I was a kid during WWII but old enough to be aware of the national condition (1941-1945) at our house. It was wartime with rationing – air raid drills at home and school – primitive recycling – black shades on all the windows. And racism. And hate. You didn’t need to be an adult to recognize it. Now, more than seven decades later, it’s happening again.
In the early ‘40′s, it was “Nazi’s” and “Japs.” When kids played “war,” someone had to be one of “them.” Others got to play “good guys” – the Americans. It wasn’t racist to us then. We were children just acting out what we’d heard parents and other adults saying. We were giving life to what we saw in our comic books and movies. We had posters in our grade schools warning us about “strangers” – about people who looked “different.” About “them.” Little kids can learn very quickly.
But we also learned fear at times. Even today – all these years later – the fear I felt watching my Japanese-American friends being hauled out of Mrs’ Kirk’s first-grade class by large men with guns in 1942. It’s still with me. So are their screams as they disappeared forever down hallways of East Wenatchee Grade School. To internment camps. To prisons. To our everlasting national disgrace.
An adult now, I don’t believe in racism in any form. But, during two simultaneous wars affecting everything in our daily lives, we accepted depictions of it then because it drew a clear, easy-to-understand line between what was “right” and what was “wrong.” We, of course, were right. They, of course, were wrong and deserved national condemnation. But – even to a kid of six – those screams erased some of that national pride we were supposed to feel. Even then, it somehow didn’t fit with us being the “good guys.”
Now, we’re doing it again.
Since 9-11, we’ve experienced a growing anti-Muslim movement based largely on ignorance. We see it in anonymous hate-emails and hear it on hate talk shows. Muslims are the butt of nightclub “humor.” A dozen years later, many TV shows – top rated “NCIS,” the other night for one – and movies are about swarthy people “tied” to various Muslim terrorist organizations. Often, you don’t hear the word “:Muslim” but the villain has a Mideast-sounding name or appearance. Some made-up organization sounding terrorist-like is attached to a murder or a bombing or some other destructive act. So, of course, it’s them bad ol’ “Muslims.”
I got a hate-email the other day intimating our President was a (gasp/choke) “Muslim!” He was photographed “trying to hide” a book in his hand – “The Post American World” – written by a (gasp/choke) “Muslim.” Just two sentences there. But (1) the President is NOT a Muslim – (2) he had chosen to read the book on a flight and was not trying to hide it in any way and (3) the book was written by the highly regarded Fareed Zacharia, a Hindu. Not a Muslim. EDITOR’S NOTE: Damned good book.
The anonymous email originator set out to put Muslims in the worst possible light and tie the President to these “unsavory” people by lying about both him and Zacharia. Send it to 10 people – they send it to 100 – they send it to 1,000 – then 10,000 and, within hours, this piece of racist B.S. is around the world.
In the late ‘30′s and early ‘40′s, Oriental actors made big money in Hollywood playing murderous Japanese soldiers and pilots. A Japanese comic named Richard Loo – born in Seattle – made a lot of money adopting a funny, Japanese accent. (“Die, Yankee Dog!”) Many had never been out of the United States but they looked the part so they were in casting demand. Now, it’s Muslims. Or anyone dark-skinned who can pull of an accent that sounds Muslim-ish. Even if they were born in New Jersey.
Today’s comic books and video games are full of villainous characters who look and sound Mideastern, are given foreign-sounding names or are actually labeled “Muslims.” Like my generation 70 years ago, our kids are being fed negative stereotypes to create negative impressions. “Bad guys” and “good guys.”
We’re doing it again. It’s as wrong in 2013 and it was wrong in 1942. Except now – much more than then – we’re inundated with mass communications assaulting us with this racist effluent. We have people paid to stoke racist fires – scorn those who look or talk differently – heap suspicion and hate on the innocent – influence already narrow minds to be even more afraid.
Our nation is fearful and angry. Our financial institutions have ridden roughshod over us. Our government is unresponsive. Politicians have turned their back on what we’ve told them we want done. Too many of them – and too many of wealth with private agendas – are disconnected from the citizenry and acting in self-interest and greed. Security has been replaced with insecurity. Familiarity replaced with unfamiliar social and convoluted economic conditions. Societal civility has been replaced with societal incivility. Peace and calm in our neighborhoods have been too often replaced with gunfire and terrorism.
At a time when we need more understanding – more civility – more patience – an increased ability to adjust to swift changes all around us – especially in these times, we must not fall back into characterizing a religion or a group of people different from ourselves as we did all those years ago.
Have there been Muslim terrorists among us? Yes. Have they done damage in our country? Yes. A few. But, before condemning a way of life – a religion – here’s something to remember. The Sunday before he bombed the Murrah Office Building in Oklahoma City and killed 168 people, Tim McVey was in church. The Baptist Church where he grew up.
Damned Christians. Like most of us in America.