Sunday, September 12, 2010

9/11: A Time When Character Emerges

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.


Six said...

While I am on board with you in viewing fanaticism - particularly by religious zealots - is the enemy, I am somewhat bothered by your support and endorsement of the SPLC... according to thier website, the first of thier three 'strategies' is:

"We track the activities of hate groups and domestic terrorists across America, and we launch innovative lawsuits that seek to destroy networks of radical extremists."

(Does not sounds very tolerant-promoting to me!!)

What is troubling is thier loose definition of 'hate groups' and loose use of lawsuits to try and bring the government force down on those who it shares a different view.

Jesse Walker actually did a good piece a couple months back on the crackpots in MI and talks a little about the SPLC misguided approach to promoting 'tolerance'.

Personally, I want the guy on the street to be able to stand out there and say whatever awful things he wants... the SPLC wants to use the force of the courts to prevent it. I think the importance of protecting our right to Free Speech far outweighs the percieved risk to nutjobs like him making coocoo claims - even at the risk of inciting a fanatic to do something crazy like Hutaree's are charged with or attempting or the fanatic who tried to set off a bomb using propane tanks in New York.

I believe oppressive, speech-denying governments are potentially far more dangerous (and have proved over and over throughout all of history) than even a terrorist group who flys planes in to buildings. I will take my chances at the extreme rarity of such fanatics being successful of acting out over the government telling me what to think and what I cannot say. It's the fanatics in governments who are the real threat... not the whacko on the street.

If you want to support someone who is doing good work protecting civil rights, may I suggest the ACLU? Another organization that while it has a slightly different purpose but is more than a worthy cause (and one I activly donate to) is the 'Innocence Project'.

Citizen Jane said...

Hey, Six! Welcome back! Hope you had a good summer.

Indeed, the ACLU does a great deal of good work, and I'm a great admirer of the Innocence Project. However, I believe it's dangerous in the extreme to ignore the dangers posed by well-funded, well-organized groups dedicated to hate and anarchy. De-funding them--as Morris Dees did by successfully suing the Aryan Nation in North Idaho--is one of a few tools sane people have to use against forces of hate and anarchy.

The SPLC publishes a magazine that is free for the asking to any educator--I've subscribed for years--that promotes tolerance and inclusiveness and helps educate people about the many guises of xenophobia and politically inspired hate. I greatly admire the work of SPLC's attorneys who wage real intellectual battles with what can only be described as the "powers of evil."

I have no sympathy for the white supremacists and other fanatics that meet the SPLC in court. Like everyone else, they have a chance to make their case. If they lose, oh, well. I'll save my empathy for the many others who are unjustly victimized by our antiquated and draconian "justice" system.

Six said...

This is based off of absolutely no research or verification, and I am far too lazy at the moment to fact check my hunch... but off of the top of my head, the places that have the most terrorist attacks, religious fanatics leading lynch mobs and vigilante justices and so on are places where speech is the MOST restricted. Places where speech is most highly protected seem to have far less. I know a lot of conservatives who like to believe there are terrorists on every corner waiting to set off a bomb and lefties who believe there is an abortion bomber in every church, but the reality is while horrible things occasionally do happen, they are incredibly rare in this country. In fact, I would argue terrorist/religious fanatical type attacks are probably far rarer today than any time in our in history and we have far more free speech available than any time in our history due in large part to the most liberty-providing tools in human history.... the internet. Pretty much everyone in the US has easy access to the internet. More people say more things... racist groups, religious nuts, even groups like al Queda actively use the internet to spew their craziness... yet somehow here in the USA and other liberty-founded countries we have less lynchings, religiously motivated attacks and so on. Countries like Iran, Pakistan and so on who closely guard internet access and speech, have more religiously driven nuttery violence outside of the state-sanctioned violence. China seems to be a good example... over the last decade they have greatly expanded liberty and while it is not as good as the US or where it should be, the more they have opened, the more it has improved that country. Using the courts to try and stop people from saying awful things is worse than those people who are saying those awful things.

I have no sympathy for the white supremist either... but you are missing the point. Its not about the WS - its about the need to protect liberty and free speech. That is one of the many frustrating things about liberals... they love to talk up civil liberties until it means defending having to defend someones right to say things they don't like.