What if we shut out a Muslim who may cure cancer?
We are on one side of a high, electrified fence. Other people (the 'Others'--in this case, Muslims) are on the--appropriately named--other side. Those on each side can see and hear one another, but are kept separated by the wall/the fence.
Suddenly, there is a crisis, or medical emergency, on our side. Someone loved by all is suffering acutely and going to die without expert help. On our side are all manner of people. Good, compassionate people. People who attend to just their own interests or those in their immediate families. Callous, unpleasant, mean-spirited, hate-filled, even destructive and violent people. There are artists, musicians, poets, doctors and teachers on our side. There are libraries, museums, repositories of medicines and surgical instruments, as well as enormous arsenals of weapons; (those are in drawers, closets, glove compartments, and elsewhere, almost everywhere). There are nearby hospitals.
But no one in proximity has the expertise necessary to save this precious life, about to expire, in minutes.
In this situation, demagogues screaming invectives are not of any use whatsoever
From the Muslim side, a physician, observing through the fence, calls out, (even though this person has been deeply demeaned by many on our side): "Help me get through the fence. I have been researching this matter for years and I've developed the only technique that can save this person, but only by using touch. I cannot explain this. I have to reach this person, or she will die in the next few moments."
But there is no way to get through the fence. On both sides, everyone, realizing the awful reality, stands in a state of shock, watching the deeply esteemed person suffer, then die.
What would Trump do?
Imagine whether Donald Trump would readily accept an urgently needed transplant organ or blood transfusion, if the only viable match came from a Muslim. If a database revealed his only viable donor was a Muslim in a foreign land, Trump would most likely try to 'buy' his way to the solution from someone he had fenced out on the basis of religion, and would likely fly him right over on his private jet. Or, if the only physician who knew how to save him were a Muslim, Trump surely would not hesitate to accept the salvation.
On May 1, 2010, an explosive device was activated in a car, set to go off in Times Square, in New York. The explosion was averted, not because of the FBI, or any intelligence operations. It was thwarted because a Muslim street vendor, originally from Senegal, an immigrant, alerted the American born vendors next to him, and asked them to call 911. They in turn alerted police and the device was defused. This man, the first person to see something, and to say something, was largely ignored by the media; but he is, nonetheless, the person many people will never know, who changed, or saved, their lives. (See this CBS report)
Had this man left to visit Senegal and then tried to reenter the U.S. in April of 2010, and if Donald Trump then had power, would Trump and his followers have welcomed him back? What would have been the cost of keeping him out? How many would have perished or been maimed in Times Square?
Who is already among us, on our side? Whom would we like to expel, on some stereotypical basis, if we could? Whom would we prevent from entering, according to what precise criteria? Whom would we invite and welcome?
When we board a plane, we may hope there is a competent doctor on board, in case of some unforeseen medical crisis among the passengers or crew. But the TSA never screens for inclusion of someone who has this value to fellow fliers, rather than solely for exclusion of someone posing a potentially danger.
In all circumstances, we may generally hope people around us are good, attentive, and capable of reacting well in whatever situation may arise. Hopefully, those in our midst may, if necessary, be the ones best emotionally, or professionally, equipped to intervene for the well being of all. But each day we go places where we have no idea who is around us; what are their motivations, their hostilities, their abilities, their skills, their natures.
Yet we do not expect or want gates at the entrance of virtually everything; monitoring, inviting some in and denying others, based on an infinitely long list of possible eventualities. We don't want roadblocks at every junction, to stop everyone and determine what sensibilities those trying to enter every road, venue, or event may be bringing that day.
Currently, there is endless talk and screaming about whom we should keep out, or push out, according to some criteria, beyond the imperfect criteria we already have in place in this country to try to screen out those who may actually desire to do great harm. The diatribes, stereotyping, and the barriers we erect may perhaps keep out some bad actors, while they may well provoke others to become bad actors.
It seems evident that the likes of Donald Trump want to actually provoke this, that they take great pleasure, satisfaction and garner ever more traction if they are able to foment an ever deepening cycle of destruction. Take note of the unsuppressed levels of excitement which those who scream against Muslims display whenever someone who claims to be a Muslim perpetrates any destruction. The 'Trump-eter' types seem more gleeful, self-righteous and smug about this, than they seem grief-stricken for the victims.
They purport to care about violent destruction. But they say and do almost nothing to address and curtail the bad actors who are already well entrenched, are intrinsic members of 'our own' groups, communities, workplaces, and even families. We have almost no safeguards against those already among us who have the will and the means to effect massive destruction in virtually every setting. Yet when such safeguards are proposed, the proposals are, ironically, always defeated by the very people who are shouting the loudest about the dangers of those deemed the stereotyped 'Others'.
