To the editor:
Well, it looks like Mr. Chuck Smith agrees with me on one thing: the importance of the teachable moment. Now, I wish he’d actually try to learn what the meanings of stereotyping, prejudice and “-isms” (racism, creedalism, etc.) are.
In his latest letter of Dec. 7 (“Muslims have values that are different”), Mr. Smith delivers several examples of just how poorly he seems to have grasped those concepts. Citing Ben Carson’s race does not advance the conversation about Carson’s statement that “a Muslim would not be fit to be president of the United States.” Nor does Mr. Smith’s implied (and Islamophobic) assumption that American Muslims want this nation to be governed by Sharia law. And it is those assumptions that the teachable moment can be found.
It goes like this: Stereotyping is a belief system that assumes all people of an identified group (based on race, religion, sex, orientation, etc.) possess, en masse, identical negative and potentially harmful traits and attitudes. Discrimination goes beyond belief. It occurs when action, either verbal and/or physical, is applied to the stereotyped group. An “-ism” is simply discrimination backed by institutionalized power.
Mr. Smith asked to know when he stereotyped anyone. I offer his latest example. “Muslims have values that are different than the values that have made America the great country that it is.” His assumption — that all (or even most) American Muslims wish to implement Sharia law in this nation — is the stereotype that has seemingly contributed to his discriminatory rhetoric in his published letters and his Islamophobia (an unwarranted fear of Islam). That he cannot understand that advocating against the rights of Muslims to run for any political office is to relegate them to second-class citizenship, when combined with his past exhortations to the Muslim community to learn the precepts of his own faith, is an example of creedalism. Taken together, his words and actions are an example of bigotry which is largely defined in most dictionaries as the “stubborn and complete intolerance of any creed, belief or opinion that differs from one’s own.”
There is a difference between name-calling and labeling observed behavior. I acknowledge that I often express intolerance toward prejudice and discrimination. But my mind remains open to arguments based on logic and reason, rather than fear and hyperbole, or any “-ism.”
But I wish this were true of Mr. Smith’s attitudes. When he calls on our teachers to do away “with all this ridiculous political correctness,” he seems to be saying that respect for the basic humanity of others should be ignored if they differ from his personal norm. When he says that teachers need to “teach respect and honor for our men and women in blue,” he is showing an amazing ignorance about what is actually being espoused in our classrooms.
And when Mr. Smith keeps railing about Islam in an attempt to make our Muslim brothers and sisters something less than the rest of us, he is, in my opinion, expressing views that run contrary to the lessons that Jesus tried to teach us.
If Mr. Smith truly believes his religion is superior to Islam, he might try living it a bit more closely. If he did, I suspect he’d find that his values and those of his Muslim neighbors have a lot more in common than he thinks.