Thursday, August 26, 2010

Fear and Loathing

The increase in Islamophobia and in the related phenomenon of what I call Obamaphobia is alarming.

In reading about the furor over the so-called ground-zero mosque, and about the lies so readily accepted by so many Americans about the president, I am reminded of what I learned some years ago in teaching my course on evil.

Since we focused so much on hatred and its origins in that course, I saw over and over that fear (of the foreigner or outsider, in this case) not only produces anger and hatred (and often violence as the end result) but that the hater is ultimately hurt by his or her own hatred. The person who hates with the irrational hatred that leads to violence diminishes himself.

I also recall Plato's assertion that the greatest evil is ignorance, not something my students agreed with even though it's similar to the Buddhist belief. Today, however, with the growing no-nothing movement engineered by the right-wing media,the idea is worth re-considering.

When I read that 31 percent of GOP voters (up considerably from 2009, according to a Pew research survey) willingly assent to the lie that President Obama is a Muslim (meaning,not one of us), they resemble the fools who want to believe that he was not born in the U.S. So he's unAmerican, part of the "enemy" we are supposedly fighting, and therefore, presumably, to be eliminated. Dangerous stuff.

Although any child who reads can sort out the facts about Obama's biography, including his baptism in a certain Chicago church and his birth in Hawaii, followers of Rush Limbaugh, et al. are willing to remain ignorant. It's easier than doing any of your own reading or thinking; and to hate gives you a temporary sense of power.

To make the president into a "foreigner" (the outsider who represents a threat to our safety and order) reminds me of what the Nazis did in Germany by claiming that European Jews were dangerous because they were "foreign." We know where that led.

The media, seemingly afraid to separate truth from falsehood, have failed to correct the record adequately, and the Obama people have not been assertive enough in demonstrating the truth. This tragic ignorance, a type of evil, persists.

As the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan once wrote, "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion but not his own facts." Far too many people--18% of Americans, according to the Pew survey--prefer opinion, and hatred, over facts. This is the sad reality produced ultimately by fear.

No comments: