Fear is a powerful and primitive human emotion. It alerts us to the presence of danger and was critical in keeping our ancestors alive. Fear can actually be divided into two stages, biochemical and emotional. The biochemical response is universal, while the emotional response is highly individualized. That biochemical response is the basis for the "flight or fight" reaction in humans, whilst the emotional response is in many ways far more damaging.
See, a few weeks ago a new acquaintance told me that they didn't feel a particular individual was a racist or a bigot, but that he was "simply afraid." He asked me if I didn't experience fear. I do — every single day. I fear losing my wife or my children. I fear losing my mind, since my father and grandmother both suffered from dementia. I fear dying in a head-on collision — especially since I've moved to New Hampshire (you really are some of the sorriest drivers I've seen!). But I've had surgery, lost jobs, lost a house, lost loved ones, and been threatened with violence. They don't scare me. I've even come to grips with death, although I'm certainly in no rush and given the opportunity to be a modern Methuselah, I'd be all for it! But I am certainly not afraid of anyone's religion, color, or country of origin. I'd hope no one was afraid of mine.
I find that level of fear to be irrational. Fear is immobilizing and it keeps us separated. Our "them and us" mentality has no place in a working democracy, and it certainly has no place in our communities of faith. And when that fear has a very public profile as it has since 9/11 and especially during this past election, it becomes something far more. Fear begets bigotry, which begets intolerance, which begets a public bullying of people who have their own fears. Perhaps even a fear of being persecuted. Because that is what we are seeing these days, with the "pig pile" mentality of anti-Muslim sentiment from not just our local citizenry, but from our elected officials. If the intolerant didn't feel so safe behind such very public support from their president or others in their community, I have a feeling they'd never be heard from. Were there anti-Muslim letters in the papers prior to September 2001? Not that I ever saw. No, that act of terrorism by a tiny handful of extremist zealots painted a target on the backs of 1.8 billion people on this planet. Painted there by a handful of people terrified that it could happen to them.
New Hampshire has a minute percentage of Muslims compared to other states. Compared to 22 percent of the state being white Catholics, 11 percent being white evangelical, 17 percent being white mainline Protestant, and even 1 percent being Hindu, Muslims make up less than one-half of one percent of this state's population — approximately 7,000 people out of 1.3 million. That is less than Jehovah's Witnesses. In a state that is 93 percent white and 96 percent white locally, you all are probably in one of the safest areas of the country, not even considering all of the licensed (and not) firearms in this region. So I ask you — just what are you afraid of? The majority of violent acts in this state and country are committed by whites of a Christian denomination. Is that how Christ should be thought of? The word "Catholic" means "Universal." It isn't. "Islam" means "Peace" in Arabic. It hasn't been. Every religion on Earth declares itself peaceful and yet all have been violent. Most religions propose or recount violence in their texts. Atheists (Pol Pot, Stalin, Mao) have also murdered millions in the past century. Are you afraid of atheists? Buddhists are peaceful by nature ... except in Sri Lanka where they brutalize the Tamils. Tear those Buddhas down, right? Time to protest outside my favorite Chinese restaurant!
This fear is irrational — neither logical nor reasonable — and being used wholesale to change the tone and soul of this country. Those of you who are doing it are unwilling (or unable) to use critical thinking skills taught to us all in school to look at the issue; unwilling (or unable) to be perceptive to what is happening; unwilling (or unable) to be honest. You will not be satisfied until the words 'Muslim' and 'Islam' cause people to break out in a cold sweat. You will use the apathy of the majority against them. You are bullies and manipulators, and your own willful ignorance, rhetoric, hysteria, and outright lies poison our society. Our work should be that of ensuring that there is no place for biased ways of thinking; to make efforts to build bridges to others to support the highest quality of life possible for everyone in this country and across this planet.
In the science fiction classic "Dune," Frank Herbert wrote a mantra that went "I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain. "Fear blinds you. Forget everything you think you already know. Deal with people on an individual basis. Not all liberals are bad — or satanic. Not all Trump supporters are bigots — or morons. Not all protesters are violent. Not all college students are lazy. Not all teachers are Pied Pipers. And no broad-brushed blanket description is valid anywhere or any time. That is your fear talking, and fear prevents progress. I like progress. Don't you? I'd rather see Americans on Mars than in Afghanistan. Or are you also afraid of Mars?
(Alan Vervaeke is a veteran and father happily living in Gilford.)