Our Subtle Prejudice

I started out to write a clever, witty blog to help brighten everyone’s day and to perhaps cause some pleasant introspection. It was not to be. The words did not come and my conscience said I was avoiding what I needed to write. Score one for the conscience. Next time it will be light and witty.

Necessary Assets is a novel where I highlight the importance of human relationships in seeking a solution to what we define as our “terrorist” problem. In Necessary Assets I promote the value of meaningful human relationships within our cities and neighborhoods. That same positive human interaction is needed in all levels of society and particularly in our international conversations.

We have submitted much of the conduct of our personal lives to the world of technology. We allow technology to obscure the value of face to face human interaction. As a result, this shift makes it easier for us to sneer at or demean someone not standing in front of us. I am concerned about the number of times I hear the word Muslim used interchangeably with the word terrorist. I worry when the word Muslim is clearly spoken as a pejorative term.

When the FBI made organized crime its number 1 investigative priority in the 1970s, some both in and outside law enforcement equated all Italians with organized crime. In fact many were actually the victims of organized crime. I thought complaints of prejudice at the time were silly and just meant to deflect criticism of a very real criminal enterprise. Over time I realized there was prejudice. There were some of us who did not want to work with Italian law enforcement because we thought them corrupt or at best inefficient. Once we understood all of the legal and practical roadblocks in their Mafia investigations, our prejudices fell to the side. Only then could we see their courage. The working relationships that followed allowed for the destruction of Mafia’s political and criminal power base in Italy and the US.

As FBI agents living in the Italian North End of Boston, my wife and I saw first-hand the dilemma of our neighbors. They were good people who wanted nothing to do with the La Cosa Nostra. But, it was not in their best interest to be seen as being too friendly with us. We understood. Over time the problem went to jail, and a neighborhood was free to make its own choices.

One of my reviewers thought I portrayed the modernized Mafia too favorably. Perhaps so. But, it is also my experience there are good people in bad groups. These people need to be identified and sought out for their cooperation. .

I have no doubt this same criticism will be made of the novel’s view of Muslims.

The religion is Islam. It followers are Muslims. Some terrorist groups are Muslim. Some are more tribal. Muslims are not all terrorists any more than all Catholics were part of the inquisition or all Jews are money lenders. We live with our prejudices. Many Muslims disagree with following the fundamentalist view of Islam demanded by some terrorist groups.

We need to educate ourselves. Read the Prophet Muhammad’s last sermon, his testimony to those that would follow him. Can there be any disagreement with his words? The Sermon on The Mount is more radical. The Jewish, Christian and Islamic faiths all claim Abraham as their father. At this point, Abraham must be scratching his head asking, “What is going on?”