Shades of the Taliban

Hatred and intolerance are not the exclusive property of demented fundamentalists from the Middle East. We have our home-grown varieties as well.

Those of us who have lived in Indiana for a while tend to stereotype Martinsville. It is certainly not a new phenomenon: I still recall a conversation with Holton Hayes, who served as Deputy Director of the Department of Metropolitan Development when my husband was Director. Holton, who was African-American, told of his reaction to an assignment that would take him to Martinsville. “Are you kidding?” he had responded to whoever it was who wanted him to attend the meeting. “A black guy in a nice car in Martinsville? I wouldn’t come out alive!”
Even then, Holton’s reaction was hyperbolic, but residents of Martinsville continue to act in ways that reinforce the stereotype. A few years ago, it was racial epithets shouted by high school students during a game against Bloomington’s integrated basketball team. More recently, it was a letter sent by a Martinsville Deputy Sheriff to the Editor of the Martinsville Reporter-Times.
“I get offended,” he wrote “when I have to give up prayer in school. Once again because it might upset Hadji Hindu or Buddy Buddha. Talk about majority. When I look around, I see no mosque, or fat bald guys with bowls in their laps. I see churches. I’m offended when I turn on a television show and without fail a queer is in the plot just like it’s a natural thing. America put God in the closet and let the queers out.”
Well, gee. I guess that tells all of us what un-American really means: different from him!
Reading the Deputy’s whining diatribe, it is tempting to simply shrug off the letter as a howl of protest from someone who woke up one morning to find that the rules had been changed.  Suddenly, heterosexual white Protestant males don’t get to run the whole world—and how terribly, terribly unfair that is. One is tempted to write back “Have your tantrum and suck your thumb, but the world will not regress into the comfortable bigotry that privileged you and caused great pain to everyone who wasn’t a ‘member of the club’. Get used to it.”
Unfair as it may be to ascribe to Martinsville the sentiments of one angry white male, the fact that he draws his salary from the city and acts on its behalf justifies some concern. Just as Holton feared Martinsville’s law enforcement against blacks, gays and Muslims can be forgiven for feeling less than safe in interactions with the local sheriff’s department. While the Deputy is entitled to express himself, while he does not lose his first amendment rights when he pins on his badge, taxpayers in their turn are entitled to express concern that the department hires people who—by their own admission—are unable to treat all citizens equally.
The Deputy’s letter and the attacks against Muslim-Americans in the wake of September 11 should serve to remind us that hatred and intolerance are not the exclusive property of demented fundamentalists from the Middle East. We have our home-grown varieties as well. In fact, the supreme irony of the letter is that it was cast as a defense of patriotism; as if gay Americans, Muslim-Americans and those of us who uphold the Constitutional requirement to separate Church from State are part of the enemy,  “fellow travelers” with the Taliban. What the writer failed to recognize is that the Taliban and similar movements are simply a more extreme manifestation of the very intolerance he represents.
The enemy is not the “fat guys with bowls on their laps”, the “queers,” or First Amendment purists. The enemy is hate.  Perhaps we should send the Deputy a mirror.