Hatred of the “Other”—
Phobia—A persistent, irrational fear of a specific object, activity, or situation that leads to a compelling desire to avoid it.
Racism— 1. A belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to rule others.…3. Hatred or intolerance of another race or other races.
The Random House Dictionary of the English Language
Anyone with an email account or who cruises the Internet has received at least one email or read the assertions that President Barack Obama is a Muslim who was sworn into office on a Koran. It is the product of an irrational and dishonest hater. The Internet and media are full of such trash. Just in case a reader of this blog subscribes to such a belief, let me make clear that this is a myth. Belief in this thoroughly debunked myth amounts to either a phobia or racism or both. In either case, it displays an irrational hatred of the “other.”
No matter that the facts do not mesh with reality, the true believer clings to the myth as if his/her life depends on it. In fact, the true believer often digs in his heels, refuses to accept reality and finds fault with the debunkers. It’s still a myth.
Islam: Sunni versus Shia—
Before delving into the irrational, it helps to know something of the religion of those who attacked America on September 11, 2001. It is important to remember that only a tiny fraction of all Muslims are extremists like the criminals of the 9/11 tragedy. The overwhelming majority of Muslims are simply folks who simply want to live their lives and practice their religion in harmony with the rest of society.
Islam is one of the three monotheistic Abrahamic religions along with the older religions of Judaism and Christianity. Established in the Sixth Century C.E by Muhammad, the Islamic religion is divided into two groups: the Sunni, containing about 85% of adherents, and the Shia which has about 15% of adherents. The two groups have the same basic belief system, but their dispute arises out of the Sunni belief that the succession of leader after Muhammad’s death should go to the person most qualified to act as leader. The Shia, by contrast, believe that the leader should come from the same bloodline as Muhammad. This dispute is the source of the extremist bloodletting between the two groups.
In 2012 in the United States, according to the Gallup organization, Christians made up about 77% of the population of which about 51% are Protestant, 23% are Catholic, 2% are Mormon, 1.7% are Jewish, 0.6% are Muslim while the remainder identify with other religious groups or those who claim no religious preference. Thus, Muslims are a miniscule portion of the religious community but are considered by many to be an existential threat.
If you have read my FIB Theory in this blog (see Archives), you know that the letters stand for Fear, Ignorance and Brainwashing. Many Christians (and some belonging to other faiths), particularly those on the right side of the political spectrum, fear what they don’t understand and have been brainwashed by others afflicted with the same fear into believing that all Muslims are their enemy. This is the polluted spring from which flows Islamophobia: the belief that all Muslims are violent extremists. As stated earlier, the overwhelming majority of Muslims in America are people who are much like the rest of the population who want to practice their religion and live in peace. Thus, Islamophobes are exhibiting pathological behavior.
Now, let’s move to racism. How many of my readers are willing to confess that they look on those of a different race as the “other?”
The maxim “Know thyself” bears on the issue of racial views and sometimes shows up unexpectedly. A personal experience illustrates this. Back in the early 1970’s when bellbottom trousers were in vogue, I was at Disneyland in Anaheim. Because my bellbottoms had no pockets, I tucked my wallet under my belt. Ahead of me appeared two well-dressed young black men in suits and ties. Without thinking, I absent-mindedly tapped my wallet to be sure it was safely behind my belt. Almost instantly, I busted myself. In a moment of blazing self-awareness, I had just displayed a deeply-buried subconscious distrust of the “other.” It was a valuable insight that I have never forgotten and informs my present racial view.
I have long abhorred racism, yet at that moment at Disneyland I revealed how thin the veneer is. Many, however, lack any awareness of the racial views they hold and are therefore vulnerable to the escalated version that is called “racism.” The likelihood is that such individuals grew up in a racist environment or they feel that their position in society is threatened by someone who is different.
A friend and former colleague who knows of my interest in irrational behavior regularly forwards to me messages that have been sent to him by “hater” friends crippled by either Islamophobia or racism or both. Most of these messages have as their target President Obama, a man who not only has a foreign-sounding name but identifies himself as a black. The messages are often so vicious, so scurrilous that a rational person would wince at the content. I struggle to maintain my objectivity every time I reply in the knowledge that he will send my replies back to the originator. Usually, the ugly message has a long list of recipients, so I ask my friend to send copies of my reply to the recipients as well as the originator. Will my views educate the ones who receive them? Probably not, but I sure feel better.
Frankly, I suspect that the blatant racism of these messages is the dominant theme shared by many on the American right, that the Islamophobia is only a secondary matter. I hold the strong view that the level of opposition to President Obama’s policies is primarily motivated by the subconscious current of racism that runs deep in American society. I must add that I also believe that racism is a common view throughout the entire world and underlies many of the conflicts we see today.
Summing up, what we see so frequently today is the free-flowing racism and Islamophobia that pollutes the political atmosphere that pervades America. I have sought to describe the racism and irrational fear of Muslims in order to exorcise these boogie-men, but I suspect that both will long outlive those of us living today.
Whether we are willing to admit it or not, America is enriched by the presence of those who were once different. At one time, the Germans, the Italians, the Irish and many other so-called minorities were looked upon with suspicion if not outright hostility. Maybe the day will come when Muslims and, indeed, Hispanics from south of the border will be accepted as well.
As for racism, I have the feeling that it will persist for as long as America exists. It is a tainted legacy of America’s history of slavery. Though it is fading among the nation’s youth, it’s something we all need to work on to solve rationally. As things look now, that seems out of reach, but the goal is a worthy one.
In a future posting, I will address the persistence of homophobia in American society. It’s yet another irrational behavior that needs to be rooted out. Progress is being made, but considerably more is needed before we can begin to call ourselves civilized.