The Supremacy of Hate

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It hurt my heart to watch HBO’s coverage of the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, on its news series VICE. The white supremacists wore their naked hatred towards Jews and people of color as a badge of honor.  While Donald Trump blamed the violence on “many sides,” it was the Unite the Right demonstrators who came armed to the teeth with bats and guns, helmets and shields. They were clearly spoiling for a fight.

Add to the mayhem the sight of a car plowing into the crowd and dozens of injured on the ground crying and screaming in pain. A black woman cried out in anger and frustration that this terror is what she and other blacks live with on a daily basis in an American South that is still nursing its wounds over the Civil War.

Leaders of Unite the Right ominously promised that this was only the beginning of their quest to “take back” the country for like-minded whites. One of them, Christopher Cantwell, spoke of his disgust that Trump would allow his daughter Ivanka to marry a filthy Jew. He proudly displayed the personal arsenal he was bringing to future demonstrations and predicted that many more people are going to die.

I feel as if a time machine has transported us all back to the 1950s. The threat of nuclear war hangs over us as our president gets macho with the unstable North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. And torch-wielding mobs of white men menace Southern towns.

Two days after I began writing this post, another scene of terror unfolded in Barcelona, Spain. The agent of death was the same: a motor vehicle plowing into a crowd. Yesterday 13 people were killed in that horrendous attack, and many more were injured. The terrorist group ISIS has claimed responsibility. Once again, an armed group of (mostly) men expressed their hatred for the “other” through violence and the threat of violence (fake suicide vests).

In my present mood, I am hard pressed to believe that “Love trumps hate.”

 

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A Most Unfortunate Name

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1166654Yesterday I read a story in the Chicago Tribune about the bad luck of women and girls named Isis. Isis is the name of an Egyptian goddess dating back to ancient times. Her role was as the ideal mother and source of nature and magic. Today, however, the name conjures an acronym for the heinous terrorist group that is also referred to as ISIL or Daesh. When Chicagoan Isis Jackson heard Sarah Palin shriek that Donald Trump was “gonna kick ISIS’ ass!”, she reacted instinctively by looking up at the TV. It’s that same reaction I have when, no matter where I am or with whom, if I hear someone yell, “Mom!,” I assume they are talking to me.

Worse, though, are the reactions some people have been having to the name Isis here in America. From a 14-year-old girl being bullied to a shop owner being pressured to change the name of her Isis Books & Gifts due to vandalism, the name has become a serious burden for some.

The situation reminds me of the months post-9/11, when the name Osama carried that same kind of terrible baggage. Indeed, the owner of a restaurant called Osama’s Place was under pressure to change it. Located in the shadow of Ft. Bragg in North Carolina, Osama’s Place had been a local institution for many years before haters started to issue bomb threats or refuse to patronize the place. (newyorktimes.com, September 28, 2001) The name Osama, which means “big cat,” had been a popular one among people of Arab descent. I’m pretty sure most people now shy away from that name in the same way that the name Adolf became reviled after World War II.

Interestingly, I spotted the unfortunate name Adolph not long ago on – get this – a funeral home that provides cremation services. While I have actually attended visitation services there, and it’s a lovely place, I might have thought twice about the haunting associations there and gone into another line of work!

Even names with positive associations can cause people angst. Recently, on the Facebook page “Humans of New York,” a young girl named Beyonce bemoaned the fact that whenever roll is called in school for the first time, she gets a rendition of “Single Ladies.” (In my day, a similar reaction would be found to a name such as Cher.) In the comments section of “Humans of New York,” many people commiserated and shared their terrible names, such as Jim Socks, Meredith Pancake, and Lovin George.

But my favorite comment of all was, “Always be yourself. Unless you can be Beyonce. Then be Beyonce.”

Let’s Stop Blaming Islam

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The-Battle-of-JerichoIn the Hebrew Bible, also known as the Old Testament to Christians, God tells his chosen people to enter the Promised Land and “put the ban” on every town and city they encounter. To put the ban on a city meant to wipe it out completely: kill every man, woman, child, and animal; destroy every building and possession, and burn the city to the ground.

How many modern Jews and Christians believe that they should go around wiping out unbelievers by killing them and burning their every possession? The answer, of course, is that these stories are part of an ancient holy text, and they are to be interpreted in the light of what they might mean to people in a spiritual sense. In a spiritual sense, God was telling his people to rid themselves of vices, obsessions, and associations that keep them from holiness.

In light of the recent horrific terrorist attacks in Paris, Beirut, and elsewhere, critics have begun denouncing Islam itself rather than just the barbaric fanatics who have twisted the religion into a violent call for jihad around the world. So the same people who realize that stoning adulterers, while in the Holy Bible, is not a justifiable action in modern society, turn around and assume the jihadists are truly representative of Islam by harking back to a quite literal interpretation of its holy book, the Koran.

ISIS quite literally wants to create the conditions laid out in the writings of the prophet Muhammed and bring about the apocalypse. (“What ISIS Really Wants,” The Atlantic, March 2015) Conservative columnist Jonah Goldberg put it well when he called this movement “medievalism.” It should be obvious that the vast majority of Muslims do not subscribe to this medieval interpretation of their religion. In short, ISIS doesn’t represent Islam any more than the Ku Klux Klan represents Christianity.

