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Tuesday, February 19 , 2019, 8:29 pm | Fair 44º


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“Soon after 9/11, I found that my membership in ‘The White Club’ had been revoked,” Obeidallah has written.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).

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