Dangerous Assumptions

by Martin Brooks

On December 27th Erika Menendez, a woman who has had numerous encounters with the mental health community, pushed Sunando Sen onto the New York subway tracks, where he was crushed by a train, because she thought he looked like a Muslim or Hindu. She sneaked up behind him and timed her attack so he would be crushed by the approaching train. In her mind, she was doing her part to fight terrorism. She said, “I pushed a Muslim off the train tracks because I hate Hindus and Muslims ever since 2001 when they put down the twin towers I’ve been beating them up.” Was this statement meant to invoke sympathy for her actions? Ms. Menendez did not know Mr Sen. She did not know if he was a Muslim or Hindu, but even if she had known, is this the kind of world in which we want to live, where people are so biased that they kill based on looks and fearful perceptions?

Ms. Menendez has mental struggles and a history of violence, but she has also heard a steady stream of generalizations that caused her to be irrationally fearful. Perhaps most can handle all the hyperbole about terrorism without extrapolating information and making accusations about the larger population, but apparently that was not the case for Ms. Menendez. It is also not the case with the people I’ve met who say, “I just get angry when I see Muslims in Wal-mart.” Or another friend who said, “I am afraid when I see Muslims in Wal-Mart.” (What is it about Wal-mart?) All of our talk about terrorism has caused people to fear and hate large groups of people who are in no way connected to or responsible for terrorism. We must develop the intellectual capacity to distinguish between terrorists and larger groups of people. To not do so, leads to atrocities and the perpetuation of conflict based on bad assumptions. To push this a little further, how did Jesus say we should treat our enemies? Kill them? Push them in front of trains? I seem to recall him telling us to love even those we consider to be enemies.

I met a storeowner in Gatlinburg a few weeks ago. She asked what I did. I told her I try to get Christians and Muslims to talk to each other. “My lands,” she said, “I never met one of you before. I just see all that stuff going on in the Middle East over there and I just wonder what’s this world coming to.” I wanted to ask how many Muslims she actually knew. The tone in her voice communicated a mixture of fear and anger. “I read my Bible every day so I know how it is.” I wondered to what parts of the Bible she was referring. Maybe she was thinking of the “love God” and “love others” part or the “seek peace and pursue it” part? Maybe she was thinking about how she could imitate Jesus by blessing those that curse her and turning the other cheek and reconciling all things? Honestly though, that was not the vibe I was feeling. We changed the subject.

What kind of world do you want to live in, one characterized by suspicion and hate or one where people love like Jesus loved? Jesus came to set right what was messed up at the Fall, not only our relationship with God, but also our relationships with each other. We have good news to share. He reconciled all things. We are called to live as citizens of this new kingdom order, now. We are called to be ambassadors of this kingdom, now. in time, Jesus will make it all right. Until then we may be frustrated with the meanness of some, but that does not negate our calling now. That is what we should do as ambassadors of the Prince of Peace.

Is there a mosque near your church? Is there a church near your mosque? This year, would you like to get to know “those people?” We can help. Contact us and let us serve as your ambassador. We can help you understand their perspectives, make introductions, reduce fears, and promote peace among people who really should get to know one another.

Click here to read the New York Times article