September 16, 2001:
"Nationalism--patriotism--is perfectly all right, but when it gets to the point when you hate all other people, you're going way too far. That's what got the Muslims in America scared. Here--in the land of religious freedom--we're persecuting Muslims? Shame on you, America!"
September 26, 2001:
"They have killed an Egyptian Christian in L.A. just because he was middle-eastern looking... As a student of German history, I am worried. Okay, here's the scenario. A newly-elected president, elected by a small majority, escapes a terrorist attack meant for him and rallies the people to his side. Bush? Yes. Hitler? Also yes.... When a popular leader takes control during a crisis, promising security, often people are willing to give up rights for security, give the leader more power than he ought to have, and look the other way when he commits terrible atrocities."
When I wrote this, I was at Pensacola Christian College, the ultra-conservative Florida unaccredited college I had enrolled in primarily because I didn't know any better and was, back then, quite conservative myself. I had turned 18 the summer before, and three months later was to leave the school; but I was still in the extremely censored environment of PCC. I had no access to "liberal propaganda" of any sort--even the news was censored there. But unlike most of my fellow students, I had the benefit of being, at that time, a German citizen interested enough in the history of my birth country to want to understand how and why the Holocaust had happened, and how average Germans let it happen. I saw the parallels.
We staged invasions, sent soldiers, created chaos. Most of it was comfortably far away from home. The Middle East is in chaos. And now some politicians, looking for presidential nominations, are tacitly agreeing when people say we ought to "get rid of" Muslims.
This makes me very sad. I've been naturalized now, and America is my home. I follow the international news, and I feel helpless; but I also feel ashamed of my country. We've done things that were wrong. Not just mistakes or screw-ups, but plain wrong. Evil. And the average American didn't really notice.
At least in the US, a relatively large number of people speak out against it. The abuses at Guantanamo Bay became a scandal rather than par for the course. People are used to democracy here; in Germany, they had only a few decades' experience with it. I have hope that America will shed its xenophobia, at least to the extent of not killing people for being different from ourselves; I have hope that some day we will promote true religious freedom and see ourselves as equals with the rest of the world, not as superiors.
But if we don't, if it gets worse, then I won't be one of the people averting their eyes while cattle-cars pass through my town. I can't; I couldn't bear it. Right now, all I can do is vote for those politicians who have good track records in international diplomacy and reasonable skill at understanding other peoples' perspectives. I'm still depending on democracy to turn us back around to doing the right thing. But if democracy fails, then serving my country means I can't stand by and do nothing.
To my Muslim friends, neighbors, fellow students, and fellow citizens of Earth:
I see you out there, unapologetically Muslim. I see your courage, making yourselves known, letting us see that you exist and that you are everyday people. And I get the message: You are different from me, but you are as human as I am, and the differences do not change your rights or your value. When you wear a headscarf and attend the same classes I do, your differences become familiar. The awkwardness diminishes. You become just another student. But initially you had to take a risk to openly identify yourselves as Muslims, and I applaud you.
I'm a Christian, and in that respect I'm part of the American majority, so I don't really know what it's like to be part of a minority religion. My experiences of being the target of prejudice mostly come from being disabled and deciding that, despite autistic people being mistreated for being autistic, I wasn't going to try to hide my autism.
That's not particularly similar to what it must be like to be a Muslim in a majority-Christian country, but it did give me some ideas to start with. There are some universals that apply to everyone--the right to hold our own beliefs, practice our faith, and be true to ourselves. Both Christians and Muslims worship the God of Abraham, though we have different ideas about who he is. I think you're wrong, and you think I'm wrong; but acknowledging those differences, in values and lifestyle and faith, doesn't mean I am going to forget about the fact that God loves you every bit as much as anyone else, and expects me to love you every bit as much as I would love a Christian with the exact same set of beliefs that I hold. You are fellow humans, and that is all that really matters. You are infinitely valuable.
In the past, Muslims and Christians have killed each other, but that's not you, and it's not me. We're only people. We aren't responsible for that animosity any more than I'm responsible for Auschwitz because I'm German. But I have the responsibility to learn from Germany, to care about people who are in other countries, who have different faiths, and whom our government has branded "terrorists" and "terrorist sympathizers". Well, if I'm not a Nazi, then I don't think you're a terrorist. You're mostly trying to get on with your lives, just like I am. We can reject all of that and see in each others' eyes simply another human being; we can replace hate with curiosity, xenophobia with an honest desire to understand how the other person sees the world.
If it really comes down to it, if you need help, I'll be there for you. So will many, many other Americans. I'm not the only one who is disturbed at the way our government has been treating anyone who seems "foreign" (even those who have been American citizens for generations!). If you are mistreated, we'll stand up against it; if you are excluded, we'll refuse to participate. When we help each other, help our neighbors and friends and co-workers and fellow students, you'll be included in that group; we know you'll help us when we need it. We won't let them divide our communities into little chunks fighting against each other. We're neighbors--in the biblical sense, even if we don't live next door. We know you're different, and we might feel awkward, maybe even accidentally insult you; but beyond that awkwardness of interacting with those who are different is the firm belief that they are human and have rights and are worth protecting.
Point being: If they want to mess with you, they've got to go through me first. And through everybody else who agrees with me, which is an awful lot of people. You're not alone.