Sunday, April 3, 2011

Intolerance Hits Home

I was hoping to have Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter finished in time to post my review this morning, but, alas, it was not to be. Instead, I want to talk about something that happened to a close friend of mine yesterday.

A little background: I met Marianne my freshman year at college. She was a senior at the time and we met because we were both taking the same Earth Science course. We only knew each other a brief time so I didn't really expect that the friendship would last. But we kept in touch after she graduated and six years later, she and I are like brother and sister. There are very few people in the world that I am closer to or that I care about more than I do about her. So, of course, the following story deeply affected me when she told me about it yesterday afternoon.

Marianne recently converted to Islam. It was a decision that she had been considering for quite a while and I support her fully. I have had the privilege to live with two Muslim men from Morocco and have another close American friend who converted a few years ago, so I am very familiar with the religion and its teachings. Contrary to what the media would have people believe, Islam is a very peaceful religion that is being destroyed in the public mind by the actions of a few radicals. It is incredibly misunderstood and people are not taking the time to educate themselves and are, instead, relying on the biased media outlets to provide them with information regarding the religion.

So here's the story:

She works at a library and today a woman came in and asked her where the display was that portrayed Muslims being a threat to America. She went on to say that they were dangerous. This woman was literally asking if the library had a display case dedicated to books that spread hatred, perpetuate stereotypes, and encourage distrust of an entire segment of the world's population. But it gets even worse from there.

Marianne told the woman that she herself was Muslim and that the library did have books on Islam but that they weren't on display and the woman would have to look up the books for herself. The woman says, "You're Muslim? Oh my God, you converted?" Marianne calmly told the woman "yes" and that it was one of the best decisions she had ever made. The woman then called her a terrorist and said, "I feel sorry for traitors like you."

When Marianne told me this story, not only did my jaw literally drop, but I also may or may not have threatened to track this woman down and do her serious bodily harm. I was absolutely appalled that this woman felt that she had the right to judge Marianne and, what's more, that she felt it was okay to call someone she didn't even know a terrorist and a traitor. Marianne's coworkers were just as shocked and appalled, which gives me hope that there are some people in the world who haven't gone insane, but the fact still remains that there are those who feel that their freedom of speech extends to disparaging people because of their religious beliefs.

But it doesn't stop there. It is not only Muslims who are facing these kinds of challenges. At my own library, I work with two women who are nuns. There are the sweetest, kindest women you could ever hope to meet. They truly practice what they preach and are the very definition of the true meaning of Christian. They, too, face the same kinds of remarks. One woman told them that they shouldn't be allowed to work in a library. Others have been remarkably rude to them about their habits (the traditional head garb of nuns). Still others have mistaken them for Muslims and have given them dirty looks because of it.

I am, frankly, disturbed by the level of intolerance in this country. It isn't just religion, obviously. We are divided on every sort of line--racial, political, socio-cultural, you name it. It's like we've forgotten how to be respectful of each other. Or maybe we never really knew how to do that in the first place.

I ask anyone who is reading this--regardless of whether you are Christian, Atheist, Buddhist, Muslim, Pastafarian, or anything in between--to think before you speak. If it were you, how would you feel? If it were your sister, your father, your best friend, your significant other, would you want them to be insulted, to be made to feel less than human?

There will always be people who are rude and intolerant but that number decreases every time someone says to themselves, "This is not who I am. I'm not the kind of person who judges someone based on their religion, their skin color, their sexual orientation, etc." Will you be one of those people? One of the ones who takes a stand against prejudice and simply allows people to live and let live?



  1. It's one of the drawbacks of working in a public library that one is exposed to some of these people, who feel that they can open their mouths and let the nastiest things out. Your post made me think back on a patron who came in about 2 years ago -- she looked like a sweet little old lady.... until she started spewing hateful things about Islam and our religion collection. Appalling.

    I was raised in a non-denominational family, and to always be respectful of others' religious choices. I wish everyone could be respectful -- you don't need to convert, but don't condemn the choices of others. I'm sorry for your friend and the awful experience she had.

  2. Libraries are great places to work. The patrons, however, are sometimes another story. :)