While I’m writing this, I’m listening to the live stream of the King hearings on the “Extent of the Radicalization” Among American Muslims. I just finished listening to the statement of Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, the first Muslim elected to Congress. As he spoke about a Muslim-American paramedic who was a 9-11 first responder (who lost his life, and who was accused of being with the terrorists), I almost joined him in his grief. I cannot believe (well, cynically, yes I can) that our country is once again sliding down this slippery slope. During World War I, it was us (and our allies) against the Huns. It was so bad that anyone with a Germanic name was ostracized and persecuted. (The British royal family even changed their surname from Battenburg to Mountbatten to distance themselves from their German heritage! I wonder how many families in the U.S. followed suit?) Then it was the Japanese (need I remind everyone of the intern camps into which so many Japanese-Americans were herded at the outset of World War II?) Then it was the communists. (How many people were painted “red” in the McCarthy
witchhunt hearings?) Now that the evil Soviet Union is no more, whom are we going to vilify now? I know! The Muslims! We have to have an enemy after all, don’t we? (Sarcasm intended).
Right after 9-11, there were stories about people attacking and/or killing people who were perceived to be Muslim. (This kind of thing happened also during the hostage crisis in Iran in 1979). I burned with rage (rage seems tame … what is the next step of rage?) about turban-wearing Sikhs who were attacked by terminally ignorant people who lumped everyone who was “different” into one group. Do you think these idiots would sit still for a minute to be educated about the difference between Sikhs and Muslims? Probably not. http://www.littleindia.com/news/134/ARTICLE/1434/2005-04-05.html.
Do I deny that some terrorists are Muslims? No. But what religion was Timothy McVeigh (who blew up the Federal Building in Oklahoma City)? How many “Christian” white supremacists plot violence against our government? Genocide in Rwanda? Ethnic cleansing in Bosnia? I could go on, but you get the point.
When my mom first told her family we were moving to Japan in 1965, the reaction was shock. My mom had been orphaned at an early age and lived with a family whose education had ended in the 8th grade. They were members of the poor working class in north Texas, until Mobil Oil came and asked if they could drill in their back yard. You guessed it, Mobil struck oil and this family became very very wealthy. (No, the “Beverly Hillbillies” was not based on their story!) My mom was never adopted by these folks, so don’t think she ever got a piece of that pie. But I digress. When she told Granny and Jamie (what we called them) that we were moving to Japan, Granny said, “Susie, why in the hell would you want to go and live with all them foreigners?” Mom had left their home after high school to attend college … and their reaction was, “What, high school’s not good enough for you?” You get the picture.
My earliest memory of Japan is walking up a very steep hill to the Tokyo American Club, where we caught the school bus, which took us to ASIJ (the American School in Japan). That street took us by a Shinto temple. As we walked, we would hear the tok-tok-tok of the Shinto priest as he beat out a rhythm on a hollow piece of wood during his prayer ritual. We visited Shinto shrines, where I observed the faithful, devout followers as they entered. I stood in awe of the Kamakura Buddha, where a sign reads, “Stranger, whosoever thou art and whatsoever be thy creed, when thou enterest this sanctuary remember thou treadest upon ground hallowed by the worship of ages. This is the Temple of Bhudda (sic) and the gate of the eternal, and should therefore be entered with reverence.” My parents never inferred that these faiths were wrong, but that they should be respected and appreciated.
I heard a story about my dad late in his life. He attended a men’s prayer group at his Episcopal church in his last years. One day the priest who ran the gathering presented this question to the group: “Why are you a Christian?” The answers were the usual, “To serve others” and “To follow Jesus Christ.” My dad answered, to the shock of all, “Accident of birth.” I love my dad.
My high school in the Philippines was a conglomeration of just about every religion that exists. My first boyfriend in was an Israeli Jew, and his best friend was an Arab from Lebanon. They teased each other good naturedly (You dumb Jew! You crazy Arab!) but it was all in fun. Their friendships were genuine. One of the dearest friends I had was from Pakistan, and others were from India. They laughed about how people thought the two were one and the same. We were a mini United Nations, and we all got along.
Like many TCK’s, I have lived and breathed and tasted other faiths. I have known people who are equally, if not more devout than any fundamentalist Christian. I suppose that having had this background I am angered and saddened by this tendency that Americans have to dismiss and vilify anyone who is different. Whenever I heard “we are a Christian nation” I want to punch somebody. I think that the constitution has a small paragraph in it about religious freedom (doesn’t it? Correct me if I’m wrong!) I don’t know how many minds I can change with my little blog, but even a small drop in a large lake makes waves that go a long way.