Anti-Muslim Sentiment Clouds $1M Gift To Joplin Schools

It was one of those feel-good stories that have popped up day after day since the May 22 Joplin Tornado.

The United Arab Emirates embassy pledged half a million dollars to the Joplin Schools for the One-to-One program, which is designed to give every high school student a laptop for the 2011-2012 school year.

That pledge is backed by an additional pledge of another half million if other donors can match the original amount.

The following passage was included in the school district news release:

"The entire world was touched by the devastation caused in Joplin by the May 22 tornado. Given the scale of the disaster, including the destruction of the community's only high school, we felt it was important to provide assistance," said Yousef Al Otaiba, UAE Ambassador to the U.S. "The One-to-One initiative is a truly innovative idea that will not only give current students the tools they need to start the school year, but position future Joplin Schools students on the cutting-edge of learning."

Joplin Schools and the UAE Embassy anticipate this grant as the start of a longer-term partnership between the two organizations. JS and the Embassy hope to work together to develop programming that will deepen cultural understating and awareness between the U.S. and the UAE.

At least $500,000 and probably $1.5 million being used for the benefit of students whose lives have been forever changed by the cataclysmic forces of nature.

Who could argue with such an outpouring of humanity? Who could argue with the evidence of the effect Joplin has had on the world?

Sadly, some of those who are arguing come from within Joplin. They lurk on the comment sections of blogs, including mine, and the local newspaper.

Deep torrents of bigotry are unleashed in these comments, almost always by people who hide behind the cloak of anonymity.

The first reaction on my blog, The Turner Report, was what I expected when I printed the school district's news release on the gift:

The same country that brought us the 9-11 hijackers!

Another one wrote:

Did Joplin Schools sell their souls?

Those are the ones that I allowed to remain on my blog. I do not intend to become a surrogate for the type of hatred that runs rampant among certain elements in our society. Other comments, which contained profanity and anti-Muslim slurs were removed immediately.

The Joplin Globe apparently took a different approach. Its story on the gift, on the homepage of its website, has been scrubbed of all comments.

I don't pretend to speak for the Joplin School District, Joplin High School or this city. As an educator, my job is to make sure that students get past blind hatred and prejudice and learn to reason. There are times when I wonder if I am swimming against an overwhelming tide.

It is difficult to promote reason when our culture is dominated by conversations in which those who can shout the loudest and have the catchiest soundbites are prized more than those with the ability to discuss an issue using the force of reason.

Our culture is a recipe designed to pull us apart, not bring us together.

But I have watched over these past two-and-a-half months as the most horrific event in Joplin's history has brought together not only the people of Joplin, but the people of the world.

The basic tenets of love, decency, and generosity are not limited to one country, one religion or one color.

When someone reaches out with a helping hand, we should never respond with slurs and undisguised hatred.

The correct response to the gift of the United Arab Emirates, the one which has been overwhelmingly provided by those in Joplin who do not hide their venom behind fake names or "Anonymous" is "thank you."