“I will permit no man to narrow and degrade my soul by making me hate him.” -Booker T. Washington
Lately life has conspired against me, or more specifically, my knowledge of current events. I always taken a little pride in my ability to keep up to date on the goings on of the world around us, but like anyone else there are times when school, work, family all get in the way. And then I do “pick up a newspaper” (by which I clearly mean, head over to my favorite news aggregators), and I wish I could remain ignorant.
Last week was one of those times.
Michael Enright was a good guy. On paper. He was an honors student at a good college. He came from a “good family.” He volunteered in Afghanistan. He cared about the world around him. No one would look at a profile of Michael Enright and think “This guy is a bad person.” Meddling mothers might even drool over him for their daughters.
Today, Michael Enright appeared in court. Not for too many traffic tickets or running a red light or any other petty crime so many of us have committed. He will appear in court for stabbing a Muslim cab driver simply because he was Muslim.
I would say it boggles my mind, but it really doesn’t. Rather, it reminds me of my early years in elementary school. The year was 1980. I was in the second grade. I was hairy and swarthy and pronounced words weirdly. I brought kuku sabzi or goosht-e-kubideh sandwiches for lunch. And halfway across the world some Iranians, just like me but not at all like me, captured and held hostage 52 Americans.
A year after thatÂ I sat at my school desk one morning and felt a pair of small, 7-year-old hands, not so very different from mine, close around my neck. And the words “I hate you. I am going to kill all Eye-ranians” were uttered softly, but vehemently, in my ear.
That event marked the beginning of a difficult time, not just for me, but for any Iranian who lived and loved this country. It was difficult not just because I had nothing to do with, and in fact did not approve of, the taking of any hostages. But it was especially difficult, because I didn’t even understand the politics or the specifics of what was going on. All I knew was that my parents seemed worried and the news seemed scary. And I was scared for my people, and now I also had to be scared for myself.
That event haunts me to this day, mostly because the boy who took this action against me was a child, the same age as me from the same neighborhood. And yet he was filled with hatred, something I had never felt and didn’t know existed. Over 30 years later, I still cannot understand that kind of hatred.
Yes, I can understand hatred toward an individual person although I hope to never feel that, and I try my hardest to make sure I temper such feelings. An individual person, after all, can be responsible for irreparably harming another person in some way, whether physically or emotionally, and that is bound to stir up anger and in some cases even hatred. But there really is no such thing as an entire people being responsible for anything. An entire race of people cannot perpetrate an action. It is individuals who hurt others, so why do people hate those who are superficially the same?
Sometimes I think people are filled with hate and it needs to find a way out. Maybe it’s something humans are born with deep inside them, and it lies silently waiting for the right trigger. It makes me scared that perhaps I, too, am capable of such a thing. But mostly it makes me sad. We all have so much love to give to the world. I know this when I look at my daughter’s sleeping face, so peaceful, so naive. I know she is incapable of hatred. If I think about it too much when I am awake with churning thoughts in the middle of the night, I am overcome with fear for the things she will have to see and experience. I fear for the day she learns that the world isn’t only sunshine and happiness.
As with many issues in life I have no solutions, and I cannot shield her from it all. I can only make sure she has enough love in her life to make small and inconsequential all the hatred in this otherwise beautiful world.