I feel like there is a tsunami of religious intolerance sweeping the globe lately.
In New York: The growing controversy over building a Muslim center a couple blocks from ground zero results in a Muslim cab driver being stabbed. Anti-Islam fervor appears to be growing, fed by the right-wing media. Tara Bahrampour in the Washington Post reports that this recent backlash against Muslims in the U.S. has Muslim students at American University in Washington D.C. feeling fearful and very upset.
In Pakistan: Members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community (2 to 4 million Pakistanis) are being targeted for death by "traditional Muslims", apparently with the tacit approval of the government, and suicide bombers are blowing up Shiite mosques, according to an article by Trudy Rubin in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Shockingly, she reports that the Pakistani constitution, since 1974, has labeled Ahmadis "non-Muslim" (and therefore open to persecution, even unto death.)
On network news in the U.S.: On NBC's Today Show, there was an interview by Brian Williams with President Obama about the growing number of Americans who believe Obama is a Muslim. While I respect Brian Williams as a journalist, he introduces his interview by saying that President Obama is facing accusations that he is a Muslim. Accusations? As if being Muslim were a crime?
What is going on?
Fortunately, even in the midst of growing religious intolerance, we find examples of people seeking to spread understanding and respect for others of differing faiths. Today I read in the Minneapolis Star Tribune that a group of Muslims are handing out small cards entitled "Islam Explained" at the Minnesota State Fair. As one participant explained: "'Education promotes tolerance,' said Julianne Scasny, a Muslim who was handing out cards outside the State Fair Sunday with her husband, Mounaf Alsamman, a U.S. citizen from Syria who said he has never seen such suspicion of Islam in the United States as he has seen recently."
Empathy can push back against this tsunami of hatred and misunderstanding. Let us do all we can to stand up for the humanity of all people on this planet, of whatever religious beliefs, including those who do not believe in God at all. And let us educate ourselves. When I go to the State Fair this weekend, I will be sure to seek out the "Islam Explained" card and read it carefully.