There are several erroneous beliefs that people hold concerning a propensity for abnormal behavior, violence, addiction, and dishonesty among certain races, religious, and other ethnic groups. A rush to judgment often leaves the world vulnerable to the real culprits of global mayhem.
When I arrived in Israel during the first Lebanon Civil War in 1985, I met many Jewish American tourists who were shocked that Jews, Israeli Jews, were actually in prison for rape, murder, theft, and other felonies. They were of the opinion that Jews, especially Israeli Jews, were too busy protecting themselves against terrorism and fighting wars to insure the existence of their homeland, that petty or grand larceny simply was not part of their DNA. Previously, even before I left America for the Middle East and Europe, there was the notion that Jews were never alcoholics. Alcoholism was a gentile trait, evident at country clubs, suburban parties, and other restricted celebrations. Extreme alcoholism was something the Irish and Russians suffered from for a variety of reasons ranging from their behavior at parades, disillusion at their political system, and a general acceptance and expectation that Irish Pubs meant there were more Irish drunks and vodka was the drug of choice to combat the dead-end life in the former Soviet Union.
Moving into Africa, starvation was somehow not as shocking as it would have been in Boston, Bucharest, or Bogata. Was it because Africans were accustomed to starvation, used to the fact that the world ignored their plight or at least put it behind the plight of other more accessible countries? Even some American journalists had a rather callous attitude when walking through the piles of bloated cattle that had perished from hunger, and emaciated children whose bellies were extended from starvation. One incident has stayed with me. A group of international journalists went to Africa to visit and report on Biafra. We all had lunch boxes with us—sandwiches, hard boiled eggs, apples, and a soft drink. All, with the exception of one New York Times reporter, gave our food to as many people as we could. The New York Times reporter sat on a rock and calmly ate his lunch. When we asked him how he could eat when the scene around him was so devastating, he replied, “Giving one hard-boiled egg, sandwich or fruit to a starving person isn’t going to change the situation. In fact, it will make it worse as they will know what they’re missing.”
The reaction to mass destruction in Asia, whether from war, uprisings, Tsunamis, earthquakes, or other disasters never quite touches the western world in the same way as wars, attacks, or natural disasters in other places. Earthquakes or fires in California, for instance, are front-page news for days. Are Asians inherently passive people who accept their misfortune with more grace and resignation as they expect less of the world than others? Is their sense of entitlement less developed? When I’ve questioned people as to why their reactions are so measured to Asian disasters, they’ve answered that because the populations of those Asian countries are so large that when a catastrophe happens, the numbers are in keeping with the normal percentage of the total population that are counted as victims.
My area of expertise has always been the Middle East, specifically the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. When I began researching my book on women suicide bombers, Army of Roses, and my documentary by the same name, I met countless young people who were intent on strapping on bombs, walking into the middle of a group of civilians—women and children included—and killing themselves and others as a way of calling attention to the struggle. In the realm of spectacular theatre, that method of warfare worked better than any other. Not to mention that a suicide bomber was the ultimate “smart bomb.” Not only was the result devastating in terms of surprise, but a human “smart bomb” could move where there were more civilians, avoid barricades and police, and cause the most destruction with greater precision.
Major Nidal Malik Hasan who randomly shot and killed thirteen people and injured more than thirty, including himself, is a Muslim. He was also a psychiatrist in the American Army at Fort Hood. He also shouted “Allahu Akbar” or “God is Great” as he began his deadly rampage. For those who are not aware, every Muslim suicide bomber always shouts that phrase which has become the signal that the bomber or shooter is about to attack under the guise of a political statement—dignity, homeland, or a hatred of the United States and Israel. To be fair, let’s not forget that after the fact, many people came forward to report that Major Hasan had expressed anti-American sentiments, an admiration for suicide bombers, and an opposition to the war in Afghanistan. On the surface, it seemed the case was closed. Hassan was just one more Muslim who became radicalized on American soil. Maybe yes. Maybe no.
Having traveled the world and spent a major portion of my life in foreign countries, I have learned something that might amaze those who hold stereotypical views on humanity. There are Jewish criminals and alcoholics. There are Irish and Russian teetotalers. The African and Asian people neither accept nor understand global apathy, but perhaps are simply more inured to tragedy as it befalls them far too frequently. There are Muslims who are against suicide bombings, random murder, and who do not hate America and Israel. Even more crucial is that there are psychotics, potential suicides, murderers, wife beaters, child abusers, assassins, addicts, drunks, and other very sick people in every country and throughout all religions.
Claiming that because someone is named Leila, Abdul, or Mohammad and commits mass murder does not mean he or she is part of a terror plot. Many Arabs, like many other nationalities, are depressed and suicidal but if and when they act on their desperation, the radical members of their religion do their own an enormous disservice by claiming those damaged few killed themselves and others for political reasons.
Bernard Madoff is a monster. Does that mean Jews would do anything, even to their own people, because their love of money cancelled out their sense of morality? Would gentiles really sell their children for a bottle of whiskey? Do all Russians drown their political disappoint in vodka? Do Asians and Africans expect misfortune and tragedy to the point where they barely voice their outrage?
I don’t pretend to know what was on Major Hasan’s mind, anymore than I know what was on Ted Bundy’s mind, or the Columbine killers, or Baruch Goldstein, the Captain in the Israeli Army who walked into the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron and opened fire at Muslims at prayer.
What I do know is that stereotyping people based on their nationalities or religious beliefs is not only dangerous but ignorant. Dangerous because the blond, blue-eyed terrorists can and will pass undetected. Ignorant because generalizations lead to bigotry.