Karen Telleen-Lawton: The Quest for Sustainable Tolerance After 9/11
Our great 'experiment' in democracy is and will always be a work in progress
Last year around the 10th anniversary of 9/11, I read a moving opinion piece by Dean Obeidallah. He is an award-winning comedian, he has appeared on TV shows such as Comedy Central’s Axis of Evil special, ABC’s The View, CNN’s What the Week and HLN’s The Joy Behar Show. He is a New Jersey-born Arab- and Italian American who considered himself an average American white kid until 2001.
“Soon after 9/11, I found that my membership in ‘The White Club’ had been revoked,” Obeidallah has written. “I was now a minority, which, truthfully, was not something I wanted to be.”
A decade later, he has grown into his Arab-American minority status. He considers himself a “comedian missionary,” joking in recent routines that Americans of Middle Eastern decent have had to learn a new mantra for traveling by air: Dress white, make your flight.
Nevertheless, he is greatly concerned with the increase in anti-Muslim rhetoric by politicians, religious leaders and in media outlets. He believes the hate language is even stronger now than in the days after 9/11.
“There was a time in our nation’s history when if you wanted to demonize a religion or race, you had to wear a white sheet over your head,” Obeidallah writes. “Not any longer. Indeed, peddlers of hate wouldn’t want to cover their face because they want people to know who they are so they can sell more books, secure more well-paying speaking engagements and appear more often on television.”
But Obeidallah sees hopeful signs. The Southern Poverty Law Center, a 40-year-old nonprofit created to expose the actions of hate groups, now keeps tabs on Muslim hate movements and their leaders.
“Thankfully,” Obeidallah writes, “this begins the marginalization of these Muslim hate groups to the fringes of American society where they justly belong.”
He also notes that more interfaith alliances between Muslims, Christians and Jews have been formed. The Interfaith Initiative of Santa Barbara County is one such group showing us all the way to tolerance.
When we see intolerance in Americans, we need to shine a light on it. We can’t allow it to hide behind notions such as “American Exceptionalism,” the 21st century version of “America: Love it or leave it.” This belief seems to label as un-American efforts to align our country’s actions with our ideals.
As one of my favorite modern theologians, the Rev. Richard Rohr, writes, “If there is such a thing as human perfection, it seems to emerge precisely from how we handle the imperfection that is everywhere, especially our own.” This call for humility and tolerance is where I see hope.
Rohr believe a society, as well as an individual, learns best from recovering from falls. In turning away from slavery, we expanded our previous ideas for who was worthy of being treated as a human. Each immigrant group has endured trials and intolerance. In time we recognize injustices and remember our ideals, defining new standards and voting them into the laws of the land.
We continue to struggle to uphold justice and equality for minorities and disadvantaged people of every kind. The struggle — the willingness to admit that we’re flawed and to strive to be better — is what makes us great.
So when I remember 9/11, I remember the victims and I remember the sorrow and well wishes of nations around the world who suffered with us. I remember above all that our great “experiment” in democracy is and will always be a work in progress. It succeeds to the extent it works for the least of us — the tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free.
— Karen Telleen-Lawton’s column is a mélange of observations spanning sustainability from the environment to finance, economics and justice issues. She is a fee-only financial advisor (www.DecisivePath.com) and a freelance writer (www.CanyonVoices.com).
»wrote on 09/11/12 @ 09:46 AM
Well said Socaljay. I truly believe the multiculturalism we see today divides us rather than drives us together. Constantly touting skin color as being more important than any other attribute is shallow and destructive and now we see gays doing the same thing, touting attraction as more important than being a society with those ties that bind. Religion may have been the for runner on divide and concur but it is now firmly grasped by all and in particular secular interests.
»wrote on 09/11/12 @ 09:19 AM
There are so many shades of gray in this topic it boggles the mind. There is no fault in desiring a utopian world. Reality, however, is much different. Look around the world and what do you see? Is it any wonder that normal citizens are afraid? Is it any surprise that people demonstrate undesirable levels of fear and loathing about something they don’t understand or accept?
Show me another religion in the world where radical members of that religion relish the opportunity to bring down death and destruction in their passing. Show me how you can discern the difference between one member of the same faith who would never carry out such an attack and one that would. The only way is to adhere to ideals that transcend our differences and bring us together. It used to be identification as an American. Now we are Asian-Americans, Black-Americans, Hispanic Americans, Muslim-Americans and others. Where is the tie that binds us together?
When you talk about hate groups, why is it only the “white” groups that are singled out? What about black hate groups? Hispanic hate groups? Islamic hate groups? Are they protected just because they are minority groups? What happens when, as census trends are showing, caucasians become the minority group? Does anyone really expect better behavior then that demostrated today?
From a societal perspective, multiculturalism has never worked. It would require that common themes be identified and promoted as being desirous. But in this day and age of touting our differences, is there any hope of that happening? In America this will never happen as long as our individual racial heritage is given more air time than the human ties that bind. If you want tolerance, you might want to let go of our petty differences.
»wrote on 09/11/12 @ 06:22 AM
In honor of our fallen citizens and first responders ,the whole story of the lead up and lack of action by the Bush administration needs more daylight. Here is some of what is known. http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-505263_162-57510158/ny-times-reporter-bush-white-house-didnt-listen-to-9-11-warnings/