Often it is the face-to-face interaction that makes real the seriousness of a political issue, or even an issue that has been needlessly politicized.
A Canadian friend, Peter Jaworski, wrote about his experience of taking a Lyft ride to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.
Jaworski, originally from Poland, is a Canadian citizen currently teaching business ethics at Georgetown University. His Lyft driver was also from somewhere else -- something once rightfully seen as a symptom of a dynamic and free society. With his permission, here is what he posted from while waiting in the airport.
Just got a ride to the airport from a Lyft driver.
He called me "brother" the whole time. He's a journalist, he tells me, asking me where I'm going and where I'm from.
I tell him, and he tells me all about Poland; the capital city, rough population, and his interactions with Poles in Chicago.
I ask about him. He tells me he's Muslim. An American Muslim, he says, from Afghanistan.
I ask about Trump, and about what it's like for him.
He tells me that he was a Republican. He was a Republican until he realized that so many Republicans hate him because of his religion. "This is not America. In America, you're not hated because of your religion. Here you are free to be Muslim. How can you hate someone because of their religion, brother? You know?"
I say I do. I tell him how urgent it was for my mother to get the hell out of Germany when I had told her that I could pass for German as a five-year-old. "Thank God I have blonde hair and blue eyes," I told her then. "That way, nobody knows I'm not German."
It wasn't about religion, but it was about identity. I told him we wanted desperately to go to Canada -- to not be refugees anymore.
He lights up, and tells me what a beautiful country Canada is. He tells me it's the most welcoming country in the world; that no one has problems as a Muslim in Canada. "And Canada and the U.S. are almost the same country! Why are they so different about this, brother?"
"It makes no sense," he adds, and I don't have the heart to tell him that in Canada, people will hate you, brother, in particular, for your religion too. It makes no sense, I agree, but it's true. In Canada, we have these people. Some are famous.
What is the impact of all that anti-Muslim sentiment? "I go to Mosque now every week. I didn't do that before, brother.'
"You know how a vaccine..." and he continued with an analogy about how the antibodies get together to fight, but I don't remember it all, and I didn't think the analogy a very good one. Those people, the ones who hate you for your religion, brother, will seize on it and call you a virus. They're like that. It makes no sense, as you say, but these people are like that.
Anyways, all the anti-Muslim sentiment has brought Muslims together, like a vaccine, to fight the virus of anti-Muslim sentiment.
"There are no Muslim Republicans anymore," he tells me. "And we're three per cent of the population, and growing. How can you just throw away millions of people?"
He dropped me off. Called me brother one more time and wished me well. I thanked him, wished him well, and then got my bag from the trunk of his Corolla. I thought long and hard about what to say to let him know I'm not one of those people -- the ones who make no sense.
"Assalam Alaikum," I said. I think that means "peace." I read recently it's something you can say to Muslims to let them know you're not one of "those people."
Peter's experience reminds me of my years living in Africa. I wasn't surprised to find Muslims there, nor was I afraid. A mosque opened around the corner from where I lived, a neighborhood where I owned a restaurant and a bookstore, with a large gay section. I had friends, both gay and straight; who were Muslim and no one was horrified or fearful.
Bigotry always ascribes the traits of the one to the whole. In the world of anti-Semitism, every crime committed by one Jew was ascribed to all, while the charity, goodness, and productivity of the rest were ignored. That, sadly, is how many Americans view Muslims today.
Even those fleeing Islamist torture and terror are not trusted, not because of any deeds they have done, but because of the collective traits they share with other Muslims. I suspect white Muslims, especially if they have no accent, would not be treated as badly.
The inability to treat each as an individual, but only as a representative of their race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation is, as Ayn Rand would put it, "the lowest, most crudely primitive form of collectivism." Instead of judging a man by his actions, you judge him by what traits he has in common with others. It "invalidates the specific attribute which distinguishes man from all other living species: his rational faculty."
To paraphrase Ayn, a good man is a good man regardless of how many other evil men belong to his religion, or claim to. A bad man is still a bad man, no matter how many good men belong to his faith. Individualism ultimately means each man, woman and child is responsible for their actions, not the actions of others.