Hate disguised as free speech is a particularly ugly thing. Google Maps labeling the White House as N****r House is no less disgusting than a French magazine drawing the Prophet Muhammad in a stereotypical or untrue sketch. As I see the intolerance among us grow and ultimately divide us, I fear for the world we will leave our children and grandchildren in. Instead of learning to live in peace and love, we still think of ourselves as Muslims, Jews, Christians, white, black, brown, Israeli, Palestinian.
This year we have seen many terrible things happen because of our intolerance and uncaring attitudes. From Garland TX to Karachi Pakistan, from Baltimore, MD to Syria and Myanmar, we read the news and think “That’s too bad” or “Those poor people”.It no longer stirs us to anger and sorrow when we learn of innocent people being killed or thousands of refugees dying at sea or others’ sacred spaces and people being desecrated. And before we think: “well, I’m not like that” we should consider that perhaps we are, each and every one of us.
When Google Maps started showing the White House with a particularly offensive label, the African American community cried out in horror. The rest of us perked our ears for a bit and then filed it in our minds under “bad news” before going on to the next story. When Pamela Gellar organized a Draw Muhammad art exhibition in Garland, TX non-Muslims did the same, thought about it for a second and then forgot. It was only when someone got killed that the rest of American society perked up. I know there are some who are different, but the sad truth is that the majority of a group fights only for the rights of their own group. After all, how much can one fight before it becomes exhausting?
This is not an article about the limitations of free speech, or religious intolerance. This is much bigger, much more complicated. This is about principle, about looking at racism and Islamophobia and anti-Semitism as the same thing. As African Americans, we shouldn’t hold racism more important than the others. As Muslims, we shouldn’t think of Islamophobia as the number one injustice. And as Jews, we shouldn’t focus on anti-Semitism above all else. Until we realize that these three are all the same, come from the same root case and are all equally the results of hate, ignorance and intolerance, we will never succeed in getting rid of them. Until we understand where they come from, we cannot create effective tools for removing them from our society.
They are all cancers, and we cannot, and should not, deem one cancer more dangerous than the others. Nor should we care only about the one that affects us, because ultimately, insidiously, they all affect us, even when we think they don’t.
So let us show our horror and anger when intolerance raises its ugly head, whether in the guise of free speech or not. Let us care about our brothers and sisters who are a different color or race or religion than we are. Think of the White House being called N****r House as equally hurtful and offensive as the Prophet Muhammad being called a pedophile. Think of those suffering in Syria or Iraq or Myanmar as the same as those who suffered through the Holocaust. Think of us all as one, and then maybe we can get rid of the cancer of intolerance.
Saadia Faruqi is an interfaith activist, editor of Interfaith Houston, editor-in-chief of Blue Minaret Literary Journal and author of Brick Walls: Tales of Hope & Courage from Pakistan, available in June. Follow her @saadiafaruqi and on her website at www.saadiafaruqi.com.