Yesterday afternoon in my town, I saw a man standing on the island in a busy intersection waving a sign that said, “Islam is a peaceful religion, and they’ll bomb anyone who says otherwise.”
The “they” he was referring to was obviously all of “them”—the approximately 1.5 billion Muslims in the world, including the several million who are law-abiding and productive citizens of the United States. Among these fine citizens is an outstanding social studies teacher I know, as well as a local imam who is as tolerant and peace-loving as any man I’ve ever met.
A minuscule number of fanatical Muslims plot murder and mayhem. Fanatical Christians do, too. In recent months, we’ve seen examples in the murder of Dr. George Tiller and the planned execution of police officers by a Christian militia group in Michigan. Both were despicable acts planned by Christians in the name of their religion. But what kind of idiot would stand in the middle of traffic with a sign accusing all Christians of murder?
Fanaticism is our enemy—not Muslims or Christians. The man on the corner was a fanatic—a sterling example of the kind of thinking that undoubtedly starts some murderous terrorists down the path to destruction.
It was sad and disturbing to see raw hatred and intolerance so blatantly broadcast on a public street. But I was heartened by the reaction of the driver in the car in front of me, who happened to get stopped by a red light right next to the man with the sign. The driver rolled down his window and said, “I’m sorry you chose this day to try to stir up more hate in the world. Let me ask you, fella, is this what Jesus would be doing today?”
From first ladies Michelle Obama and Laura Bush to ordinary folks in Manhattan, many people found much better ways to commemorate the tragic and unforgettable anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center. In his own small way, perhaps the driver who confronted the sign carrier made the world a tiny bit better by choosing to speak up rather than be silent in the face of hate and fanaticism.
What I chose to do was to respond to an email I had at home with a small donation to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which does more than any other organization I know to fight hatred and promote tolerance.
If each of us chooses to respond to the messages of hate in the world with acts of service and messages of kindness, perhaps we could help reverse the tide of bitterness and animosity that seems so evident right now, here and in nations around the world.