First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC
Sometimes, to understand what's going on internationally, we can profit by looking a little closer to home.
This past Sunday, I attended a recital at First Presbyterian in Greensboro. To inaugurate their magnificent new organ, First Presbyterian has been bringing leading organists from other churches, and asking for donations to support various local causes.
On Sunday evening, the cause was Habitat for Humanity of Greensboro, and the organist that was brought to perform was John Longhurst.
Longhurst is the organist at the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, Utah.
I was among many local Mormons who came to the recital to hear him play. He played with passion and precision; he selected music that showed off everything the new organ could do; he spoke between pieces with charm and wit; and the music delighted and moved us all. And we Mormons joined with others in the audience in donating to a worthy cause.
Afterward, two young Mormon missionaries were among those who came up to meet him, shake his hand, have their pictures taken with him.
We Mormons have a protective feeling toward these young men and women, who give up two years of their lives, without payment, to teach interested people about the beliefs we share. Not long ago my own son was a missionary in southern California; another fine young man in our local congregation just returned from Russia. Yet another just received his call to teach the gospel in Little Rock, Arkansas. He'll be leaving in February.
These are our sons and daughters. So even when we don't happen to know them well, we look out for them as if they were our own.
So after the recital, outside First Presbyterian, as my daughter and a friend were walking with me toward the remote location where I had parked, I noticed that the missionaries were looking at a blue slip of paper that they had taken from the windshield of their car.
"Got a ticket, Elders?" I called out.
In answer, they held out the slip of paper.
It was a sticky note on which someone had written -- and I quote it letter for letter -- "Dam Mormon's don't come back."
(We can print "dam" in a family paper because it refers to a structure that creates a reservoir. But we knew what the writer meant.)
The missionaries laughed it off. Just another note to add to the scrapbook.
But I knew that it also hurt. They were harming no one. They were just a couple of American kids parking on a public street in order to attend a recital that was open to anyone in Greensboro. Yet someone had noticed them and taken the time and effort to write that note.
A great deal of effort, obviously, since spelling and punctuating English were obviously unfamiliar tasks for the writer.
I guess when you hate somebody because of their religious beliefs, you have to make a few sacrifices to let them know they aren't wanted.
I see a lot of American flags these days. People showing that our nation won't bow before the hatred of fanatics who hate us so much they're willing to sacrifice the lives of their sons in order to try to get us to go away.
In fact, wasn't the message of September 11th "Dam American's, Christian's and Jew's, don't come back"?
The fellow who wrote that note to our missionaries didn't kill anybody.
But he certainly understood how it felt to have "outsiders" come into "his" land and do things that violated his religion. He felt a helpless rage at the thought that these "outsiders" could move about with impunity, doing whatever they liked. And he acted on that impulse, trying to do something to show just how much he hated those "outsiders" for being where he could see them.
I was a Mormon missionary once. In Brazil, in the great city of Sao Paulo and some of the smaller cities in the surrounding countryside. I got a lot of hate messages, too -- shouted from passing cars and buses, or muttered as I was shoved by passersby.
Funny thing was, they didn't hate me because I was a Mormon missionary.
They hated me because I was an American.
They called me "CIA." (Apparently they thought America would send its spies two by two through suburban neighborhoods wearing white shirts and ties.)
Isn't it ironic that in foreign countries, Mormon missionaries often have to bear personally the hatred that American foreign policy has provoked, while in the United States, the same Mormon missionaries get the identical hatred from Americans whose religious sensibilities are offended.
But sometimes it isn't "ironic." Sometimes it isn't just a catcall or a note on a windshield.
Sometimes it's a beating, like the one borne by my son's best friend while serving as a missionary in Thousand Oaks, California. Sometimes it's a shove from a passing car that knocks down a young man on his bicycle, sending him to the hospital. Sometimes it's a bullet in the head, as happened in a few years ago in Argentina, and the young man goes home to be buried.
Because of his citizenship, or his religion. Because he was a stranger.
Sometimes it's an airplane crashed into a building.
Do you want to understand the hatred that many Muslims in the Middle East feel toward America? Toward Israel?
