There are a lot of scary things in the world.
There’s the “fun-scary”-kids who dress up as clowns, monsters, or fairy princesses once a year to get a month’s supply of candy, which they’ll finish off by morning.
There’s scary movies, from “Jaws” to “Friday the 13th” to-well-“Scary Movie.”
The murder mystery genre-in books, TV, and film-can scare even the least gullible. What’s even scarier is that there were about 1.4 million violent crimes last year; about 17,000 of them were murders, about 89 percent from firearms, according to the FBI.
Poverty, the deterioration of the environment, and Dick Cheney are all scary.
But the scariest of all is ignorance, hatred, and bigotry, wrapped within the cloak of fear.
This past week, along with a mini-mail list of about 60, I received an e-mail from a friend. She’s a nice lady, relatively bright, and active in community affairs. The e-mail has been around for several years, but is refreshed every year between Halloween and Christmas. As is custom, thousands who receive it forward it to thousands of others who are asked to boycott stamps that honor Muslim holidays. The first lines of the e-mail are bold. “How ironic is this??!!” it screams at us. “They don’t even believe in Christ and they’re getting their own Christmas stamp . . .” The graphics-laden e-mail displays a 37-cent postage stamp. The rest of the e-mail, all in bold type and colors, tells us that we are supposed to remember the “MUSLIM bombing of Pan Am Flight 103,” the “MUSLIM bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993,” and the “MUSLIM” bombings of the military barracks in Saudi Arabia and American embassies in Africa, the U.S.S. Cole, and 9/11.
We are told not only to “remember to adamantly and vocally boycott this stamp,” but that buying this stamp “would be a slap in the face to all those AMERICANS who died at the hands of those whom this stamp honors.” We are urged to forward the e-mail to “every patriotic American you know.”
The stamp, according to the U.S. Postal Service, was issued to commemorate Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, considered by Muslims as the two most important festivals in their calendar year. The calligraphy in the center of the stamp translates literally as “blessed festival,” or more loosely as, “May your religious holiday be blessed.” The stamp was first issued on Sept. 1, 2001, and then reissued in 2002, 2006, and in September this year to reflect postage increases.
Although the Post Office each year issues a stamp to honor Christmas, it also issues a non-denominational holiday stamp. It also issues stamps to honor Chanukah and Kwanzaa.
Those who write and forward the e-mails of intolerance don’t understand, and probably never will, that while some Muslim extremists were at the heart of some terrorist plots, they don’t represent Islam or any other religion. If we believe that the few Muslim terrorists represent the entire religion, we must then go to the absurdity of believing that we should boycott all Christmas stamps because some Christian extremists destroyed the federal building in Oklahoma City and murdered 178 and wounded more than 800. We would have to boycott the Christmas stamp because God-fearing Christians lynched as many as 10,000 Americans-most of them Black but many of whom were Jews, Italians, and Irish-in the century after the Civil War. We would condemn Christianity because of the Inquisitions of the 15th and 16th centuries. We would blame the Protestants and the Catholics for a religious civil war in Northern Ireland that led to the deaths of more than 3,700 in a four decade period. We would never speak favorably of any German or millions of other Europeans because the Nazis and their collaborators, good Christians all, launched the holocaust that led to the murders of 12 million and a war that claimed more than 50 million lives, most of them civilian.
On Halloween, we see pre-teen girls cutely dressed as witches, happily going door to door for candy, and we readily help them get the sugar-kick they expect every Oct. 31. We don’t condemn these pretend-witches, unlike Christians of the 17th century America who burned and drowned women because they were “witches.”
Every religion has its militant extremists who violate laws and commandments against murder, but every religion has people of peace who believe in love and tolerance. Indeed, by condemning all Muslims, we also condemn ourselves to ignorance, hatred, bigotry, and fear.
WALTER BRASCH’s 17th book is Sinking the Ship of State: The Presidency of George W. Bush. Dr. Brasch, an award-winning social issues journalist, is professor of journalism at Bloomsburg University. Assisting on this column was Rosemary R. Brasch.