The danger of the current hysteria is that people will lash out at Muslims and Middle Eastern people in general. Numerous governors have already stated that they will refuse to house and help Syrian refugees on the grounds that terrorists might be infiltrating their numbers. This kind of fear-mongering and thinly disguised racism has been seen in this country before.

In 1942, shortly after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, 120,000 Japanese Americans were forced into internment camps across the country. Today, America recognizes this action as an egregious violation of Japanese Americans’ civil rights, and reparations were paid to surviving families of those unjustly imprisoned.

What is happening in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Africa, and even in the beloved capital of Paris, France, is frightening. It requires a concerted effort on the part of our allies to help end the reign of terror imposed by such groups as ISIS and al-Qaeda (Remember them?). But let’s all take a deep breath and use our reason, as well as our heart, to direct our actions in the upcoming months and years.

Rather than blaming Islam, we need to work with Muslim countries around the world to stamp out the fanaticism and promote the ideals so beautifully represented by the red, white, and blue.

 

 

Brutality Meets Blessedness

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The world was saddened Tuesday with news of the death of young Kayla Mueller, an American aid worker who was taken hostage more than a year ago by Islamic State terrorists. Kayla’s young, smiling face has been gracing the covers of newspapers and online news feeds since the tragedy was made public.

By most accounts, Kayla Mueller led a life defined by service to others. She went into poor and war-torn areas to give aid and comfort to those suffering, whether it be from wartime displacement, AIDS, hunger, abuse, or neglect.

A letter published by her family also reveals the deep faith that inspired her to give her all to service and helped strengthen her during her months-long ordeal. She wrote, “I have come to a place in experience where, in every sense of the word, I have surrendered myself to our creator because literally there was no one else.”

If Kayla were Catholic, she might one day be a candidate for sainthood. Certainly, most Christians would call her “blessed.” In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, he describes the qualifications for blessedness.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Kayla recognized her helplessness and relied on God.

“Blessed are those who mourn.” Kayla suffered primarily by worrying about the anguish her captivity was causing her family.

“Blessed are the meek.” Kayla sought work in the most unglamorous locations in the world. Most of us would never have heard of her had she not been killed.

“Blessed are the merciful.” Kayla ministered to the sick and downtrodden.

“Blessed are the peacemakers.” Even in captivity, she tried winning over her captors and teaching them crafts.

“Blessed are the pure in heart.” Aside from some hateful naysayers, most of us would agree that her heart was as big as an ocean. How else to explain her contention, while being held hostage, that “there is good in any situation”?

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness.” There is a strange irony in the fact that Kayla was helping Syrian refugees when abducted by ISIS.

A favorite hymn of mine has the words, “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love.” I can’t help but hope that at least some of Kayla’s captors will be transformed by her self-sacrificing love and move away from violence and hate, toward peace.

To Hell in a Hand Basket?

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The news these days can really get a person down. I am talking some serious hand-wringing. Just this morning while watching TV news, my husband remarked, “The world’s going to Hell in a hand basket.”

To be sure, reports on ISIS alone – what with all their threats, beheadings, and enslavement of women – are enough to give one pause. Add to that the Ebola scare, unrest in Hong Kong, and Russian incursions into Ukraine, and it can be hard to sleep at night.

Yet I hesitate to agree with the doomsayers. Although things seem really bad right now, they have certainly been worse. The two World Wars of the 20th Century were horrific conflagrations that involved virtually the entire planet. And let’s not forget the horrors of slavery, the ethnic cleansings, and the atrocities committed in the name of patriotism or religion over the past centuries.

Yesterday, the Chicago Tribune‘s retrospective featured the year 1968. During that one year, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., was shot and killed, leading to widespread riots. The Vietnam War raged and took the lives of thousands of Americans. There was unrest at the Democratic National Convention, and the homicide rate in America was nearly 50 percent higher than it is today. The U.S. even lost a nuclear bomb!

Every era has its share of dangerous and horrifying situations. I am currently reading a novel set during the time of the terrible Spanish flu, which claimed nearly 50 million lives (flu.gov). We have gotten through the Cold War, during which time the only thing that saved the planet was mutually assured destruction from the thousands of nuclear warheads possessed by the major super powers. And how about those Dark Ages?

I am not trying to minimize the real seriousness of world events. I can’t be totally sanguine while people are in danger of torture, murder, enslavement, or succumbing to a deadly virus. At the same time, for many people, life has never been better. People are living longer, and medical science continues to develop ways to promote health and prolong life. Technology has made many lives easier as well with labor-saving devices and safer equipment.

As journalist Daniel Gardner says in his fascinating book The Science of Fear,  “We are the healthiest, wealthiest, and longest-lived people in history. And we are increasingly afraid. This is one of the great paradoxes of our time.” (source:goodreads.com)

I think what we need is a balance, so that instead of feeling afraid and helpless, we take reasonable steps to protect ourselves. We also need to remind ourselves of all the good things in life.

That tumultuous year 1968? Well, that was the year “Mister Rogers Neighborhood” premiered. Goodbye, neighbor.