As the old adages go, there are two sides to a coin, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, we view the glass as either half empty or half full….
In essence, we humans are distinct beings. Shaped by our genetic makeup, socio-cultural influences, education, life experiences, and value systems into which we are immersed, we display attitudes, perceptions, and understandings that are unique to our being and different from others. What markedly distinguishes us, therefore, is “diversity” – i.e., being composed of different elements.
Not only are we diverse in our mental makeup, but we are also diverse in our physicality. We are different in appearance and life style based on national origin, race, ethnicity, and linguistic background. In sum, we are an amalgam in mind and body, signifying a wide variety of values, tastes, opinions, and interests.
Nations that espouse democratic values, most significantly the U.S., have traditionally celebrated this diversity as a strength. The U.S. Constitution, for example, has listed among it key principles, the values of equality, justice, and liberty under the law for all people regardless of race, religion, language, culture, etc., and right to freedom of expression. The Constitution disavows prejudice and celebrates heterogeneity.
And yet, in this 21st Century, many of us are not mindful of such values that have historically stood the test of time and helped us grow and prosper. Divisiveness seems to intrude into our consciousness from time to time, especially when it serves our purpose, regardless of ethical concerns.
Divisiveness connotes pulling things apart, creating disunity or dissension between people, and causing them to separate into opposing groups. While it is only fair game for politicians to score points by decrying their opponents in an election battle, it is arguably exceeding such boundaries when politics stirs divisiveness — hatred and prejudice – values that fly in the face of democratic principles.
Case in point: the election battle that is being waged in the U.S. Not only has it descended into demagoguery, in the case of select candidates who are running for the esteemed office of president, but it is also stirring people’s baser instincts. Thankfully, the media in some instances is being able to sift through the mud to bring facts and figures to the public’s attention.
The damages of divisiveness, unfortunately, are not easy to rectify, particularly in complex and complicated situations where facts and fiction are not easily discernible and when emotions get in the way of rational thinking. Case in point: the current refugee crisis that has taken the world by a storm.
The world stage is bereft with scenes of refugees from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and other mainly Muslim countries fleeing violence, massacre, and lack of basic human subsistence in search of nations that would befriend them. For the most part, there is sympathy for their plight among nations that have welcomed them in. Only, their numbers have increased to such enormity that the world is unable to continue to accommodate them.
The problem has become more complicated recently with terrorists infiltrating the refugee population and committing acts of terror, as in the Paris attacks three months ago. We also hear reports of European women being raped by refugees; unrest is growing about misogynistic elements, perceived as part and parcel of the Islamic culture. Furthermore, disturbances have erupted in Greece, Turkey, and other countries over job displacements caused by the influx of refugees.
In short, there is growing disenchantment toward the refugees. It has also been argued that thus far Muslim countries are not carrying their fair share of the burden of helping their Muslim brethren and that the Western nations are bearing the brunt of the burden.
Rampant worldwide terrorist strikes by Al Qaeda and now the Islamic state (ISIS) have also turned the tide against the largely Muslim refugees. Islamophobia is setting in, and politicians, in this election season in the U.S., are fanning the flames of fear and insecurity among the populace.
Here is where U.S. politics and U.S. mentality becomes divisive – when it is argued that America is the cause for Middle East unrest, that we must close down mosques, and deport all new refugees, including those who have been properly vetted. Violent acts against our fellow citizens who are Muslims are now cropping up, mosques have been vandalized, and discrimination against Muslim children by their fellow classmates and job discrimination against Muslim workers are growing.
It may well be argued that we are imitating in some measure the very violence and hatred that we repel from the terrorists. We have also failed to fathom how the transformations being played out in the Middle East are rooted in age-old conflicts in the region that go back a millennium. And most importantly, we are letting loud angry voices (including ones calling for “carpet bombing” of civilians) override our sense of moral rectitude, fairness, openness, and respect for diversity – the way we have traditionally respected every faith.
It is time to reflect more and gain a greater breadth of knowledge and understanding of our country’s founding principles and diverse citizenry, and also world cultures so that we can remain rational, clear, open minded, and just in our assessments. We can also learn from the mistakes we have made in the past when we rushed to condemn and intern U.S. citizens of Japanese ethnic background during World War II.
No one who is willing to work hard, abide by our laws, and love our traditions as U.S. citizens should be regarded with less than respect or made to feel unwelcome, regardless of race or ethnicity. As a country of immigrants, our forefathers have gone through the process of being accepted in and so it is only fair, just, and incumbent upon us to do the same with our diverse citizenry.
As a side note, it may be well worth our while to view an Indian film that is now showing in theaters throughout the U.S. and abroad, entitled Bhajirao Mastani, about a Muslim warrior princess in 16th Century India and her love, Bhajirao, a Hindu Peshawar general.
The movie is a grand scale, history inspired opus that recalls a glorious past when the two great warriors from disparate cultures cross social, political, and religious barriers and risk everything to honor a commitment they made to each other. While the story is not directly related to the issues covered in this article, it is a message of hope; in bringing to surface core values, courage, and romantic intensity that bridge the divide between individuals of disparate worlds, the film is a celebration of diversity ‘s triumph over divisive forces.