Thursday, March 22, 2012

Bigotry Not a French Monopoly

The recent murder of four people in a French Jewish school captured headlines.  Police believe neo-Nazis are involved, but it turned out to be a hate-filled Algerian. Before being killed after a wild shootout, Mohammed Merah (left) issued several reasons to support his murderous spree: France's ban on the wearing of Islamic veils; the missions of its troops abroad; and the oppression of Palestinians.  

He was not a neo-Nazi, but that was a logical choice.  After all, France hosts one of the largest Jewish populations in Europe and had a reported 389 anti-Semitic incidents in 2011.  Besides, France has a long history of anti-Semitism, highlighted in the last 120 years by the Dreyfus Affair and the Vichy government.

On the other hand, the attacks reflected more than just hatred of Jews.  They were only the latest in an ongoing series of racist attacks there and worldwide.  In France, for example, a black and a Muslim were killed in the previous week by unknown gunmen.  Germans have attacked immigrants. Islamic and Hindi bigots are busily ambushing each other in India.  

There’s no reason just to point fingers overseas.  This country remains a hotbed of racism in all forms.  FBI statistics show a steady increase in such crimes.  The Intelligence Report of the Southern Poverty Law Center also tracks racially-based crimes and says the FBI “vastly under-reports” the real figures.

We can see the proof in the anti-Gay rhetoric and attacks, the inexplicable shooting of a Stanford teen, Trayvon Martin, (left) who was simply going home,  in the nasty racial asides against President Obama and his wife, the snide innuendos against poor people.  Newt Gingrich played up that role in his attempt to curry votes in the South, a hotbed of below-the-surface bigotry.

The would-be Republican presidential nominee attacked people on food stamps to heart-chilling applause.  He insisted poor people getting the stamps were just lazy and didn’t want to work, ignoring the basic fact that most people today on food stamps are elderly retirees unable to survive on Social Security alone. There’s no question that the number of people on food stamps has increased, but so have the number of unemployed as the economy soured under President George W. Bush.

Food stamps were one of the few remaining safety nets not shredded by Republican legislators.  Candidates like Mitt Romney (left) and Rick Santorum have made it clear that, if elected, they would tear holes in the rest of the protection created over the years.

That’s nothing new for conservatives who seem to think that everyone can survive even if government leaves them alone to drown.  We saw how well that worked in the Depression of the 1930s or during any of the preceding economic downturns of the 1800s.

And not just in this country.  History is replete with examples of how those who are in power pander to racism as a way of maintaining their position.  The division of society into “we” and “they” guarantees that the majority divides into groups and despise each other, rather than working together to achieve common goals.

The formula requires that bigots search for a scapegoat.  The Black Death is killing people.  Must be Jews poisoning wells.  A hurricane destroys a community.  God must be punishing residents for non-belief.  Welfare is growing.  Black people must not want to work.  Crime is increasing.  Irish immigrants must be causing that.  Alcoholism has increased.  The Catholics are doing that.  And so on.

None of that is true.  
Ironically, we are genetically identical and related to each other.  I watched a TV show in which various celebrities from different parts of the world and unrelated fields had their DNA (right) studied and compared.  Many of them – unknown to each other – were distant cousins. As a result, when bigots attack, they are typically and ignorantly insulting family members.

Besides, the process doesn’t work.  Killing Jews during World War II in Europe didn’t make either the genetics better and only debased Germany.  Racism in this country didn’t boost the income of poor white families or enhance society.  Shooting people in France won’t chase away those that bigots hate.  Dragging a gay man to death in this country won’t “convince” people to become straight.  Practicing racism because of skin color won’t turn African-Americans a different shade.

Racism and bigotry in any form is the refuge of cowards, who are unable to face the reality that we are all human, all equal, all endowed with “certain unalienable rights which among these are life liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” as was spelled out for the first time in human history in the Declaration of Independence.

All the murders in France can do or the unrelenting bigotry in any country can do is to remind us that such hatred still exists, that it can create a stench at anytime, and that we must collectively and openly express our objections.

It will never disappear.  We share a clannish tradition from our earliest history that guarantees anyone who is slightly different is seen as an outcast.  We can only recognize its evil influence, particularly in political rhetoric, and express our opposition vocally and in the voting booth.  

That’s no consolation to the grieving families in France or to those who endure racism anywhere, but hatred must be confronted before it can be forced back underground.

Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history.  He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at  He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion.  His books are available on, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers. 


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