
As we have seen, some folks want simple concepts they can love… or hate. But when simple concepts are advanced to define complex issues, truth often takes a vacation.
Thus, should we be surprised that this is also the strategy of terrorists? They must love it when our fellow citizens believe their barbaric actions, slaughtering innocent men, women and children, were sanctioned by a religion they claim to represent, but do not in any way. Some of our fellow citizens want to believe that Islam is at fault, not just the perpetrators. It is their way of explaining their fear of the unknown and covering for a lack of knowledge.
Those who have studied the Quran know the holy book of Muslims is all about peace and respect for others. I have. That book does as much to promote these virtues as does the Bible, the holy book of Christians.
The terrorists are succeeding because of our thoughtless prejudice. They are directing otherwise intelligent and caring citizens into making enemies where none exist. We would do well to remember that when we accuse others of being enemies, even if they are not, we are extending an invitation for them to oblige.
Is it so difficult for some to grasp these simple realities?
Apparently it is. To do so would involve placing strongly held prejudices in peril of being exposed for the myths that they are. The truth will do that.
Yes, evidently, we have learned nothing from history.
The irrational fear and hysteria swirling about for the past few years targeting Muslims is reminiscent of similar mindless travesties throughout history, both recent and distant:
- Fear and ignorance are at the heart of the subjugation and persecution of African Americans that persist even now, 150 years after slavery was abolished.
- Unsubstantiated fear led to the incarceration of hundreds of thousands of innocent people of Japanese descent during the Second World War, and the confiscation of their properties. Not one traitor was ever found.
- Institutional ignorance enshrined for centuries in law has resulted in the persecution of the LGBTQ community, and that hysterical bigotry is wide spread to this day.
- Government-led denigration of aboriginal peoples in the United States, Canada and Australia, as elsewhere, led to centuries of official programs to crush these incredibly rich cultures. Those efforts failed due to the strength of character of these remarkable peoples, from whom we have much to learn.
- In the early 1930s a ‘nobody’ emerged from the political wilderness in Europe to anoint himself dictator after he won an election by successfully invoking fear and hatred, and the promise of a brighter future, among normally rational and responsible citizens. His target: the Jewish people. He murdered more than six million of them.
- We can go back a few centuries to when armed horsemen slaughtered hundreds of thousands of people across Europe and the Middle East simply because they were not Christians. These were knights of the Crusades; the Roman Catholic Church organized and sanctioned them.
- And we can step back even farther… a few millennia: History tells us that a kindly and caring person was murdered on the orders of a Roman emperor who came to fear this young man, because the emperor was ignorant of what Jesus was really all about.
What do we find common to all of these, and the many other examples to be found throughout history?
The pattern: difference begets ignorance, and ignorance begets fear, and fear begets hysteria, and hysteria begets catastrophe.
Humans have always been apprehensive about what is different… they fear what they do not understand. That’s normal. What is not normal is demonizing those and that which they do not understand. This often springs from their own self-confidence issues.
What also is not normal is an unwillingness to exercise the intelligence and the moral fiber needed to step beyond uncertainty, and to dissipate that fear with verified truth and knowledge. Those who do not seek knowledge prefer to wallow in their ignorance by seeking out only that which reinforces their prejudices, including people who are likeminded.
Make no mistake, those four elements are in play today, and are most certainly in play among people who insist on shielding their ignorance from being eroded by truth and knowledge. This was made all too clear graphically by the massacre at a Muslim mosque in Quebec City on January 29.
As Sheema Khan wrote in The Globe and Mail following the funeral services: “Our elected leaders have set the tone toward healing. These profound acts of kindness help repair the social fabric that extremists desperately seek to rupture. Their goal is to sow hatred, division and fear. We must not let them succeed.”
Yes, Muslims are different than most of us. And so are the color and make of your car likely different from mine. So what? Period. Full Stop. Isn’t it time for us to learn and to emerge from our ignorance?
Perhaps we need to remind ourselves and others that ‘different’ is nothing more than ‘different’… until proven otherwise beyond all doubt. The consequences of not doing so is prejudice, and the consequence of that can be catastrophic as we saw in Quebec City: six innocent men murdered, six women now widows, 17 fatherless children, 19 people wounded.
Ignorance and prejudice are the handmaidens of propaganda. Our mission therefore is to confront ignorance with knowledge, bigotry with tolerance, and isolation with the outstretched hand of generosity. Racism can, will and must be defeated.
— Kofi Annan, former secretary-general, United Nations
“Whither Thy Prejudice” is Copyright © 2017 By James Osborne. All Rights Reserved
Image Credits: athletebrandmanagement.com/nfl-player-branding; blog.peertransfer.com/2013/03/01/; carmenteresiano-2010.blogspot.com/p/features.html; quotesgram.com/prejudice-quotes; shariaunveiled.wordpress.com/2013/12/04/; http://www.allpsychologycareers.com/topics/racial-prejudice; http://www.quintonreport.com/2015/02/05