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The Poverty of Ignorance

Posted by Jim Johnson on

Jim Johnson

Jim Johnson

Poverty in any form is insidious and most often, preventable. The flow of food can ameliorate hunger, medical care will ease suffering and economic aid will abate homelessness and other conditions of despair. Poverty is a condition, not a choice.

It has been my experience as I have traveled to over 70 countries that poverty for the most part, contrary to the belief of the political right in the United States, is not self-engendered.  I have yet to every find one single person in Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, the Philippines, Nepal or the inner city of Chicago, Detroit or Atlanta who chose to be poor.

Poverty grinds against the human soul and its presence reduces us all…

There are, however, forms of poverty in the world which are totally self-induced and unfortunately self-perpetuated… Ignorance, and its close companion, intolerance rank among the worst forms of intellectual poverty.

We witness this almost daily in our lives.  Bigotry, racism and discrimination are all predicated on one common factor…ignorance.  It is the most sinister of human conditions but fortunately, the easiest to overcome.

When ignorance and intolerance combine with hyper-patriotism and/or nationalism, however, truly dangerous results occur.  Think Rwanda, Bosnia, Kosovo and Nazi, Germany.  Increasingly in the United States we find this toxic combination not only present but increasingly sanctioned. Perhaps no example of American “hyper-nationalism” is more prevalent in its worst form than with the growing tide of Islamophobia. 

It is human nature to fear the unknown, and many Americans are simply not cognizant of world geography or politics.  Most would not be aware that the majority of Muslims in the world do not live in the Middle East but in Southeast Asia. Many would be surprised to learn that Islam believes in the very same God as Christianity.  What Americans do not know, however is more than made up by what they are willing to believe.

How often have you heard discussions on right-wing talk radio or television about the “violent nature” of Islam…about how Muslims wish to infiltrate America and establish Sharia law throughout the land?  Islam is to the early part of this century what Communism was in the 1950s.  Those of us, who were children in those years, recall being raised to think that Communists had but one goal in mind and that was the Godless subjugation of us all. As barriers between nations fell and communication and education increased we moved beyond the dark days of democracy in the world of Joe McCarthy… or so we thought.

Following September 11, 2001, it has become fashionable to privately and unfortunately publically engage in almost pure hatred against anything Islam.  When confronted by the challenge of radical extremist Islamic terrorism, rather than educate ourselves on the religion and the issues, we prefer instead to paint with broad brush strokes of jingoism, and an entire world religion and a people.  Such is not within the domain of what this nation was created to be.  If we are true to our founding, we would choose, instead to treat terrorism for what it is… transnational crime and not and indictment of a beautiful and peaceful religion.

Listen to the scions of the right, however, and you would believe that Islam is a demonic force with the sole design of murdering infidels.  Ann Coulter (while formally educated, not terribly bright) said of Islam:

“We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity. We weren't punctilious about locating and punishing only Hitler and his top officers. We carpet-bombed German cities; we killed civilians. That's war. And this is war.”

Shortly after 9/11, then Georgia Republican Congressman (now Georgia Senator) Saxby Chambliss in remarks to a November 19, 2001 meeting with first responders in Valdosta, Georgia, said” that homeland security would be improved by turning the sheriff loose to "arrest every Muslim that crosses the state line." This is the same fine gentleman who when running against disabled Veteran Max Cleland for the United States Senate, referred to Cleland as “weak on terrorism and national security.  Chambliss, who forgot to serve in the military and received multiple deferments, had attacked Cleland, who is a Vietnam War veteran and who lost three limbs during his service for not being tough enough on issues of homeland security. Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona described Chambliss as “worse than disgraceful…completely reprehensible."

In today’s conservative right, however, it is more important to speak tough than to be strong. Words speak louder than actions. Finding a common enemy serves to unify the uneducated and unsophisticated among us… why distinguish between those who betray a great religion and those who practice it when it is politically expedient to simply indict one-fifth of the world’s population.

Within the past few months state legislatures have passed laws which declare the United States to be a “Christian” nation and which prohibit Sharia law from being applied in the nations courts.  Forget that no single case exists where a court has attempted to supplant state or federal law with Sharia law (the U.S. Constitution would prohibit it) and forget that we not only have the constitutional right to freedom “of” religion as well as freedom “from” religion… again, what matters to the right is the power of prejudice practiced on the minds of intellectually impotent.

A very fine line exists demarcating the difference between patriotism (which is good) and hyper-nationalism (which is dangerous).  Not wearing a flag pin while in office is as damning in today’s world of Canadian Senator Ted Cruz as was appearing to be soft on Communism in the world of Joe McCarthy. 

The right is constantly critical of those who fail to repeat the mantra of “American Exceptionalism”… What is “exceptional” about us however, may well be our failure to evolve as a society.

Sunday evening on the streets of New York, Columbia University physician and professor, Dr. Prabhjot Singh, who is Sikh and wears a turban and a beard, was attacked at 8:15 p.m. while walking along 110th Street near Lennox Avenue in upper Manhattan. According to New York Police reports, unknown suspects shouted anti-Muslim statements, knocked the professor down and punched him numerous times in the face. They were, of course ignorant that the doctor is a Sikh, not a Muslim. Dr. Singh said that during the attack the assailants shouted "get Osama" and "terrorist."

The political right is fortunately becoming extinct. At present they have perfected the circular firing squad and are devouring themselves over their 41st attempt to deny common Americans healthcare.  Sean Hannity, Glen Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin will take to the airwaves again tomorrow and declare us to be the “greatest nation in the history of the world” while concomitantly fueling the engine of destruction to the American ideal….

Opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Andy Rapp, Q-TV, Delta College, or PBS.

About

Currently Speaking host Andy Rapp

Veteran journalist Andy Rapp has been hosting Currently Speaking since 1999.

Each week, he's joined live in the studio by journalists, academics, and experts. Along with viewers at home, they tackle the local, national, and global issues that matter most.