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Ignorance breeds prejudice

Firat Demir | Monday, September 29, 2003

In his defense of radical Christianity and racist dogmatism in his Sept. 26 letter, Dan Martin once again proves that ignorance is the biggest ally of racism and fundamentalism, and is not limited to the uneducated but can exist even at a place like Notre Dame. Aside from the KKK rhetoric (though this time the target is not people of color but the Muslims), unfortunately there is not much offered by the letter. The only example I can think of for comparison is those Nazi journals labeling the Jews for terrorist plots against the Aryans. Instead, let’s do a little bit of brain exercise, which Martin dismisses as intellectual garbage. Think of yourself as an African American student at Notre Dame who knows that 30 to 60 million Africans were killed (slaughtered?) by the Westerners (who were predominantly Christian) in the slave trade within less than 300 years. In his 1992 book “American Holocaust,” David Stannard estimates a 75 to 80 percent overall mortality rate among Africans in transit. Then, put yourself in the place of a Native American who had to go through a near-extermination during the same period. Stannard estimates the total cost of this as 100 million lives.Then go back a bit earlier than that, and remember that in 1099, Crusaders massacred 70,000 Muslim inhabitants of Jerusalem. Also, don’t forget Richard the Lionhearted, who executed 3,000 Muslim Prisoners of War in his “holiday trip” to the Middle East.If this is too much, let us forget about what the Westerners (under the name of Christianity and/or civilization) did to the people of other religions and look at the Western world itself. Bethancourt, in “The Killings of Witches,” estimates that between 20,000 and 500,000 people were killed because of suspicion of witchcraft as of December 2000. We need to add to this figure those 32,000 people killed by the Inquisition as well. But then you will say these are in the past and we are in a civilized society now. All right, then think of yourself as a Japanese student here at Notre Dame. Do you think you would have forgotten that more than 200,000 “civilians” were killed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki with the nuclear attack of the U.S.? Then an Algerian student will tell you that his grandfather was killed during the French occupation of Algeria by a French soldier (who was probably a Christian). Another student here from India, she wants to help Dan Martin remember that the last time fundamentalist Hindus killed innocent people was on March 5, 2002, where more than 500 Muslims, one of them a British citizen, who was on holiday in India, were killed in the western state of Gujarat. There I see the hand of my friend Vitali from Istanbul who reminds me that his Jewish ancestors from Spain were persecuted together with Muslims, witches and other “heretics” and were expelled from England in 1290, from France in 1394 and from Spain in 1492. The history books give their total number around 200,000. Who do you think welcomed those “heretics” at that time? The Ottoman Empire, whose official religion was Islam. He also stated that some of his ancestors were not so lucky. In 1348, Jews were accused of causing the plague in Europe by poisoning wells. Six thousand Jews were massacred in Mainz, and in Strasbourg, 2,000 Jews were burned to death on a wooden scaffold built over a huge pit. The Nazis repeated the same in the 20th century.The final saying goes to a student from occupied Iraq. She asks Dan Martin if he knows thousands of (mostly Muslim) civilians are being killed every week in Iraq (averaging 1,000 a week according to journalist R. Fisk) at a rate much higher than the first British occupation following WWI. All of the above students can easily say, “Needless to say, not all Christians are terrorists, but most terrorists are Christians,” as Dan Martin did about Muslims, but the question here is more complicated than that and two minuses do not make one plus. What we see around the world today is not a clash of religions but a clash of ignorance and fundamentalism under whatever religion or ideology they label themselves. Being an intellectual does not mean sitting in an arena lauding a religion but having knowledge before having an ideology. Ignorance does not justify either racism or religious fundamentalism, even if someone is a freshman student at Notre Dame. The reason why we had Inquisitions, witch hunts, Crusades or slavery was not because of “intellectual discussions” but because of those “ignorant riffraff.”

Firat Demirgraduate studentSept. 29