As we learn through the study of history, important issues are never stagnant, but ever-changing based on many catalysts of the day. Today, the perspective Americans have of the Middle East, the culture, and, more specifically, the people is a major question. The negative connotations associated with these individuals is unfortunate, but undeniable.If we look back in history, we see many of the same trends. From the first arrival of Europeans in the New World all the way into the early 20th Century, Native Americans had been discriminated against based on what we associated them with: a danger to white society. Typically, yet not always, without merit.
The same misfortune fell on Catholics in a predominantly Protestant society, Chinese immigrants in the early 1900s, and later the Japanese during World War II, resulting in our own disgraceful internment camps. We lump individuals together based on their culture or ethnicity, believing they are a threat on some level to “American” society. The question -- as well as the answer -- to why this is never changing is because these groups violate social norms.
Now I know what you are thinking, that sounds bad, yet it is not. It is that we perceive it as bad. The very fact that when I use that phrase “violate social norms” that many people will interpret that as a discriminatory assertion proves my point. It is not the challenge to our everyday cultural norms that is the issue; it is the fact that as a majority, we resist these new cultural influences on our own. At the very least, we even resist their harmless presence.
Let us be honest, how many of us, when we see an individual dressed in Middle Eastern attire, automatically ponder the question of terrorist or not? I did and it was absolutely wrong. Yet, the thought was none the less there. Why do we do this? I would argue it is because we do not understand or know the true essence of what makes up that culture.Now, we all know that every individual one encounters, whether they are simply just from the Middle East, hold Muslim beliefs, or both, is not a terrorist. As it would not be unreasonable to state, I have probably never even seen a terrorist, yet have seen many individuals who practice the Muslim faith.
However, do we know what they encompass as a people? Have we proceeded past the label of “terrorist” or “not terrorist”? I would suggest it is that we do not truly know the beliefs, values, and traditions of these various groups and we allow our limited knowledge to seduce us into believing only the negative aspects, which our society dictates. That being said, we would only be fooling ourselves if we did not admit that we are scared of what we do not know.
Perhaps, it is time we proceed to admit our faulty assumptions as it is the first step to realizing that the problem may not be the particular culture in question in any time period, but how we go about our decisions on whether to be accepting of their assimilation into U.S. society or not. I do not subscribe to the idea that all history repeats itself, at least in many contexts. I would offer that it changes so very slowly and modestly over generations that we fail to see it without intense study.
Yet, change does occur, so let us prove it.
Dale Schlundt holds a Master's Degree in Adult Education with a concentration in American History from the University of Texas at San Antonio. He is currently an Adjunct Professor for Palo Alto College, Our Lady of the Lake University, and Northwest Vista College. Dale has written two books, Tracking Life's Lessons: Through Experiences, History, and a Little Interpretation and Education Decoded (A Collection of My Writings).
Photo Credit: The Muslim Observer