The petite mother and her two young daughters ahead of me in the check out line had shopped carefully through the busy grocery store. I noticed them earlier not for their Muslim attire but rather the girl's active curiosity and good manners and their mother's calm grace and reserved but friendly smile.
When the woman's turn came, the checker's smiling cheerfulness instantly turned to a frowning hostility as forceful as cold water from a fire hose. The woman and her girls weren't shocked nor did they return the hatred. Who they really were was just carefully tucked away and replaced with the blankness that is often mistaken for a lack of intelligence and emotion in many cultures. The three females had transformed themselves with an ease born of too many brushes with prejudice.
The store's checkout clerk was entitled to her opinion; perhaps Islamic terrorism had touched her in a very personal way. But prejudice, no matter the target, is as powerful a weapon against a free society as any bomb.
Those who employ terrorism to destroy a society and replace its values with their own understand the benefits to their purpose of racial and cultural discrimination. Prejudice in any form squeezes the heart of a society and all of its people with a sly and steady grip that slows the pulse of vibrant life, erodes positive values and chokes a hopeful future. The ultimate destruction comes not from "Them" in a blazing flash but with subtle surety at the hands of our own surrender to unreasoned fears like prejudice and racism.
Prejudice is born of ignorance and fear. It can be blunt like murder for color, secret as festering resentment or sly as the smiling face of a hateful heart. No one, regardless of where or when or how they stand upon this planet is exempt from its reach. To one degree or another, we all tend to distrust what we do not know, hold tight to keep what is "Ours" and defend, against "Them", with bared teeth the place upon which we stand. Positive stewardship of our lives and those who rely upon us is fair and responsible behavior. But when color, religion, nationality and past victimization are used as excuses for unreasoned hatred and aggression, both victim and perpetrator alike are diminished.
That truth travels down every age of Man's history through the stories of individuals and societies who forgot or did not accept its lessons. Our time is no different. The evil of Adolph Hitler's Reich took root in a society that forgot its values and increasingly tolerated cynical racism and prejudice disguised as self-preservation. Today, when we focus stereotyped fear and hatred upon those among us who only appear to be different, a similar path is before us.
Yes, my friend, it is possible here - but only if you and I let it happen. Our enemies believe that we will.