Is there any way to end the hatefulness in the world? I am shocked to read two lead stories in today’s papers, both on the front page of The New York Times. One story describes the angry resistance to building mosques in some parts of America. While the controversy over the proposed mosque and cultural center near Ground Zero in New York City is (perhaps temporarily) resolved. For us New Yorkers, the resolution of this issue (if it has been resolved, for there are threats to re-open the fight) is a true blessing. We – many of us – see the building as an opportunity to demonstrate just how truly American our people are, for our country has always been a country of inclusion and diversity and while great battles over “letting them in” have been fought, as Americans we have tried to be true to our faith in our country as a land for all peoples.
But American generosity and kindness seems to be changing in this latest controversy, for in several places in America,citizens are forming groups to oppose the building of any mosques or other structures associated with Muslims. The assumption seems to based (based on what information and its validity I can’t say) that Islam is by definition a terrorist religion and that Muslims are trying to somehow conquer America!
Where do these people get this information? How can they accept it with such gut-reaction certainty when nothing could be further from the truth. I’m not a religious scholar but I think I know enough to ask the question: whatever happened to the idea that the purpose of religion is to bring people together, not drive them apart?
And then there’s the news of the murder of of the humanitarian medical aid workers in Afghanistan. Could anything be more perverse than for people who are doing good for society, who have devoted their lives to helping others, to be murdered simply because organized opponents in the country where they are working hate them because they are Americans, or because they are of a different religion (in this case Christianity, although the medical aid workers were not proselytizing – that was not their purpose in being in Afghanistan)? It’s just too hard to understand, I think. Most of us just don’t carry around that level of hatred.
There isn’t much we can say about the people who were part of the medical aid team. They were doing so much good, and they were (in the old-fashioned, vocational sense of the word) clearly called (chosen, if you will, by some power greater than I can comprehend) to do the work they were doing.
Perhaps the best tribute we can pay to them is to, as The New York Times did, quote from the blog of one of the aid workers, Dr. Karen Woo. As Liz Robbins wrote in The Times, Dr. Woo wrote on her blog last June, when she learned that two friends of a colleague had died in a plane crash in Afghanistan:
“Nothing in life is for sure, nothing that you see today will always be here tomorrow. All of these people come to Afghanistan of their own volition, they come knowing that they may pay with their lives, the black humour is rife, a good way to keep the apprehension low, to keep calm and carry on. Perhaps no one ever expects it to be them, perhaps not their immediate friends either, it always some poor unknown person, a local national, a third country national.
“W count those that matter to us. We say that we are prepared for the loss whatever that may be but is it every possible to be so? To be so prepared is at polar opposites to the decision to be there in the first place, that somehow it will never be me or anyone close to me.”