F. Robin Freed
Linguist, Intercultural trainer, Professor, Peacemaker

Say NO to Tolerating Intolerance

Americans are generally good people. We are among the most generous nations on earth: in terms of amounts of foreign aid, our commitment to freedom and democracy and our assistance to immigrants from countries around the world, whether they arrived on our shores legally or not. Every child born on American soil, regardless of his or her parents’ immigration status, is granted the full rights of citizenship. Our civil rights allow us to criticize our elected leadership and even organize protests when we feel they are unresponsive or misguided in their actions. Our system of laws can and do change to right historical wrongs and to hold our leaders accountable. What makes our democracy work is an educated populace able to make informed decisions at the ballot box and a media that informs through objective, truthful reporting of facts and events. If you have gotten this far you are probably saying to yourself, as I do, that our country is in trouble. Our politicized media creates frameworks for news events that are neither objective nor factual, making it hard, if not impossible, to sort out the truth from the noise. The higher education that is supposed to prepare college students for the future often promotes hate filled ideologies, such as BDS, rather than unifying ideals of equality and freedom for all.

I would argue that our problem is not as simple as a binary division of the populace into two groups, be they Democrat vs. Republican or progressive vs. conservative. The threat to our democracy lies in our tolerance of the intolerant, in our refusal to identify and call out hate in all its manifestations: on the right and on the left of our political system. This has enabled the loud voices of extremists to remain unchallenged as they spew hatred, often cloaked in the language of social justice on the left or in patriotism on the right. Who can possibly accept the designation of white supremacists as “good people” when they marched in Charlottesville? In what alternate universe are bigoted racists considered patriots? Good people are not racist. Or the erasure of Israel from the map, replaced with “Palestine”, by Rashida Tlaib after her election to Congress? A responsible media would have challenged her: asking why the Palestinian leadership continues to say no to the Palestine lawfully created by the U.N decades ago, or the Palestine of Pres. Clinton’s peace summit of 2000 which was declined, despite a proposed agreement meeting 96% of Arafat’s demands?

In what alternate universe is it okay for Arafat and other Arab leaders to deny Palestinians a future by saying no to peace and yes to using them as human shields and suicide bombers, and by keeping them in harm’s way, segregated in “refugee” camps, in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq? This is the true apartheid in the Middle East today. How is this better for the Palestinians than living in peace in their own country, governed by a peace seeking government? It’s not. Why not? The reason is very simple: this tragic condition is a consequence of unfettered Jew hatred. Hate, powered by lies, is a powerful tool when allowed to spread unchallenged. It is keeping the Palestinians in chains, it is spreading anti-Israel and anti-Jewish hatred throughout the world as it lies about the true source of Palestinian misery: its own leaders’ fanatical commitment, at all costs, to ethnic cleansing of Jews from their ancestral homeland in Israel. When this genocidal hatred is falsely linked to social justice movements in the United States it unwittingly promotes an autocratic Islamist imperialism that threatens our democracy and way of life.

In our goodness and desire to be tolerant, or in fear of being labeled as racist, Americans have shied away from any criticism involving a Muslim. There is a difference however, between our tolerant, peace loving Muslim neighbors and those who have been indoctrinated with hate, and would use our freedoms against us. In political terms that is the difference between Islam, the religion of 1.4 billion people, and Islamism, a radical political ideology that seeks to remove Western influences through an Islamic state based on Sharia. The latter, in its most extreme form, like ISIS and Al Qaeda, implies violence, intolerance, loss of human rights and imperialism.

What does that difference mean to us as Americans? Here is a hypothetical example from an American school with a population of Muslims. Let’s say that the school cafeteria serves pork on Tuesdays. An American Muslim could expect, and would be justified in requesting an alternative, pork free meal on Tuesdays. An Islamist would insist that no pork be served in the school at all and would demonstrate forcefully to enact a pork ban so no one could eat pork. If any pork eating American protested the loss of pork in the school cafeteria, the Islamist would accuse him or her of racism and discrimination, thus shutting down any further discussion. This latter case exposes the intolerance of the Islamist ideology and the cynical and bullying mechanism it uses to silence opposition. This is not just a hypothetical case – it is happening around our country, as Islamists, such as Linda Sarsour, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar routinely spew anti-Semitic statements and then hide behind false charges of racism when challenged. If we do not speak out against their anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, and against the hate spewing, terrorist linked organizations that sponsor them (CAIR, the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, MIFTAH), then we are complicit in spreading their message. In shying away from condemning hate speech we are tolerating the intolerants. Is this the democracy that we want?

