Our winning suggestion this month is “On Muslims and Religious Freedom” and it has me reflecting about current debates on racial and religious profiling. Maybe it’s because I am a child of the 70s, but I have a really hard time with it. Where are the days of Marlo Thomas and the “Free to Be You and Me” puppets? The overwhelming lesson to my generation was that everyone is equal – skin color, religion, gender – none of it makes a difference. A person should be experienced and judged as an individual, always.
These lessons tend to fade after childhood however. Prejudice in the US continues to run rampant. Gay bashing, ghettos, slurs, different pay scales for men vs women in the same jobs - it’s all over the place. And since 911, Muslims have been getting the brunt of it. There was a mobile SMS which circulating after 911 which said “All Muslims are not terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims.”
Personally I have a visceral reaction when I hear a blanket statement applied to any person or group, even it it’s a positive comment. And it always shocks me when someone I know well comes out with this kind of remark. “Well, he’s a (fill in the blank) and you know they’re all like that…” Ugh. However, is profiling about discrimination or is it about safety?
In this article, Muslim-American Asra Q Nomani argues in favor of profiling, and she quotes herself from a recent debate: “In the debate, I said, ‘Profile me. Profile my family,’ because, in my eyes, we in the Muslim community have failed to police ourselves.” An interesting thought.
To some extent it is human instinct to be prejudiced. We are by nature suspicious of the unfamiliar – it’s a defense mechanism. However, we can train ourselves to be more open-minded and I think those 70s children’s TV shows were all about that. Today’s children’s programming is the same... children across America are learning Spanish from Dora the Explorer, while my generation learned it from Sesame Street.
I admit I have an idealistic nature, and I like to think that all people are good at heart. That race or religion or skin tone have nothing to do with whether you are a decent person or not and no one should ever be judged for the acts or beliefs of others. Profiling walks a very fine line between necessary safety measures and legalized demonization of an entire demographic. Terrorism is not a religious act, in fact no religion permits violence. Islam fully prohibits its followers from war and any kind of violence. Any kind of racism on the grounds of religion must be criticized and discouraged, including profiling.
You can be anything you want in life if you just put your mind to it. America is still a very young country and we’re still learning. Maybe a little “Free to Be” is in order here.