Education Matters: Prejudice is the enemy, not religion

Editor's Note: Numerous instances of plagiarism have been discovered in Dan Kimber’s “Education Matters” column, which ran in the News- Press from September 2003 to September 2011. In those columns where plagiarism has been found, a For the Record specifying the details will be appended to the piece.

I have received a rash of anti-Muslim e-mails lately. Some are from people I know and some are from organizations that somehow have me on their mailing list.

The most recent included pictures of a young boy having his arm mangled as a punishment for stealing. The words underneath the picture of a car rolling over the boy's arm read, "May God have mercy on us who tolerate the Muslim."

This came from an old friend who I've been politically dueling with for the last 40 years. He seems to be part of a general hysteria in this country over the attempt to build a mosque near the site of the former twin towers in New York.

Americans of all political persuasions and religious stripes have had conflicting emotions regarding 9/11. Our present and previous administrations in Washington have gone to great pains to insist that our country's conflict is with extremism and terrorists, not the Islamic religion itself.

Despite that, a substantial portion of America — particularly red America — does not agree, and in American politics, constituencies always find champions. The Rush Limbaughs and Sarah Palins easily ignite audiences with the argument that the mosque would be a "victory monument" for the attackers and all who supported them.

For others, the proposed mosque tests the limits of one of our most deeply held values: freedom of religion. We look to the Founding Fathers and try to understand their intentions, we study our history to learn from our mistakes, and we weigh judicial precedent — all in an attempt to promote equality before the law.

I went to my friend down the street, Firoz, who is a Muslim. Together we attend neighborhood parties, play golf and have great discussions. Firoz has shown me passages in the Koran that are very much like passages in the Bible; he considers groups like Al Qaida and the Taliban to be perversions of his religion; and he doesn't think the mosque should be built near ground zero. He is as American as I am.

I asked Firoz how he felt about the level of hatred and suspicion in this country, not just for terrorists, but, in many American minds, for all Muslims. He sighed and after a thoughtful moment said: "All Muslims are not terrorists, but the great majority of terrorists presently in the world are Muslim, and we have to live with that. But just because someone screams, 'God is great' before blowing himself up along with others in the vicinity, doesn't make him a true expression of 1.5 billion other Muslims any more than members of the KKK represent Christianity."

As for the mosque, we agreed that the people who want to build it have that right, but it isn't the right thing to do given the amount of opposition to the project. All the same, it should be their decision and not our government's. The free exercise of religion does not rest upon the popularity of a faith any more than free speech is restricted to acceptable utterances.

My friend who sent the e-mail is convinced that there is a worldwide Muslim plan to spread to all corners of the globe and subjugate all people under one religion.

I pointed out that a similar fear and loathing once pervaded this country with Catholics being the target. People were convinced that they would outbreed, outvote and in time overwhelm this country and we'd eventually be taking our orders from the pope.

One of the real enemies of this or any country is the prejudice that comes from the exploitation of people's fears. We can see that dynamic at work on the world stage and right here in our own backyard. How easy it is to disengage the brain and slip into the "that's how they all are" mode, putting people into convenient categories and whipping up a frenzy of hatred in the process.

Islam is not our enemy. People who kill in God's name are the enemy, and they are not confined to any religion.

DAN KIMBER taught in the Glendale Unified School District for more than 30 years. He may be reached at DKimb8@sbcglobal.net.

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