Yesterday Sadiya, a Muslim woman, came to the food shelf with her young daughter. A neighbor drove her there. After we had bagged up her groceries, she took my arm in a tight grip and said "Thank you. You'll see me here again. I'm a single mother, I'm going to school now to be a nurse. Thank you!" The food shelf is located at the Lutheran church where I work; I was wearing a cross. But I don't think she saw me as a Qu'ran-burning Christian extremist, and I certainly didn't view her as a hate-filled Muslim extremist. Our one concession to the topic of faith was making sure there was no pork in the hot dogs. I hope America won't always be a place where food shelves are needed to keep good people like Sadiya from going hungry; but I know this is the America I believe in, the one where some day Sadiya will be the healer at my mother's side or my own, and her grown daughter will have no fear of her neighbors.
I don't understand why certain religious or political "leaders" want me to hate the other -- to hate the immigrant, the Muslim, to hate and fear people with skin darker than my own, whose beliefs are culturally dissimilar from my own. What passes for moral outrage in our country these days is often pretty sickening. Time and again though I have to defend my willingness to live in America, to my spouse, who has seen enough of the rest of the world to believe there are better, more peaceful countries in which to reside. I can't run away from the stupid people -- because of course there are stupid, bigoted, fearful, easily-influenced people in every nation. We seem to have the market cornered, here in the USA, and we might; we have the world stage and the camera crews and plenty of opportunities to show off our ignorance.
It's particularly grievous to me that Christianity has such an awful right-wing association in America. I have good friends who just assume most Christians are loud-mouthed hypocritical haters. Now, that's as foolish as assuming all Muslims were happy to see the World Trade Center fall. But it's easier to take a position than it is to take a stand. It's easier to say what we're against than what we're for. Hate speech always uses short words and short sentences, set to a primitive rhythm. It's the lizard brain, the least evolved part of ourselves, that responds to fear with aggression. The so-called "leaders" who appeal to the lizard brain in us all are themselves fearful -- they are filled with insecurity, and they crave the illusory brotherhood and the adrenaline-pumping power of mob mentality. The best way to respond to them is to use short words like "No" and "Stop" and "Not here." The mob is not my America. I'm not running away from a bunch of lizards holding signs that say "Burn the Qu'ran!" Especially if those lizards look like me, dress like me, worship where I do and vote in the next booth.
If Sadiya and I can tell the difference between love and hate, I'm sure you can figure it out.