Did you think that it was outrageous for the Taliban to imprison Christians in Afghanistan, though they were there only to help feed the hungry? To bomb American soldiers in Saudi Arabia, though they were there to liberate Muslim Kuwaitis and protect Muslim Saudis from the armies of a madman?
The same irrational fires burn in American hearts.
These terrorists are not some kind of alien creature. They are all too human.
Of course, Americans don't often get crazy enough to resort to violence on the systematic level of these terrorists.
Then again, Americans don't often feel as helpless against a vastly powerful foreign enemy.
But when Americans do feel that helpless, we're resourceful enough to figure out how to slaughter people just to make our rage known. Bombs at abortion clinics. A federal building in Oklahoma City that was blown away.
Only Timothy McVeigh didn't have the guts to stay in the van.
Intolerance is a universal trait of human beings.
And human beings everywhere are susceptible to being whipped into a frenzy of rage by demagogues. Those people who celebrated in the streets when the World Trade Center fell had been told that all the problems in their lives were the fault of evil Americans and Israelis, devils all of them. (Even the Q'uran names Christians and Jews as shaitan, satan, the enemy.)
Everywhere. If you doubt me, just look at how radical feminists pound out the message that the freest, richest, healthiest women in all of human history are the persecuted victims of a vast, eternal male conspiracy. Just look at how many of these free, rich, healthy women actually believe that their lives are burdened by endless suffering caused exclusively by men, all of whom are powerful and bent on oppressing them.
Some women do suffer, and from men, too.
But then, some Muslims have died, too, and from American bombs and shells and bullets.
Just as most men have never oppressed anybody, anywhere, most Americans have no desire to hurt any Muslim anywhere. But there are people who profit from getting their audience to believe they are victimized by monsters that have to be destroyed.
The rage that has been whipped up is out of all proportion to the actual facts. Indeed, the demagogues who wish to radicalize the mob have to lie, lie, lie in order to get the degree of fanaticism that will serve their purposes.
In the Muslim world, most imams -- teachers of purity -- preach a gentle religion of trying to perfect one's own life. But some imams have made a career out of whipping up hatred of non-Muslims, or even of Muslims not of the "right" sect.
Here in Greensboro, there are teachers of purity -- Christians, supposedly -- who tell outrageous lies about Mormons in order to try to keep their co-religionists from even listening to what we believe in. Demagogues whipping up hatred to serve their own purposes.
I'm sure they believe they're not hurting anybody.
But once you set a fire of hatred and fan the flames to get it blazing, it's no longer yours to control. The wind blows where it will, and burns up whatever is in its path.
What was done on September 11th was monstrous.
Those who did it, however, were humans. Like us.
And as we -- rightly -- wage war to prevent their rage from slaughtering more of our people, let us also look at our own house.
At our own teachers of purity, who, whether they stand in pulpits or in front of university classes, fan the flames of hatred by lying about whole groups of people.
Maybe all they mean to do is to influence legislation. Maybe they think all that will result from the hate they teach is a note on a windshield.
But just as the U.S. is holding the sponsors of terrorism responsible for what the terrorists do, perhaps the teachers of hate in our churches and campuses could keep in mind that, having set the fire, they are responsible for all the damage the fire might cause.
Even if the wind blows it far from where the fire was originally set.
There are two fronts to this war.
In faraway countries, our soldiers are trying to destroy the capability of our enemies to harm us. We can win that war.
But here at home, nobody's even fighting the war against hate.
Oh, sure, they're talking about how evil the bigots are.
The trouble is, the religious bigots are laying the blame on the politically correct bigots, and the politically correct bigots are laying the blame on the religious bigots. Nobody seems capable of seeing that they themselves are the problem.
So they create more hatred, more intolerance.
They set more fires, while condemning their neighbor for the fires he has set.
Even imperfect nations have a right to defend themselves from killers.
But don't we also have a responsibility to try to rid ourselves of the fanaticism and hatred we condemn in others? To tell no lies about the people we disagree with?
We're casting the stones. Even retroactively, shouldn't we make some effort to be without the sin?
Copyright © 2001 by Orson Scott Card.
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