We can file this into the “unpopular opinion” category, but I stand by my opinion, none-the-less.
There is a young man I know. I don’t know him well, but I know that he is seventeen, just started his senior year of high school. He has an older brother who is in Afghanistan. He had an older brother that died in Iraq. He had an uncle that died when the twin towers fell in New York.
He’s a good kid. Gets straight As, helps his father with the family business which was started by his grandfather, helps his mother carry groceries, babysits his little sister. He prays regularly and studies scripture. He’s saving up money to buy his first car, and is trying to decide what college he wants to go to after he graduates in the spring.
But, he’s afraid. He’s afraid of extremists targeting the country he loves. He’s afraid for the lives of his family. He’ll tell you it isn’t the ones on foreign soil that terrify him, it’s the people living right here, next door to him, down the street, working in the convenient store and the gas station on the corner.
There’s a scar on the back of his hand, and another on his chin. If you ask about them, he’ll get shy and change the subject, tell you about the play he’s writing or the book he’s reading. Over tea, his mother tells me that he doesn’t like to talk about it because it reminds him of his fear, and he doesn’t want to be afraid.
In hushed tones she tells me of a day a year or so ago when her son was attacked by these extremists, hurling hate and vitriol at him, along with rocks and broken bottles as he walked his sister home from school. When I ask why they wanted to hurt him, she shrugs and says they too must be afraid, and fear makes us brave, our terror fuels terrorist acts. It is how we mask our fear from those around us, she says.
I ask if they ever caught the extremists who hurt her son and she quietly tells me they did not even report the crime. They did not feel any good would come of it. The kids no longer walk to and from school. She drives them on her way to work and her brother picks them up.
On the day I visit, her brother is painting the front door, having chosen a bright red enamel paint. She dislikes the color, but nothing else will cover the red graffiti someone painted on their door. She says they will replace the door eventually.
The neighborhood has changed, she says. People have moved in that are very different from her family. They keep to themselves and build their own community centers and religious places, they put up signs that make her feel like the outsider in her own neighborhood.
She says the irony is she has lived in this same house since she was born. It was her great grandfather’s house, and her grandfather’s and her father’s. She and her husband inherited it when her father passed.
And in those religious places, fear and hatred fester. People are taught to fear the infidel, the unbeliever. People are roused to spiritual war, to go out and convert the “other” by any means, or if they will not convert, drive them out, take over the neighborhood, the county, the state, the country.
This is what her son fears. These are the people who hurt him, who make him afraid to walk alone the five blocks from his front door to his father’s store. These are the people who rejoice in making a seventeen year old boy afraid.
Does it matter which religion is on either side of this story? Is Hate an American value worth dying for? Worth killing for? Worth denying someone the basic rights granted them as human beings? Can you hate another human being so much without knowing them?
In my life, I’ve known some very good people of many different faiths, or no faith at all. I’ve also known some pretty ugly and evil people of many different faiths, or no faith at all. That tells me that religion is not the deciding factor in whether or not someone is good.
If you can dismiss an entire group of people, or worse yet, hate them, without knowing anything more about them than their religion, it’s a pretty good bet you fall into the second category. And you’re no better than the people making that boy afraid to walk his sister home from school.