Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Prejudice

I must admit that I had not paid much attention to the story about Ahmed Mohamed, the Texas high school freshman who brought a home made clock to school and was ultimately handcuffed and arrested, presumably because the clock looked like a bomb.  But last night I watched last week's edition of Bill Maher's show, Real Time, during which the story was discussed.


Now, anyone who has read my blog in the past, knows that I enjoy Maher's show immensely.  His favorite political points about the failure of trickle down economics which is a main cause of the income inequality that exists today, the hypocrisy of the far right who will do anything to protect life in the womb while pretending that abstinence alone is a viable sex education plan, and the obscene approach to cutting government programs that always seems to protect the rich while leaving those with less scrambling for crumbs, are certainly grist for my blog. 


But Maher often displays his prejudice against Muslims, and did so again on this recent episode.  Of course, he, and those that think like him are correct in that there is much violence in the world today which is being initiated by young Muslim men whose ideological rigidity inspires them to de-value the life of their "enemies" (and themselves) resulting in death and destruction.  And, frankly, while I certainly believe that the policies of the West, in general, and the United States in particular, has enabled, in part, their hatred for us, I DO NOT believe that past crimes justify future killing.  Revenge, whether it be personal or national, is wrong, and all it does is feed the beast that inflames our anger to hurt others after being hurt.  Bombing a market square after the drone killing of a fellow Muslim is just as wrong as the invasion of Iraq after 911.  Death and violence begets death and violence, and the sooner humankind evolves to the spiritual level of the great prophets, Jesus, Muhammad, Buddha, etc, who inspired our religions, the better off we will be.


In the case of Ahmed Mohamed's clock, Maher would have is believe that Ahmed should know better than to bring anything that looks like a bomb to school because of the bombs that have been used by those who are like him.  I imagine that Maher would be just as outraged if a while boy was treated similarly due to the Columbine killings and such other instances where young white men did the dirty deed, but I did not hear him or anyone on the panel say so.  One panelist repeatedly brought up the idea that Ahmed himself did not have a history of violence, suggesting that perhaps he should not be held responsible for the crimes of those like him, but his opinion was not give much play.  Mark Cuban, one of the other panelists, suggested without saying it that Ahmed may have had some kind of agenda since in his conversation with him, Cuban found Ahmed very loquacious concerning science, but seemed to defer to his sister when asked about why he did not engage his teachers concerning why he brought the clock to school in the first place.  (It was not part of an assignment).  Or perhaps, poor Ahmed was somehow used by his father or family to make a point, and was quiet because he either did not realize it, or was embarrassed by his role. 


Or, perhaps, if we approach it with an eye towards the theory known as Occam's razor, he was just an innocent kid trying to impress his teacher, and it was all the adults who participated that exploded the situation.  (sorry for the pun)  


Regardless of the why, everyone ran to their corners to defend or condemn the child, school authorities and police.  Even the president chimed in with an  invite to the White House. 


Prejudice is a strong emotion.  As I discussed in a previous post about xenophobia, it can sometime protect us from assuming the best about another person when that person does not have our safety in mind.  But when used to justify the interactions we have with individuals, it is an insidious fear.  Prejudice has a hand in every major attempt by one nation, race or creed to commit genocide against another.  Often, it is based in some truth, but the truth is soon replaced by a fear that all those who resemble or represent the particular nation, race or creed are guilty. 


It is prejudice that helps us justify legal discrimination.  Prejudice that suggests we cross the street when a group of young (fill in the blank) men are walking on the other side. Prejudice that inspires us to go to prison rather than signing a marriage certificate to legalize the love two people feel for each other.  It is prejudice that drives too much of our political campaigns by pointing a finger at those different from us and saying they are at fault for our problems.  Amazingly, even after 78 months in office, there are still those who delegitimize President Obama based on his skin color, masking that prejudice in false claims about his religion and birth country.    


What is truly sad, is that when facts that may be used as prejudice against our own nation, race or creed, it is astounding how quickly discrimination is claimed.  Almost daily we hear of Christians gnashing their teeth over attacks against their religious freedom, while many of the same people are at the forefront of denying marriage rights, or state publicly that they would not support a Muslim who runs for office. 


I would imagine that if all white men were considered a source of potential harm to our children or our financial security because a statistically significant percentage of pedophiles and wall street criminals are white men, the cries of prejudice and discrimination would reach the heavens.  Yet, white men (especially white men with collars) are the source of a large percentage of these crimes.  Should I (being a white man) be judged on the horrendous behavior of some of my cohorts?  Would our white men dominated country tolerate such behavior?


How much of prejudice is learned, and how much innate (as connected with the fear of the unknown, including strangers) is certainly debated.  I would like to imagine that an environment that emphasized personal character rather than group prejudices might produce less discriminatory behavior.  After WW2, I would imagine that some Americans were slow to embrace those of German and Japanese ancestry as American citizens, even if born in America.  Yet today, two generations later, I would conjecture that a very low percentage of Americans still look suspiciously at someone of either of those ethnicities.  You might argue that we have merely replaced them with another group, but I prefer to think that we have evolved beyond those prejudices through everyday encounters with people of those nations.  We treated them as individuals, not as representations of past atrocities. 


Hopefully then, in a few more generations, a similar evolution will occur with today's bogeymen.  While it is more likely that a new group might be labeled to be our enemies, here's hoping that we realize that individuals of any nation, race or creed can be bad, but that most people of all types are good.     


     




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