OP-ED: Don’t Be A Bystander
Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday, because it is one that Americans celebrate as a nation, regardless of faith. I find it comforting to think that for one day, whatever our differences, we are all united in gratitude.
This year, however, I find myself disturbed – no, more than disturbed, seriously frightened – by a growing tide of unchecked “anti-other” rhetoric.
In 2003, the “Anne Frank – A History for Today” exhibit came to Greenwich High School. I was fortunate to serve as a docent and have the opportunity to lead groups of students through the exhibit, from which we hoped they would take away three critical points. First, history isn’t just a boring subject for school; it provides lessons for the situations we face today. Secondly, that we must fight prejudice and persecution wherever and whenever we encounter it. Students learned that Hitler didn’t come to power and immediately establish death camps. The road to Auschwitz was paved by a gradual and insidious process in which Jews, dissidents, homosexuals, the Roma, and the disabled were determined to be “untermenschen,” deprived of rights and property and, when there was little or no protest, their lives.
That led to the most important lesson: that none of us can afford to be bystanders. Whether it is seeing a fellow student being bullied in the hallway at school or a fellow human being maligned in the streets or the media, we must speak up for what is right or risk being complicit.
Yet what do these kids see modeled? In the last month alone we’ve had Glenn Beck’s three-part series comparing George Soros to “The Puppet Master,” in which he spewed Protocols of the Elders of Zion memes of Jewish World Domination conspiracies like a 21st Century Father Coughlin.
Meanwhile, we had the painfully surreal irony of watching Juan Williams, the same Afro-American journalist who wrote: “Racism is a lazy man’s substitute for using good judgment,” declaring on Fox News: “When I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and… they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.”
When Williams was fired from NPR for those comments, he was rewarded with a $2 million, three-year contract from Fox. But this is hardly surprising, since Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes is quick with the hatespeak himself, saying of NPR executives: “They are, of course, Nazis. They have a kind of Nazi attitude. They are the left wing of Nazism.”
When criticized for his rhetoric by the ADL, Ailes wrote an “apology” in which he blames “rabbis” for using Fox “in an unscrupulous manner.” Oh, but he’s a great supporter of Israel, so it’s okay.
Why does this stuff matter so much? Because if we don’t stop it, we get people like State Rep Rex Duncan in Oklahoma, calling Islam “cancer that must be removed with a pre-emptive strike” and somehow managing to convince 70% of the population that this is a good idea, despite the fact that Muslim’s make up 0.81 of that state’s population and there is a good likelihood that SQ755 violates the Second Amendment, not to mention that the clause that prohibits Oklahoma courts from “using or considering international law” could really screw things up for any overseas companies planning to do business in the state.
Meanwhile this week a judge in Tennessee ruled that the construction of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro could proceed, despite the hysterical claims of the plaintiffs asking for an injunction because they “have been and will be irreparably harmed by the risk of terrorism generated by proselytizing for Islam and inciting the practices of sharia law,” which, according in their view “advocates sexual abuse of children, beating and physical abuse of women, death edicts, honor killings, killing of homosexuals, outright lies to Kafirs (those who don’t submit to sharia law), Constitution-free zones, and total world dominion.”
Never mind that there has been a mosque in Murfreesboro for years, with nary a Constitution-free zone in sight.
It’s almost beyond belief that the US Department of Justice had to send a memo to the court to as the judge reviewed the case to clarify:
“Under the United States Constitution and other federal laws, it is uncontroverted that Islam is a religion, and a mosque is a place of religious assembly.”
Seriously? Is this what we’ve come to?
Brian Levin, Director at the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University wrote in a Huffington Post piece on the anniversary of Kristallnacht
“The most probable and immediate threat to American Muslims today is not that they will be rounded up over a couple of days in some dramatic orgy of state approved violence like Kristallnacht. Rather, the threat lies in a continuing incremental erosion and estrangement of them by other Americans.”
I ask that even no matter how much you love your media outlet, or your friend, or your relative, that if you hear them engaging in extreme rhetoric, don’t be a bystander. Call them on it. Then I can truly give thanks for the America I love.
Sarah Darer Littman is a columnist for Hearst Newspapers and an award-winning novelist of books for teens. Long before the financial meltdown, she worked as a securities analyst and earned her MBA in Finance from the Stern School at NYU.