Okay–I guess the time for mulling over relatively abstract issues of political philosophy has passed.
I really haven’t wanted to comment on the eruptions of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, or the wars currently raging in Ukraine or Gaza, because, after all, what can I add? That Russia’s incursion is inconsistent with global order and international law? That failure to help Ukraine would undermine democracy and stability around the world? That there are no unblemished “good guys” in the history of the Middle East? That there are deep divisions of opinion and politics within both the Israeli and Palestinian populations? That none of that is an excuse for the slaughter of innocent people attending a music festival?
That rain is wet…?
What I suppose I will never understand is the widespread tendency to believe that people who share a race or religion or ethnicity are all alike. (I think that’s the definition of bigotry.)
Like most members of the Indianapolis Jewish community, I get emails from our local Jewish organizations. I recently received one that began as follows:
Ruba Awni Almaghtheh drove her vehicle into a building in a residential neighborhood at 3500 N Keystone Av, Indianapolis. This building is identified as belonging to and representing a sect of the Black Hebrew Israelites (designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center), with a semblance of a star of David on the front door. Based on this signage and “Hebrew Israelite” wording, it is believed Almaghtheh thought the building to represent Israel in some way, specifically citing the Hebrew Israelite symbol on the door. The woman was immediately taken into custody. Coordination with local and federal law enforcement continues.
I can’t help thinking that this incident displays –indeed, highlights–everything that’s wrong with bigots. Stupidity, of course, (in this case amplified by the perpetrator’s evident inability to accurately identify her target) but especially the stupidity of blaming an entire group of people for actions of some of them with which you disagree.
The incident just underlines the idiocy of racism and bigotry.
If an Arab kid stole your bike when you were young, would you grow up assuming that all Arabs are thieves? If you saw one woman faint at the sight of blood, would you conclude that no women could be surgeons?
Questions like these ought to answer themselves.
What intellectual deficit or personality flaw causes someone to conclude that all members of a defined group are alike, that any misbehavior by any one of them reflects characteristics and behaviors common to all of them–and that animus toward the entire group is thus justifiable?
(That lack of uniformity works both ways: Jews have received a wildly disproportionate number of Nobel prizes, but believe me, that doesn’t mean all Jews are smart…)
My mother used to say that the only thing two Jews could agree on was what a third should be donating to charity. She wasn’t far wrong–we’re a disputatious lot. So are Black people. So are Muslims, women, LGBTQ folks…
Humans are individuals.
Anyone who has been following the political turmoil in Israel knows that Israelis are deeply divided over the policies of the Netanyahu government, and deeply conflicted over the proper approach to Gaza and to the Palestinians. Anyone who has been following the internal politics of the American Jewish community knows that those divisions are equally sharp here. (As recently as July, for example, the Guardian reported on Jewish groups demonstrating against the Israeli settlements policy.)
The current increases in anti-Semitic and Islamophobic incidents, along with the stubborn persistence of American racism, act as uncomfortable reminders that we humans are deeply and inappropriately tribal–that we apparently have a very dangerous need to see the world in shades of “us” and “them,” and to see “them” as a monolithic, undifferentiated whole.
I don’t know what deep-seated tribal hatred convinced Ruba Awni Almaghtheh that she should ram her car into a building she presumed was occupied by “them,” or what she thought such vandalism would accomplish (other than wrecking her car). I do know that expressions of anti-Semitism, racism, homophobia and the like are the antithesis of civilized behavior, and that our current global unrest is largely due to politicians like Trump and Putin who encourage and legitimate the latent and not-so-latent bigotries of not-very-bright people.
One of the most laudable aspects of the American legal system is that it is a system that is intended to ignore the question of identity. In America, who you are isn’t supposed to matter–what does matter is how you behave. Not how your clan or tribe behaves, but how you, individually, behave.
Bigotry isn’t just stupid. It’s anti-American.