29 March 2011


ANTI-MUSLIM BIGOTRY. In well-documented testimony, the Southern Poverty Law Center reports "an increase in hate crimes and other bias incidents directed at Muslims in America .... Of the 156 hate crimes and bias incidents collected by the SPLC from news reports since 9/11, about one-third occurred within a year of those attacks. But nearly one-fifth have occurred since May 2010, when controversy over the Islamic center in New York City erupted .... In 2010, Muslims have been harrassed, threatened, attacked, and stabbed .... The toxic atmosphere has also entered our schools, manifesting itself in the harrassment of Muslim students and teachers, as well as attempts to limit how the history and culture of Islam is taught.

"The SPLC has documented a number of anti-Muslim hate groups operating in the United States. They portray Muslims as fundamentally alien and attribute to its followers an inherent set of negative traits .... They also defame Islam, which they tend to treat as a monolithic and evil religion. These groups generally hold that Islam has no values in common with other cultures, is inferior to the West, and is a violent political ideology rather than a religion.

" .... Political leadership and education are key to tamping down this anti-Muslim xenophobia. Following 9/11, President George W. Bush delivered a series of speeches in which he said Muslims and Arabs were not our enemies .... Teachers can also play a key role. They must be allowed to offer the facts about Islam, and dispel the fear and myths about the Muslim community which allow this current hostility to grow."

I couldn't agree more. Simplistic, xenophobic rhetoric is never a reliable guide to a rational, humane world view. Rather, it is typical of the destructive, black-and-white thinking which has been used to justify every act of group barbarism from the lynching of blacks in the American South to the Holocaust of World War II. The rhetoric usually includes derogatory terms intended to dehumanize the objects of scorn -- think camel jockey, gook, nigger, spick, Polack, bitch, fag, the list goes on and on. This bigotry has no place in a democratic republic whose citizens come from every land, every culture, every religion. Whenever you hear a sweeping generalization like "All Muslims are ... ", or "All women are ... ", or "All Mexicans are ... ", or "All blacks are ... ", a red flag should go up in your mind. The speaker is indulging in visceral hate.

TEXTBOOKS. What a wonderful idea -- the content of school textbooks being freely available to all, on Internet websites. One wouldn't have to be a registered class member to learn about the subject. One could be simply an interested lay person, or a student who would like to prepare ahead of time for the class. Education should be public and free, including no cost for textbooks. Learn more at the website Open Access Textbooks.

NESTING. The ever-ingenious webcomic xkcd presents a rather mind-blowing rule for model train layouts (one of my passions as a child). Click here to view the full-scale comic.

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