The reflexive hatred many people feel towards Muslims today is nothing new. Humanity has gone through this before. One of those episodes led to something that has been given the name the Holocaust. The victims were different, the sentiments that led up to it were not.
In Europe (yes, Antisemitism was not limited to Germany) Jews, among others, were stereotyped. Through these stereotypical images, the Jews became non-people, capable only of being Jews, wicked, greedy, and so on. Jews desired “Aryan” women. Jews were the cause of Germany’s defeat. Jews were greedy. If you have read your history, you’ve heard it all before.
Today, Islam is painted as The Great Evil. Muslims are terrorists. Muslims are evil. They beat women. They beat children. They are fundamentalists. They blow people up. You can get a fair idea of popular sentiment by just looking around on the Internet, by watching the news or even comedy shows. Notice that many of the people expressing these views are not what you would call extremists. They are “common” people.
A Muslim today is stereotyped to the point of being nothing but a Muslim. The facts that Muslims are also part of social classes, have educational backgrounds, have dreams, fears and hobbies are discarded, unless of course they help to reinforce the negative image. In our day, a Muslim is a person who has been reduced to the point of being a non-person. An evil terrorist, planning to harm us all.
By extension, Arabs are also hated to an equal extent. Arabs are equated with Islam. Those ignorant of their Biblical history cannot imagine a Jewish Arab or a Christian Arab. They simply don’t exist. They are all fundamentalist Muslim terrorists. Muslims desire our women. They take our jobs. They want to kill us all. Those are the sentiments one can hear in 2008.
Much has been said about how the “Muslim world” responded to all the so-called “Muhammad cartoons”. I agree fully that death-threats are wrong, and they must be condemned. But their is another side of the coin. Those cartoons were insulting. Remember the Jewish cartoons that were a part of Nazi propaganda? The ones that helped to further reinforce stereotypes. The cartoonists who drew the Muhammad cartoons should have given a little thought to what kind of consequences their actions may have. Not only in the “Muslim world”, but among the Muslim-hating world. It gave them more stereotypes.
The “Muslim world” is that other world. The world of fundamentalist. The people who hate, for no apparent reason. The people who have no feelings. The people who look differently, dress differently, listen to different music. The people who do not yearn for democracy. The people who are non-people. The people who are just like in those cartoons.
Terrorism is absolutely wrong. The vast majority of Muslims will agree with this. They also have a particular reason to fear terrorist acts that are committed in the name of Islam. They know that they will ultimately suffer for it. Ordinary Muslims, who just want to go about their lives, earn an income and take care of their families. They will be the ones singled-out as different. As fundamentalists. As terrorists.
And if terrorism is wrong, then all terrorism must be wrong. Including the terrorism against Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Chechnya, Iraq and all the other acts of terrorism committed by powerful nations against inferior enemies. (I could list so many. I don’t mean to belittle the suffering of the people who haven’t been listed here.)
And terrorism is the result of something. If somebody were to ask themselves the question “why do terrorists exist” and really be interested in the answer, a little bit of research into the history of the Middle East can be enlightening. The way the Muslim nations have been treated historically has led to a lot of resentment. The way the West will speak democracy but ultimately support oppressors has led to resentment. Resentment, poverty, hypocrisy and greed are powerful ingredients that can easily blow up. It has.
The incident that has become etched into our collective memory as 9/11 was obviously a horrible act. There are those who think it was the most horrible atrocity ever committed but are unable to see that the senseless killings in Palestine and Iraq are equally horrible. They are essentially making a distinction between life and life. When it happens to us it is bad, when it happens to somebody else over there it doesn’t matter.
One of the most tangible results of 9/11 was the oppression of the enemy from within. Civil liberties suffered as a result. The U.S. government gave itself authority that is directly unconstitutional. In this way one can draw a parallel between the events of 9/11 and the Reichstag fire. Conspiracy theorists typically take that comparison to its logical conclusion. It is absurd to think 9/11 was an inside job. But the effects of 9/11 are comparable to those of the Reichstag fire incident.
I am afraid that those who said never again spoke too soon. History is in the process of repeating itself. Fascism is back. We all let it happen. We read about what happened not even one hundred years ago, but we forgot so quickly. We haven’t had our equivalent of Kristallnacht yet, but it is coming. And when it does, few of us will have the wisdom to see which path we have chosen to tread.