Hatred and ignorance, two of the three poisons, are flying all around the United States these days. In fact, I'd say the third poison is also present in the form of a "greed for ease and comfort" attached to the other two. If you have heard about what's been going on in Arizona when it comes to immigration laws, you've probably been off the grid lately. In addition, there has been an uproar over a proposal to build a mosque near the site of the former World Trade Center. The usually right wing suspects - Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Fox News commentators - have been stoking the barely latent, commonplace bigotry towards Muslims for weeks now. However, the most ridiculous statement I have heard yet came yesterday from the leader of the Anti-Defamation League.
“It’s the wrong place,” Mr. Foxman said. “Find another place.”
Asked why the opposition of the families was so pivotal in the decision, Mr. Foxman, a Holocaust survivor, said they were entitled to their emotions.
“Survivors of the Holocaust are entitled to feelings that are irrational,” he said. Referring to the loved ones of Sept. 11 victims, he said, “Their anguish entitles them to positions that others would categorize as irrational or bigoted.”
Wow! This is rich. I am going to say something that might upset some people. The Jewish holocaust is not the only act of genocide that has occurred in this world, and anyone who has been to a major city in the United States knows that there are a plethora of peoples who have lost family and friends in genocides all over the world. There are a certain segment of the American Jewish population that privileges their suffering over everyone elses', and this statement is a perfect example of that.
The sad thing is just as the percentage of violent, hateful Muslims is pretty small, so too is the percentage of Jews who think nothing of oppressing other people so that they can live comfortable. And yet, both of these groups have gained a lot of power, precisely because they cater to the unexamined fears and prejudices within each of us.
Obviously, the backlash against the mosque in question is more than just a small group of Jewish folks. It includes Christians, atheists, agnostics, and probably a fair number of Buddhists as well. Ah, maybe you're thinking "No, not Buddhists - aren't they supposed to be 'liberal'?" Yeah, well, I've met a lot of self proclaimed liberals who have no problem hating brown and black skinned Others.
What I find so interesting about Mr. Foxman's comments is that he moves from the messy feelings that people have, to using the feelings of a particular group as the justification for determining the building policies of an entire city.
Even the conservative Mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, who is Jewish himself, rejects this leaping from the feelings of one group to city policy.
“What is great about America, and particularly New York, is we welcome everybody, and if we are so afraid of something like this, what does that say about us?” Mr. Bloomberg asked recently.
One of the ironies about hate campaigns like this is that most of the very same people harbor fears of a dictatorship of the likes of Iran, or Saudi Arabia - where only one group of people have any real freedom or power, and everyone else is second class at best.
I expect knee jerk reactions to a post like this. Things like "You have to protect people from terrorists" or "Get back to your fucking practice!" Things like that. I've heard plenty of it. It's old hat.
Practice life includes the sufferings in your community, nation, and world - end of story. This particular story impacts me because some of my students are Muslim; I've witnessed hatred expressed towards them. If I fail to examine, speak out, and aid in uprooting these kinds of hatreds, fears, and ignorance, then what's the point of my practice?
I have to say that I, too, have been Mr. Foxman on a small scale. Feeling entitled to my misery-driven views, I, too, have tried to twist collective actions in favor of that which would be most comfortable for me. This is where the practice must begin - by examining how something on a macro-level also plays out in your own life. However, too many of us Buddhists stop there, thinking that this is enough.
I, for one, want to move beyond this privatized view of practice. I want to be committed to life as it while I'm on the meditation cushion, doing walking meditation, chanting or bowing. And I also want to be fully engaged in the work of liberation, in the myriad of forms that it might take.