Who are the 'Others'? Who are the 'good guys'?
I've long been concerned about which groups are designated as 'Other' among us. My work granted me the honor of receiving the Spirit of Anne Frank Award in 2010, bestowed by the Anne Frank Center. I believe that Anne Frank's legacy calls us to consider the precious human resource, the people, and what they would have contributed, that was irrevocably lost when certain groups were segregated, suppressed, or deemed, preferably, extinct. I also believe the spirit of Anne Frank compels us to recall that she survived long enough to write her diary solely because of the sacrifices and acute risks taken by the non-Jewish friends who stood as allies against the horrific climate of their time, and supported her family in hiding.
I have been the only Jewish person, as an invited speaker, in venues with thousands of Muslims. I've learned that such settings are 'optimal' places to experience a health crisis; because in groups of Muslims there are always multitudes of physicians, anxious to be healing allies to any person in medical duress.
Our hospitals, pharmacies, and science labs are filled with Muslims, who, of course, also comprise vast numbers of the professionals, experts, teachers, military, coworkers, classmates and neighbors among us. Certainly, many Muslim doctors have tended the survivors of mass shootings, bombings, and terrorism; certainly many lives and limbs were saved by Muslims. (See what an Iraq veteran wrote about the Muslim who caused him to lose his leg, and those Muslims who saved and supported him.) If those currently screaming about Muslims had their true wish, and if suddenly all Muslims in this country (and the world) magically vanished, enormous human and professional resource and singular expertise would disappear as well.
Trump and associates would keep them all out, or push them out, by virtue of their religion. They do not think of those they would exclude who might be the particular precious individuals who may find the cures for such scourges as cancer, diabetes, ALS, Alzheimers or autism. Or those who may be the sort of singular individuals with the moral stature to inspire vast numbers of others to do real good for our culture. Or those who would throw themselves on a grenade being hurled by a terrorist. Or those who would turn in someone who is plotting massive destruction.
The language of exclusion and of fear-mongering, leads to all sorts of arbitrary policies which greatly harm good and innocent people. Exclusion, based on who people are, also does not save us from those already among 'our own' groups who do such great damage. The climate also leads to societal cues that it is increasingly acceptable to stereotype, harass, bully, smear, and engage in mayhem, violence or destruction; as many innocent Muslims can attest to as being the reality they now face, daily. Imagine being constantly smeared and disrespected by those screaming from the bully pulpit, by the media, in schools, workplaces, and on the street; and striving to maintain equanimity, composure and good will, and to just do one's job.
But...Dear Muslims, (also Sikhs, Hindus, South Asians and others who also have become associated in smears): Please try--if it is humanly possible--to not let the vitriol, stereotyping and generalized demonizing that now pervades our culture, make you pack up and leave, or make you hate us all wholesale in return. I know that on a vast scale you are going about your business, living your lives, continuing your good work, and praying and hoping that this insanity subsides and you can be the integral members of our communities, schools, military, government and workplaces you already are. Please know that we need you, and that many of us want you, and that numbers of us stand as your allies and friends.
Dear non-Muslims, who are buying into the stereotyping: Please follow your thoughts, wishes, stereotypes, and your fear-mongering vitriol to their conclusions, and see exactly where the sorts of policies some of you are screaming about actually lead. Consider that you may well end up on one side of the side of a wall with your loved ones and your communities in various circumstances of critical need, while those who could help you are suffering themselves, and unable to contribute their skills to your well-being. Consider that you could suffer deep contrition someday, when your children might read a famous diary of a Muslim who hoped to live safely and normally, in a time when Muslims were being demonized, tagged and held behind razor wire; and your children may ask: "What did you do to change this, and to foster peace?"
What we do
What Trump, his ilk, and his followers are espousing fosters and provokes tensions, fueling the very extremism they purport to condemn. Such tactics put everyone in ever greater danger, while they impact and harm vast numbers of good, decent innocent people. The wholesale, unhinged exhortations being shouted would exclude vast numbers who currently do, or who would do, great good among us. The policies being touted would separate us from, or even destroy, people we will never know, who may have otherwise become our dear friends, our esteemed colleagues, or even the very saviors we most ardently need in our wounded world.
Anya Cordell is a speaker, writer, activist. She is a recipient of the Spirit of Anne Frank Award bestowed by The Anne Frank Center USA and author of RACE: An OPEN & SHUT Case which unravels presumptions of what we call "race"; named among the "books to change your life" by N'Digo Magazine. Anya, who is Jewish, has passionately countered post-9/11 hate-backlash against Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, and others. Articles include "Sikhs Bearing Pizza" and "Hate Speech Against Muslims Incites Violence" . Her programs for children through adults tackle "appearance-ism", racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and all stereotyping. See www.Appearance-ism.com