The level of public discourse in the U.S. is heading straight for the gutter. The billboard above, currently posted in front of a car dealership in Colorado, represents the kind of wild associations and free floating hatred that has bubbled up in the year since Barack Obama was elected President. The owner of the billboard, Phil West, said the following in defense of his sign, which among other things, links the President directly to the Fort Hood shootings:
"Everything I have read about Mr. Obama points right to the fact that he is a Muslim. And that is the agenda of what Muslim is all about. It's about anti-American, it's about anti-Christianity."
You can read more about it in this article.
Signs like this, and speech like that of Mr. West, are all too commonplace. It's only a matter of time before this kind of misinformation, often linked to barely veiled hate speech, is going to boil over. Even though I don't agree with our President on all that much politically, I'm concerned for him and his family. However, what's more troubling is the potential for the kinds of attacks like this one, on a Greek Orthodox Priest mistaken for a "terrorist," will start occurring with much more frequency.
As a supporter of free speech, I believe that people like Mr. West have the right to express their views. But if they think freedom means to be able to say what they want without any consequences, they are sorely ignorant. Buddhists, and others who value peace and justice need to do our best to expose the seeds of greed, hatred, and ignorance behind these kinds of acts, and the speech that goes with them. That starts with sitting down, and cultivating patience and compassion. But it can't end there. There might be nothing we can do, ultimately, to prevent violence from unfolding, but if we don't make an effort, even a small one, then we'll be nothing more than a circle of monks and nuns sitting in the center of a burning house.