One of the news stories on local television last night was the vandalization of a mosque. Somebody had taken spray paint to the building to send a clear message and it certainly wasn’t a nice one. In Texas, a young boy was suspended because his home-made electronic clock looked too much like something else and he fit the profile. In the talk of the Syrian refugee crisis, I’ve heard it said that terrorists are among them and they’re slipping through the cracks. This is fear.
“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” – Yoda, Jedi Master
It seems to me that we have two principle options: (1.) remain silent and do nothing or (2.) speak up and do something. All of this time, we complain about how many moderates in other religions don’t hold back their extremists. The problem is, as Christians, we don’t do that great of a job at it either (extremists aren’t exactly the sort of people one can control anyway, no matter what they believe). Look up the images of churches, synagogues and mosques that were vandalized on Google Images. They look an awful lot alike, don’t they? Like most people, I’ve never had to show up at my place of worship to find hateful messages spray painted on the doors, the walls, the signs, and the side-walk about my beliefs or ethnicity. I’ve never walked the streets wondering if people see me as a terrorist or white supremacist or part of some conspiracy for global domination. I’ve never worried about how the other kids at school will treat my kids because of how they look or their accent. (I don’t have kids, but I put that there to make it hit home that this kind of fear affects everyone, everywhere; if places of worship are not immune, then the children that worship there are also not immune from seeing the same kind of treatment at their schools.)
“Qui tacet consentit” or silence gives consent, is what a lot of us live with everyday. Speaking out can make us a target, standing up for another can make us victim. Sometimes fear plays a big role – this is something that we don’t have to live with every day, but the fleeing Syrians know it all too well. When the streets become so dangerous that the children cannot play soccer outside. When powerful people with no qualms about using weapons take over a territory and take lives. When your friends and neighbors and family members disappear and are never heard from again – fear about safety; your own and your family members’ – can keep you from speaking up. This is the reality here in the states in inner city areas. We have to remember to put ourselves in your shoes to understand that your silence is not necessarily consent, it’s not a choice – but a necessity if you wish to live one more day in a dangerous situation.
That leaves it up to us, those who can speak up and do something. But before we can do that, we have to deal with our own prejudices. If we want to take in refugees, we have to learn to not to see each and every one of them as a potential terrorist who is out to kill us. We have to learn not to be afraid, not to give into anger, not to fuel hatred, and not to create suffering. It’s something that’s much easier to do when you live in a diverse community where you have friends everywhere. It’s a tougher thing to achieve when you are surrounded by people who look and talk and act just like you and don’t really know anyone who is different. In this case, education and awareness are key. Educate yourself as to what’s going on in the Middle East and be aware when people around you say some disparaging remarks about people from the Middle East. Think about what you’ll say in response to show how hurtful that attitude can be. I think that’s something Jesus would approve of, something he meant when he said “love your neighbor as yourself” and “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Only then, when we clean up our own beliefs will we be better able to clean up after the suffering that is the result of fear.