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January 31, 2007

Them and Us and Other Stories

Patricia A. Kelly

Just last week, I received an email, quite eloquent, reported to have been written by an airline pilot from the U.S. The author expressed grave concerns about Arab Muslims living in the U.S.

He stated that he didn't want to feel distrust for them. He didn't want to become consumed with the same "rage and hate and prejudice that has destroyed the souls of the terrorists," but, after 9/11, "You just don't blend in."

He demanded that Arab Muslims in the U.S. stand up and prove that they love this country, that they wave the flag, join the military, and demonstrate that they are not extremist Muslims.

"It is not my responsibility to determine which of you embraces our great is time for every Arab/Muslim to determine it for me. If the true teachings of the Koran proclaim tolerance and peace and love for all people, then I want chapter and verse from the Koran and statements from popular Muslim leaders..."

Late in 2006, the Frederick's Muslim imam approached the local senior rabbi suggesting dialogue between the Muslim and Jewish communities, a local initiative to lead in the direction of peace. The rabbi's response was vitriolic. You might remember the discussion on the Frederick News Post editorial page.

The day after this initiative, I spoke with a young woman from the rabbi's congregation, who said that she cried when she read the article. She was certain that the rabbi's response did not reflect the views of the entire congregation. Maybe the older generation..., she postulated.

Positive that the world would share my dismay at the rabbi's response, I mentioned it to a good friend who is Jewish. As I started to tell the story, she said, "And what would the Jews have to give up? The Jews always have to give something up." I closed my mouth. I tried again, speaking of it to someone else, only to hear a diatribe on Islam, and it's teachings of violence. Yikes.

I have spent much time with people in states of intense emotion.their baby just died...their dear friend just fell 40 feet onto his head...their cancer is back...they just gave birth in an ambulance.

People of different cultures express their emotions differently, dress differently, worship differently; but, at the core, they are the same. The silent person whose face is crumpling while tears well in her eyes, and the woman who collapses to the floor screaming, each upon hearing the news that her baby has died, feel the same, intense grief.

The fire captain sitting shiva in the emergency department shadows, and the huge black man running down the hall, chased by Security, to force his way into the room of his departed loved one, are doing the best they can at the express their overwhelming feelings.

The Israelis and the Palestinians are the same at the core of their humanity, and they want the same thing: a secure homeland where they are free to express their religious beliefs and live according to their cultures. They want food, a home, love, family. They want respect. Both have experienced persecution, and both have had their homeland taken away.

Jews have experienced centuries of persecution at the hands of Christians throughout the world. Christians in Europe (way before Hitler ever thought of it) invented the yellow badge and the ghetto.

After the Holocaust, the few Jews who survived to return to the Czech Republic, for example, received nothing of what was stolen from them. Their very homes were occupied by others. Christian Europe and the United States encouraged them to go to Israel. How much easier was that than making just restitution?

This re-settlement plan was a form of persecution of the Palestinian people by the Western world. I'm sure it was easy to denigrate people who wore funny scarves on their heads, who grew dates and olives instead of having factories and power. This wasn't the first time either. Christians went after them before, during the crusades.

Now, in the United States, after the 9/11 attack by a few suicidal maniacs, it is our turn to say goodbye to innocence, to our illusions of security, and of righteousness. It's time to try to behave like thinking adults, with balance and fairness in our dealings with others.

We live in the land of slavery and the Ku Klux Klan, the land of a thousand unprosecuted Mississippi lynching perpetrators, the land of the internment of American citizens of Japanese descent. Our hands are bloody, too.

I think it's okay to fight back when attacked, but it requires proactive effort to develop a fair and free society. If you want to know if your Arab Muslim neighbor loves America, invite him over for a soft drink and get to know him. You'll find out. Get to know the people on the other side of you, too.

If anyone seems to be making a bomb or torturing small children, by all means, report it. Then demand justice, and protection for all of us, of whatever color.

Trust me. There is no them.

Yellow Cab
The Morning News Express with Bob Miller
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