Faced with the growing depths of the Great Depression as he entered office in 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt sought to lift the spirit of Americans in his first inaugural address. His famous statement that we
“have nothing to fear but fear itself,” has become one of the great and oft-repeated lines of our nation, and it is a line that bears repeating today, not only as we climb from another recession, but as we find ourselves at the forefront of a new war, the war on terrorism.
In the wake of the recent mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, the rhetoric against Muslims has grown immensely. Presidential candidate Donald Trump has called for a halt to immigration into the United States from those countries that are on our “watch” list. Many Americans have taken up his cry and are standing behind this man whom I personally find more treacherous than any outside power. I would argue that we are simply allowing ourselves to become victims of our fear, and not of reality, by doing so.
In recent weeks and years, not just since San Bernardino but really going back to 9/11, the amount of hateful vitriol that I have seen people post on places like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter is shocking. People whom I consider educated, well-reasoned people post and re-post messages of hate and fear. They make odd, unfounded arguments that the Koran is a book of evil and that all followers of it are enemies of Christianity and thus the United States. They are equally shocked that radical Muslims think Christians to be infidels and believe the bible to be an equally evil book.
How can we think we have such an incredible insight and world-view when in reality our eyes are so tightly shut? Hasn’t history shown us that to lump all people together based on their race, gender, national origin, religion, or any other means that differentiates them from another group is a recipe for disaster; a recipe that fosters and creates a “stew” of hate, pain, oppression, and ignorance.
We have to accept people for the individuals that they are. We have to separate the actual human being – the words, the actions, the DNA – from the labels. Are there evil Muslims in the world? Without a doubt. Are there evil Christians in the world? Again, without a doubt. In fact, we can list every religion or other factor of human difference here and we can find both immensely evil as well as immensely kind people.
The consequences of painting any single group with a wide brush is that we paint over the detail and create a blank, flat expanse. Perhaps we need to ask a holocaust survivor, or any one of the millions who did not survive, if they deserved their imprisonment and loss solely for being Jewish. What about all the Japanese-Americans who found themselves in internment camps during World War II solely based on their ancestors national origin?
Many will argue that today’s situation is not the same. I argue that it is. We are allowing fear to rule us. We need to let our common sense guide us. We need to use that fear to come together for good, not to push us apart. Another great president, Abraham Lincoln, made the famous statement that “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” That was in 1858, three years before he became president and the onset of the American Civil War. Almost 160 years later, we still need to learn this. If we drive our fellow American’s apart, based on what happens elsewhere in the world, it is ultimately our “house” that crumbles.
America has always been the great melting pot of our world. We are a nation born of “rabble,” of those who felt they weren’t accepted in their homelands. On that premise we have built a great, strong nation; a nation that endures its hardships. We should not seek to turn others away, but embrace them, show them what it means to be American, and why we fight so hard for what we have. We need to create allies in the faces of our enemies. Subjecting certain populaces to scorn and fear does not accomplish this task.
We need to unite. Unite as Americans. That means unite as one cohesive group: not a group of whites, blacks, Asians, Hispanics, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Taoists, etc., but as a human wall who hold shared values and will not allow fear to tear that wall down.