Fortunately mainstream American Muslims are now speaking out against the Islamist ideology: on the eve of September 11th, the Muslim Reform Movement brought speakers to Ilhan Omar’s district in Minnesota in a “town hall meeting with American Muslim Leaders and Minnesotans”. Speakers from organizations such as The American Islamic Forum for Democracy and the Pearl and Clarion Projects participated to challenge her Islamist narrative.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, another Somali immigrant to the U.S., and former member of the Dutch Parliament, describes in detail in a recent Wall Street Journal article the prevalence of Islamic anti-Semitism in her native Somalia and how she overcame it. She asserts that Islamists have “succeeded in couching their agenda in the progressive framework of the oppressed vs. the oppressor… and they deflect their critics with accusations of Islamophobia and insensitivity.” It is time for all of us to courageously stand up with our Muslim neighbors and speak out against the radical Islamism in our midst.

We do have tools to identify those who promote an Islamist agenda, either knowingly or unwittingly (like some progressives). Here are some red flags to look for:
• They call for an end to Palestinian oppression, but only to condemn Israel, never mentioning Hamas, the PA or Hezbollah who are the true oppressors of the Palestinian people.
• They call for a Palestinian “right of return” which is code for elimination of the Jewish state
• They advocate for Palestinian freedom, but never mention that Palestinians who speak out against their leaders are imprisoned and frequently tortured and killed for doing so.
• They claim to advocate for human rights but fail to advocate for, or even mention, the oppression and discrimination faced by women, the LGBTQ community and minorities in the Arab world, as opposed to the equal rights enjoyed by these groups in Israel.
• They call to Boycott, Divest and Sanction Israel, thus harming the many Palestinians who work in Israel and benefit economically from normalizing relations.
• They single out the sole Jewish country in the world for criticism, falsely accusing it of apartheid, when in fact all citizens of Israel, Jews, Arabs, Druze, Bedouins have equal rights under the law. Arabs occupy high positions in all parts of Israeli society including in its military, courts and government.

We also have resources to find objective, fact based accounts that refute media distortions, misrepresentations and omissions in Middle East reporting: and are two organizations worth following on a regular basis.

My daughter graduated from Harvard in May following the September 11th terrorist attacks on the U.S. The student speaker selected by the faculty to address the graduates and their families was a young Muslim man whose speech was entitled “My Personal Jihad”. Such a title was generally perceived to be insensitive, given the many people in the academic community that day who had lost loved ones in the terrorist attacks of September 11th. But not all Muslims are terrorists, a point the faculty no doubt intended to make. This young man spoke of the multiple meanings of the word “jihad”: his jihad was overcoming personal challenges in his life, with the goal of becoming a better person. It has taken me eighteen years to come to the realization that maybe this choice of speech that day wasn’t so insensitive after all – it was a necessary reminder that there is no such thing as “all Muslims”, any more than there are “all Jews”. No group is monolithic – there are good and bad and shades of in between in every group. This is a concept unimaginable to the white supremacists and the radical Islamists who manipulate others to evil aims and even death, through hatred and lies couched in the black and white language that denies nuance, context and critical thinking. Eighteen years have now passed since September 11, 2001, and we are still fighting the radical Islamist ideology that has seeped into our schools, our government and our communities. Let’s continue the fight and become better Americans in the process by seeking truth: Veritas, the motto of Harvard and the foundation of our imperiled democracy. And let’s reach out across our respective aisles and join hands to fight against those extremists on all sides who would turn us against each other.

About the Author
Fern Robin Freed is a former college professor, linguist, and long time Chair of the Foreign Language Dept of a Baltimore area college which recognized her as the Distinguished Teacher of the Year in 2003. Educated in the public schools of New York City and a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the City University of New York, Queens College, she obtained her graduate degree in Intercultural Communication and Spanish from the University of Maryland Baltimore County. Fern Robin has designed and led study abroad programs in Mexico in language and cultural immersion for adult students and redesigned the college curriculum of Spanish majors and minors to include community service learning. She co-chaired a national U.S. Dep’t of Education project to internationalize the curriculum of the college where she taught. Locally she served on a committee that developed standards for teaching Spanish and Hispanic culture in the public school system. After leaving academia Fern Robin developed cross-cultural training programs for a variety of international companies and consulting firms. More recently she has become an advocate for Israel, which she has visited three times, receiving training from Honest Reporting in Jerusalem. Fern Robin also serves on the Advisory Board of Alliance4Israel.
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