Is Religious Tolerance Dead?

I continue to be amazed and saddened at the anti-Muslim rhetoric and actions that proceed from American fears, especially among Republicans. Anti-Muslim sentiment did not begin with 9/11, but has been present in the US before,  beginning with the Immigration Act of 1965 if not sooner. This Act allowed for increased numbers of immigrants from Asia as well as Central and South America. Many of the Muslims who migrated were professionals such as doctors or lawyers who were immediately accepted by virtue of their professions — that is, until 9/11. The World Trade Center bombing attracted attention to Muslims all over the US, and suddenly their professions were not enough to establish them as Americans (see AOL news story on anti-Muslim fervor). Fear caused non-Muslim Americans to view them as dangerous, even though terrorists number only a small percentage of all Muslims.

Religious intolerance has swelled at certain points in US history, aimed at Jews, Mormons, and Catholics plus other smaller groups such as Buddhists, Hindus, Amish and Quakers. Even some of our Founding Fathers thought of religious freedom in terms of various flavors of Christianity, specifically Protestant Christianity. Other religions might be tolerated, but also might not, in the same way that the inalienable rights in the Declaration of Independence were in practice given only to white free landholding males in the beginning. Women, non-whites, slaves, and those who possessed no land were out of luck.

I perceive that after the Aquarian Revolution of the ’60s passed, in which the greatest amount of religious tolerance was practiced, the pendulum began to swing in the other direction. The ’80s and part of the ’90s were marked by areligious, if not atheist, world views. But as the new millennium approached, religious fervor and intensity spread; after 9/11 the interest in religion was bolstered further.

There is always at least one group in the pariah status of society, with seemingly logical and rational reasons for that status. Over the last 2 millennia, Jews have been common targets but one only has to think about the Crusades to understand that European anti-Islam activities began long ago, in the Middle Ages.

Who will be the next scapegoat? Yesterday, peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians began again in Washington, DC. ; however, the talks are criticized by many on both sides and Israel continues new construction on its West Bank settlements. Will any peace treaty that is developed turn into a “phony peace”? What happens in the daily life of citizens — suicide bombing, IEDs, or army attacks — no matter what it is, daily life is much more significant than any peace treaty established at the highest level.


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