Yesterday, a cold, blue-sky day, I made a trip to the local grocery store. As I entered the store, I smiled at passersby (and received warm smiles in return), collected my coffee and other items and headed to a checkstand.
As the man in front of me (male, white, about 30, clean, casually dressed) turned to leave with his groceries, I noticed the back of his black T-shirt emblazoned with:
I had never seen the slogan before. The words, along with the skull partially camouflaged by the American flag, chilled me. Of course, I am well aware of the extreme animus and hatred brewing in our country (especially toward persons of color or different ideologies).
For some reason, I felt the need to engage this young man. So, while the clerk rang up my purchases, I took the opportunity to ask, in a non-confrontational manner, "What's the meaning of the words on the back of your T-shirt?"
He stopped, turned, looked at me with dark, stern eyes and said, low and forcefully, "It means I hate Muslims."
"You hate them? Why is that?"
He continued arranging his groceries in the cart and matter-of-factly stated, "They're murderers, rapists ... I hate them."
I had ventured into what was, for me, uncharted territory and my instincts were to pull back. I fell silent. I titled my head to the side, looked at him quizzically, and, tight-lipped, turned back to the clerk.
I wonder what his response would have been if I had offered, "I am a Muslim, do you hate me?"
I have fantasized that his response would have been, "No, I don't know you," leaving the perfect opening for me to say, "Exactly."
Many of my friends, with love in their hearts and conviction in their voices, would have definitely asked that question.
I am not Muslim, they are not Muslim. However, we stand solidly against the pervasive blanketing of a culture, religion or ethnicity based upon the heinous acts of some members or adherents.
Today I took the opportunity to Google the phrase I'd seen on the man's shirt. I clicked on a page that took me to a site so filled with hate, categoric falsehoods and venomous words, I felt as though I had thrown my entire mind into a pile of excrement ... and the stench might even be palpable.
I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.
~ Martin Luther King