I visited an exhibit recently that featured ancient Persian and Islamic art. As I walked through the room admiring intricately crafted metals, skillfully fashioned porcelains and elaborately penned texts, the word that came to my mind was “stunning.” While I marveled at the beauty of these objects, I heard another admirer remark: “This is absolutely stunning.” Indeed it was.
Later, as I thought back over my experience and what I had learned about the history and culture of Islam; later as I pondered the vitriol and ugliness of our current public conversation about the people of Islam, another thought came to my mind: “There is some absolutely stunning arrogance out there.”
I’m guessing my fellow Christian Americans who express such alarm and disdain over my fellow Muslim Americans don’t classify their attitudes as “arrogant.” But I’m just arrogant enough myself to identify and name it when I see it.
Plenty of analysts are positing theories about what’s going on in American society when a leading candidate for president insults and stereotypes large groups of people and his adoring fans cheer him on. “Arrogance” is a word that some have used for the candidate himself, but other words are more often used to describe his followers.
Angry and Fearful come to mind.
I get that. In spite of seven good years of a steadily improving economy, America still isn’t working for too many people. In spite of the fact that we have seen very few foreign terrorist attacks on American soil, still our schools and churches and movie theaters don’t feel safe anymore. Some of our national realities ought to make us angry.
But what I’m seeing is displaced anger and inordinate fear. What I’m seeing is clamoring crowds blaming “those people” for all of America’s problems. What I’m seeing is fearful voters pulling the lever for what looks to them like strength – but what is in fact a stunning arrogance.
It is arrogant for any of us to think we don’t need each other.
It is arrogant for us to demean a culture just because it is unfamiliar to us.
It is arrogant to imagine that our own small world is the “norm” and anything outside of that is “abnormal.”
It is arrogant when we limit ourselves to what we have always known and we reject opportunities to learn and experience new people, new ideas and new possibilities.
It is arrogant to assume that any large group of people can be defined by the actions and attitudes of a few.
Broadening our experience of the world doesn’t need to be scary.
Moving over and making room for others shouldn’t make us angry.
I think back to the stunningly beautiful and creative work I saw exhibited at the Dallas Museum of Art and I cringe to consider how much we all would have lost if we didn’t have this rich Islamic heritage as part of our human legacy.
I think about what Asians have contributed to our American society. And Hispanics. And Jews. And Catholics. And Blacks.
All of these, our fellow Americans, have been demonized at some time or another throughout our history. All of these have been the object of fear and anger. All of these, and so many more, have helped make America great.
Displaced anger needs to be redirected. Scapegoating the powerless is a well-known tool of malicious power mongers.
Inordinate fear needs to be dismantled with courage. Americans have dealt with truly fearful circumstances before and we have overcome them whenever we united together against the real enemy.
Arrogance needs to be named for what it is – an ugly, deadly disease that destroys goodness and compassion and gratitude and trust.
America is great when we tap into the vast wealth of our diverse population; when we work together out of our shared strength; when we celebrate what is different among us because we know that our diversity makes us smarter and better and wiser.
Instead of applauding arrogance, let’s cheer each other on toward a truly stunning community of welcome and grace. Let’s live into our American dream and live up to our stunning ideals of liberty and justice for all.
Charlotte Vaughan Coyle lives in Paris TX and blogs about intersections of faith, culture and politics on her website and Intersections Facebook page. She frequently shares her thoughts with Coffee Party USA as a regular volunteer.