Encroaching prejudice

Like most people, I never board a plane without wondering, even if only fleetingly, if the security precautions actually have been sufficient. 

The incident in the skies near Detroit on Christmas aboard a flight inbound from The Netherlands reinforced the conclusion that, despite the elaborate network of inspection, some-one with deadly purposes might evade all that is done in the name of security, and that precautions are not always sufficient. 

More troubling is the realization that the man accused of trying to board this flight boarded in Amsterdam, where Schiphol Airport is state-of-the-art in terms of security screening. If it happened there, it could happen anywhere. 

So, we all live in some state of apprehension. It is not helped by experts who say that some other catastrophic act of terrorism again will come our way, and that it is only a question of time. 

My concern is that this nervousness, and the scars from the horror of what already has occurred, subtly but certainly is creating anti-Muslim sentiments in this country. This prejudice, as most prejudices, thrives on misinformation or lack of information, and is shallow in its sweeping universality. 

For example, important to note, not all predominantly Muslim nations are America’s enemies. Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and others are historically staunch American allies. In fact, Turkey is bound to the United States by the NATO treaty and has allowed U.S. military installations on its territory. Jordan, for decades, has been a good friend, as has Egypt — much needed partners in keeping peace and sanity in the Middle East. 

Second, Islam accounts for a billion people worldwide, some of them devout, others Muslim in name only. Muslim Americans have fought in America’s wars, paid taxes, obeyed the laws and contributed positively to American life. 

It is ridiculous to label all Muslims as enemies of this country. But it is equally ridiculous to ignore the fact that a segment of people have stark, even violent views that they say proceed from their own personal understanding of Islam. 

History surely has played a significant role. Not that long ago, many Muslim states suffered considerably under European Christian overlords, and American economic manipulation has introduced the people of the United States into the place of collective guilt. It is hard for many people to draw much respect for Christianity after they, or their ancestors, have endured much at the hands of Christians. 

But, this is looking at the past. Pope John Paul II set the stage of looking ahead and of trying to build new, friendly relations for the future. Pope Benedict XVI has followed this pattern. And such was the thrust of President Barack Obama’s address months ago in Cairo, Egypt, on Islam and the West. 

The tragedy is that the creeping growth of anti-Islam feelings in this country, while not surprisingly created by the fears of the moment, could impede this process or even reverse it. A further tragedy would be the possible difficulties that Muslim Americans will face as a result of this budding prejudice. 

Catholic Americans should be very alert to prejudice. Anti-Catholicism still is alive in this country, although in an attempt to discount it, we American Catholics tend to dismiss it. 

Surely, Catholic Americans of today will not allow prejudice against Islam, and especially prejudice based on superficialities, untruths and half-truths, to bring hardship to the lives of some of our fellow citizens, or insert into a very critical national debate considerations that are counterproductive.  

Msgr. Owen F. Campion is the associate publisher of Our Sunday Visitor.