In the aftermath of the San Bernadino shooting last week, it seems like everyone has something to say. Donald Trump called for "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what's going on." Politicians on both sides of the aisle have responded. News outlets have covered the story from every angle, from the extremely mundane to the heartwarming.
But in all of these stories, in all of this coverage, aren't we perpetuating a problem that permeates all levels of society - the problem of defining people by a single characteristic? Many of these stories lump human beings into categories: "Muslim," "Christian," "Nazis," "Jews," etc. Isn't that part of the problem?
For example, I am Jewish. I'm a social liberal who tends towards fiscal conservatism in certain aspects. I'm a registered Democrat. I'm also a woman. I'm an advertising professional. I'm a football fan, a hockey-lover, a book nerd. I'm a writer. I'm an ENFP. Which of these characteristics is my defining characteristic? If I had to boil myself down to a single word, which would I choose? The answer is none of them. Not one of those descriptions defines me completely. So how can we define an entire group of people, members of the world's second largest religion, by that one adjective?
Human beings are made up of thousands of characteristics that together make each one unique. Some prefer coffee, some prefer tea. Some vehemently defend their right to bear arms while others just as vehemently call for stricter gun control laws. Some say Donald Trump is going to make America great again; others draw parallels to Hitler's campaign in pre-WWII Germany. How can we lump any individual in with another in a generic ban denying them entrance to the land of the free, simply because they have a single characteristic in common?
Suppose we called for the ban of all white males. No other qualifications, just that they be white males. That's insane, right? But they're all white males, therefore they must all have the same though processes and beliefs; they must all be misogynistic assholes or staunch conservative Republicans. Maybe they all believe we should arm the kindergarten teachers in America or that we should provide free college education for every child. Their individualism does not matter; their thoughts are not unique. They are white males and as such, should be banned from entering our country.
Or we could call for a ban on all British people. After all, they did try to stop us from forming our own country. They once ruled us as their loyal subjects and persecuted those with different religious beliefs. They hated freedom and coffee; they wore red coats and wigs and spoke with funny accents. They must be against America and everything she stands for. What's that? They don't hate us anymore? They were our allies in both world wars and they're one of our greatest partners? That's so weird - why did we team up with them? Why didn't we ban entry of British citizens from our country when it was first formed? After all, weren't we afraid that in an act of terrorism, every Brit who came to America came with the intention of assassinating George Washington and ending freedom?
Of course not. Our founding fathers knew that people are individuals, with their own thoughts and ideas. They knew that you cannot lump members of a country or religion, of any society or defining characteristic together simply because they share that one trait. They accepted British transplants with open arms, because this was a country determined to do it differently. We were a country of freedom, where inhabitants had the right to choose their religion, to choose their station in life. Where a simple man could rise to a position of governance simply by the vote of his peers.
If we cannot see human beings for what they are, than we have lost our inherently human ability to empathize. We do not need a scapegoat for terrorism, as Hitler used a scapegoat in the 1930s for the depression. Muslims as a religious group are not responsible for terrorism. Terrorism has been around long before people banded together and began calling themselves the Taliban or ISIS. It was around long before Hitler established an army and called them the Nazis. Terrorism is the act of instilling terror, and it has existed for thousands of years. If we blame an entire religion for the terror inflicted by a subset of people, we are no better than Hitler himself. If we cannot see a group as individual humans, than we are only steps away from tattooing numbers on their arms. If we forget the lessons we've learned, we are no better than those we condemned to death post-WWII for heinous war crimes, for crimes against humanity.
So I'm asking you, world, to please stop using labels to define people. At the very least, go out of your way to identify that it is a group of people when you use a label, instead of slapping it on indiscriminately. Even the heartwarming story above lumps "American Muslims" together as one unit. First of all, it is a group of Americans who happen to be Muslims. Neither defines them. And secondly, do we need to identify them as either? Could we not use the name of the group, in which they happen to identify themselves as Muslims? Why couldn't we say "Muslims United for San Bernadino trump hate with love, raising $173K for San Bernadino victims in 6 days" instead of "American Muslims"? There should be no need to qualify that the group is Muslim, American or otherwise. It doesn't detract from the main point of the story, which is that people are banding together to raise money for the victims of the attack. When a Christian goes off shooting people, you don't see headlines reading "American Christians raise money for victims of shooting." Stop doing it to Muslims. Stop doing it to African Americans. And while you're at it, stop doing it to women, men, black, white, yellow, green, blue, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, atheist, Hindu, Flying Spaghetti Monster or otherwise. We're all people. We all have a thousand characteristics, not a single one of which define us altogether. Call us all people and leave it at that.