When I was young and learning both world and US history, several things stood out to me.  Things that made me shake my head, in the purely black and white view that only the young can have.  That iron-clad certainty, that everyone should have seen things as clearly then as we do now in hindsight.

I was both horrified and ashamed, when I learned that we’d rounded up thousands of Japanese-Americans and put them into interment camps during WWII.  I could not understand why these people would be considered a threat; immigrants (62% were American citizens) who had come to seek the American dream and had committed no crime other than originally being from a country that we were (now, at that point) at war with.  I didn’t understand, but consoled myself with the thought – ‘at least we know better, now’.   (more info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_American_internment)

I’m still completely amazed at the whole ‘Red Scare’ McCarthy era.  Actors, musicians blacklisted and refused work because they either refused to participate in the farce or had union or overly liberal leanings.  Seriously, Grandpa Walton (Will Geer) a threat to national security?  Burl Ives?  Pete Seeger?  Orson Welles?  Eddie Albert of Green Acres?  Enough of a threat to warrant being called before Congress and/or investigated by the FBI?  What the heck were we thinking? (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hollywood_blacklist, also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McCarthyism)

I also recall being heartened by reading stories of Christians, atheists, etc helping Jews hide or escape the Nazis during WWII.   I wondered to myself even then if I’d have been willing to risk my own life to try to save someone else’s, and with typical youthful optimism, decided I probably would.  Today?  I’d like to think I still would, but of course that’s something one can never know unless actually faced with it.  

Or the more recent story of Billings, Montana, in 1993; where the response by a community to a brick being thrown through a window of a house displaying a menorah, was to urge all people regardless of faith to display a menorah.  And hundreds did. (http://www.religioustolerance.org/menorah.htm)

But, on the flip side of that, how did so many Christians stand by and even endorse Hitler’s aims in the first place?  How many Christians objected to it at the time?  A somewhat enlightening quote (from this site: http://www.ushmm.org/research/the-center-for-advanced-holocaust-studies/programs-ethics-religion-the-holocaust/articles-and-resources/jews-and-christians-the-unfolding-interfaith-relationship)

“Thus, there were significant but isolated voices of protest. Many of these statements drew on church teachings about compassion and social justice, as well as church commitments to civil liberties. Yet, they appear to have found little resonance within the broader community of lay Christians at the time. And, although they did lay a foundation for Christians after 1945 to wrestle theologically with the reality of what had happened during the Holocaust, most of them did not yet confront the theological reality revealed in the Holocaust: that centuries of anti-Jewish teachings by the Christian churches had helped to create a culture in which the genocide of millions of Jewish men, women, and children was possible. Only after 1945 would the Christian churches throughout the world begin to confront the deeper theological challenges of the Holocaust for Christian faith and teaching.”

Not exactly a ringing endorsement of Christianity at the time, is it?  Would you have felt or acted differently back then?  Would you now?

Some of you will already see what all the above have in common; Japanese internment camps, McCarthyism, and few voices of protest during the rise of the Holocaust.  Fear, primarily.  And to some degree, misconception or misinformation.

I speak out about this because I understand, now, how they all happened.  And I can’t help but feel it’s happening again.  And I don’t want to have to be ashamed of what our generation might do, the way I was ashamed at what past generations did, in the name of fear.   I don’t want other kids in history class years down the road to shake their heads and say, ‘How could they have been so blind?  How could they have let hysteria run wild that way, to the harm of innocent people?  Why didn’t anyone speak up, why didn’t anyone try to stop it?’.

If you routinely speak out against Muslims, I would ask you – how many do you personally know?  What are you actually basing your opinions on?  What do you really know about that faith, that didn’t come from a news story about something terrible happening?  

Can you understand that *any* religion can be used to promote hatred and violence, or oppression?   How would you feel if you heard people asserting that Christians were oppressing women?  It’s happened right here in the US, more than once.  A more recent case: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warren_Jeffs.  Is that the true face of Christianity?  Or is it just a case of someone using it for their own aims?  And what if that was the only news of it you ever saw?  Wouldn’t that tend to make you believe that that was the aim of all Christianity and not just that one group?

Take a look at the breakdown by country in this article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islam_by_country

I bet there are countries on there that you have never even *heard* of, that are 80% or more Islamic.  Some of them, I have been to myself (as a woman).   If you truly believe that Islam is about oppression, why haven’t you heard about all of them, not just a select few?  If you truly believe in the ‘Muslim Brotherhood’, then why aren’t we hearing about all of them, not just a select few?  Why aren’t ‘Muslim terrorists’ coming from *all* of these countries, and not just a select few?

Perhaps because it’s not the religion itself, but instead the use that some leaders/countries are making of it?  The same way that Warren Jeffs, the KKK, Jim Jones, and Westboro Baptist Church are and have with Christianity?  You can separate those out easily and not take them as ‘representative’ because you *know* other Christians, even if you’re not one yourself.  You’ve lived and grown up in a society where you knew lots of them, where you were exposed to it routinely.  You also know how many and how varied the different sects of Christianity are; even an atheist can typically tell you that the practices of Catholicsm aren’t exactly the same as the practices of Baptists, even though they’re both “Christians”.  Do you even know how many different sects of Islam there are?  Or are they all the same to you?

I’d like to think that I’d have put a menorah on my door if I lived in Billings in 1993.  But how many of us would show the same sort of solidarity to a brick thrown through a Muslim’s window?  How many of us might stand by and allow (or even actively support) the rise of a charismatic anti-Muslim leader who convinced us that eradication would be for the good of us all – creating the next Hitler?  Would you stand by and let it happen?  I would hope that no-one I know would, but I despair every time I see hatred poured forth on a religion for the acts of individuals or hostile nations that are *not* representative of an entire faith.  The media is partially responsible, for dragging religion into every violent act these days – including noting that the Navy Yard shooter was Buddhist.  

There is nothing wrong with being opposed to terrorism or oppression.  We should all be opposed to that.  But recognize it for what it is.  Recognize that terrorism and oppression are purely human traits that have nothing to do with any particular religion.  Any religion can be used to further the aims of people in power or seeking power.  *ANY* religion.   And also recognize that fear leads us into bad places, even with the best of intentions.