Monday, February 25, 2008

Of Bias, Veils, and Crucifixes

A blue-eyed, melanin-deficient American like me isn't the victim of bias very often. The days when my Irish background would be a problem are past, and I discovered decades ago that using a cane made my limp less troublesome to people around me.

Muslims in America don't have as easy a time fitting in. Many don't look as "Anglo" as my ancestors could, after dropping their accent, getting a haircut and wearing conservative clothes. Worse, many of the 1% of Americans who are Muslims follow customs which make them stand out. This country isn't used to seeing women wearing veils, or clothing that covers enough of the body to satisfy Islamic standards.

I don't pretend to understand how it feels to be a Muslim in America. I do, however, know what it's like to be Catholic, when another case of clueless anti-Catholicism hits the news.

Case in point: Jaime Salazar, 14, and Marco Castro, 16, were ordered to stop wearing their crucifixes in an Albany, Oregon, school. The mother of one of them had given her son a rosary, similar to the one his friend wore. In each case, the crucifix wasn't much more than an inch tall. The two teens think that being Latino makes them targets. They could be right: but I think that the crucifixes didn't help.

The principal at the school says that the crucifixes are gang symbols, and banned them. That's fair, sort of: school policy says that gang symbols are verboten. And police in Albany, Oregon, say that crucifixes are being used as gang symbols in other towns, so maybe they're gang-related in Albany, too.

The principal and the police may not be aware that millions of Catholics around the world use, and occasionally wear, rosaries. Not because Catholics are gangsters, but because the rosaries help us keep track of our prayers.

Even though 24% of Americans are Roman Catholic, I've noticed that many other Americans either know little about Catholicism, or know things that aren't so. I suppose it's what we get, for having practices that most people don't.

I suppose that having a principal say that two teenagers are connected to gangs because they wear rosaries isn't the same as a cashier saying, "please don't stick me up," to a veiled customer.

Just the same, the outrage I felt when I read about those Oregon teens may be similar to what Muslims feel when someone reacts badly to an expression of their beliefs.

Related posts, on tolerance, bigotry, racism, and hatred.

Related blog, on being Catholic in America:

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.