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August 3, 2010

Bigotry’s Thriving

Roy Meachum

In the new millennium’s second decade, it must be observed: Bigotry survives and thrives. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) notched a new blow over the weekend for the very principle it was organized to fight.


The anti-immigrant passion continues the centuries-old prejudice against people of a different color or ethnicity. In printed thoughts shared with “Colleagues, Friends and Relatives,” my former boss and great friend George Delaplaine writes: “The fact that of the eight American citizens who received Nobel Prizes in the science categories, five are immigrants to the United States.”


In a later paragraph, George notes: “The engineers and PhD’s driving much of the technological innovation in Silicon Valley are overwhelmingly Indian.”


To add further dimension to the mess, “Mike” Monsoor could have been called an “Ayrab” or “towel head.” His father came over from Lebanon as a young man. SEAL Petty Officer Second Class Monsoor won the Medal of Honor posthumously for saving his comrades in Iraq by falling on a grenade. His funeral was attended by 45 fellow SEALs who stuck in his rosewood coffin cover their hard-earned Trident pins awarded them when they qualified as the Navy’s hard-bitten Special Forces. They could care less he was Arab.


This is the national ambiance in which the Anti-Defamation League came out Friday with a statement in opposition to plans to build a mosque and Islamic study and information center next to New York’s Ground Zero. The organization gave the primary reason some of the families’ opposition to the very idea. Unlike the League, not all the survivors are Jewish.


In defense of the statement fully contrary to ADL’s statement of purpose, national director Abraham H. Foxman, a Holocaust survivor, told The New York Times: “Their anguish entitles them to positions that others would categorize as irrational or bigoted.”


In my Louisiana childhood, segregation against blacks was never based on logic; it was restricted to what “they” were assumed to be: dumb, lazy, skulking, murderous and thieving. Most of all, “they” were rapists threatening “the flower of Southern womanhood.”


“Anguish,” to quote Mr. Foxman’s word, hardly excused the Ku Klux Klan or Mississippi and Alabama’s rednecks. Anti-Semitism, even when virulent, depicting an irrational mind, was never acceptable. That’s why the Anti-Defamation League was born.


After years of asking for moderate Muslims to criticize the radicals in their ranks, the towering memorial for 9/11’s dead is harshly rejected as poisoned by Islam. By the way, among the victims there was more than few who believed in the Quran’s teachings, caught in their offices or among the fire, rescue and police who rushed in to save anyone they could – never demanding in advance characteristics such as color, creed or ethnicity.


Sadly, Friday’s statement destroyed the League’s splendid record of extending their protection to their fellow Semites, the Arabs. The president of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, Rabbi Irwin Kula was mortified. “The ADL should be ashamed of itself,” he told The New York Times.


Recognizing an emotional issue, candidates in this fall’s elections grabbed the controversy looking to gain votes. The two major Republican gubernatorial candidates oppose the mosque, making it central in their campaigns.


A wannabe congressman, named Ilario Pantano, flaunts the rhubarb in his North Carolina rural district, and remarked: “…it is stirring voters.”


The Republican stirs up segregation’s still warm ashes among people who continue to look down on blacks and foreigners as unacceptable subspecies. How do I know? Some of the bigots are my relatives and kinfolks. My great-grandfather rode with the Fourth North Carolina Cavalry during the Civil War.


How does banning the New York mosque play among Mr. Pantino’s specific electorate? The former Marine told a reporter: “Uniformly, there was disgust and disdain in the room for the idea.”


Within my lifetime men of the same families would have brought pitch and tar to fireside rallies whose chief entertainment was stringing up totally innocent blacks. If a man was not available, they occasionally hanged women.


If you think such mobs were restricted to my native South then obviously you don’t know about the New York riots aimed at ex-slaves and never-owned freemen, in 1863. Roaming gangs held African Americans responsible for the Civil War drafts that were principally restricted to whites, most of whom were immigrants that would have been called “illegals” under existing laws.


For the entire mishagas – the word for “infighting and scheming” in the Ashkenasim Jewish language of central Europe – the German phrase snakes its way out on my tongue: Ach, pfui!!!


(By the way in Yiddish, Ashkenasim means German.)


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