One of my favorite books as a kid was The Chosen by Chaim Potok. Today, I’ve been thinking a lot about a small moment in the sequel when Reuven, a rabbinical student, explains to his terrified teacher, a rabbi who survived the Holocaust, that there won’t be pogroms in the wake of conviction of the Rosenbergs for spying:
“Reuven, will there be–trouble?” His voice was tense with fear.
“What kind of trouble?”
“No. There won’t be any trouble for Jews.” Then, I realized what was disturbing him. “It doesn’t work like that,” I said, very gently. “There will be no pogroms because of the Rosenbergs.”
He looked me in disbelief. He had been in this country two years and he still didn’t understand what it was really all about.
Treating and respecting people as individuals no matter their faith is at the cornerstone of what makes America function and truly a marvelous place. It’s what allows not just to rub along but to be a single people: Americans.
In a time when many are using fear over security to whip up support for political purposes, we cannot succumb to groupthink over our Muslim and Sikh neighbors that would have us think that they are part of some pernicious group conspiracy. We know all too well where such thoughts lead.
As Fareed Zakaria explained so well in his column on the wave of anti-Muslim rhetoric in America:
It also misunderstands how religion works in people’s lives. Imagine a Bangladeshi taxi driver in New York. He has not, in any meaningful sense, chosen to be Muslim. He was born into a religion, grew up with it, and like hundreds of millions of people around the world in every religion, follows it out of a mixture of faith, respect for his parents and family, camaraderie with his community and inertia. His knowledge of the sacred texts is limited. He is trying to make a living and provide for his family. For him, Islam provides identity and psychological support in a hard life. This is what religion looks like for the vast majority of Muslims.
Muslims and Sikhs aren’t just like us. They are us. At least they are if we want to remain who we are and have struggled so long to become as a nation and a people.