Having devoted almost three years researching the Holocaust for my novel, "Jacob's Courage," I have assimilated enough religious hatred for a lifetime. This has been made all the more real by the persecution and murder of my own family in the blazing fires of Nazi death camps. I tell myself, "It's all a part of the past. It won't happen again. Humankind is more mature, more tolerant. Societies are more peaceful. Killing over insignificant differences is over.” But, that's not true, is it?
Since the Nazi Holocaust, we have witnessed the holocausts of Cambodia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Rwanda and Darfur. An English schoolteacher in a Muslim country was recently sentenced to flogging and imprisonment for allowing her students to name a teddy bear, "Mohammed." People are still persecuted for religious, political and ethnic differences. In many countries, women are still persecuted solely because of their gender. Draconian religious laws create conditions in which people are treated little better than animals. Non-believers are routinely persecuted for being an "affront" to the predominant religion. Have we learned nothing from the mistakes of history? Why do we continue to butcher people for being different?
It is one thing for a nation to go to war to defend itself, or for conquest of land and national resources. Yet, we continue to displace, torture, sterilize and kill others, only because they are different. One might assume that in the shadow of the Holocaust, we would see less of this senseless killing. Instead, the thought process behind intolerance is growing. This is evidenced by the recent increase of Islamic radicalism, as well as the growth of global anti-Semitism. Governments, like Sudan, allow the slaughter of mass populations because they do not worship properly or they are considered less valuable. Throughout Europe and Asia, people continue to be branded by their ethnic or religious origin, rather than accepted as free and equal citizens of their homeland. Why is there little or no progress in the development of tolerance? How can millions of people in the 21st Century continue to assume that non-believers should be converted or killed? And, what is yet to come?
We live in a world of decreasing natural resources and increasing nationalism. All the while, religious bigotry floats just below the surface, festering like a mindless, intense evil. Yes, evil exists in our age. It hides behind the flags of nations and dwells in the hearts of corrupted people. The president of Iran wants to see Israel "wiped off the face of the earth," despite the fact that Jews lived in the place called Israel centuries before the Muslim religion was founded. Israel is a tiny strip of land, occupying a miniscule fragment of the Middle East. Yet, there is no tolerance for its existence. Nor is there tolerance for Muslims to live in the lands that Serbs deny them. Nor will communist China allow freedom for Tibetans. Even in America, there is intolerance toward minorities, foreigners and people who are not Christian.
There are, of course, many Zionists who are intolerant. There are extremists in every society. Yet, I have never heard of a Jewish suicide bomber. Jews do not teach their children to launch rockets into civilian populations, strap explosives around their waists or kidnap the innocent. They do not covet the destruction or conversion of every human who does not share their religious belief. In fact, every Arab in Israel at the time of its creation (1948) was offered equal Israeli citizenship. Yet, the Middle East desires only Israel’s destruction.
Our world will continue to teeter on the edge of global war and mass destruction until we learn to accept and value our individuality. We must not persecute, arrest or kill people who are "non-believers." We must accept that it is their privilege to be non-believers. We must stop condemning people because of their ancestral beliefs or ethnic origin. We are not inherently evil because we are dissimilar, or worship in a different way.
But, the murder, rapes, torture and killing goes on. As long as people find it easier to hate than to abide, genocide will continue. In the face of this blind abhorrence, our inaction speaks louder than words. How can we help people learn to value tolerance? How many more innocent humans must be killed in the name of archaic, ancient religious laws? How can we look into the eyes of our children without feeling shame for our lack of accomplishment?
Sadly, we cannot help those who reject our assistance. If people believe that God wants them to despise and mistrust others because they do not share the same religion or ethic background, then our children will inherit a world filled with draconian rejection and loathing. Perhaps one day, if we survive as a species, our progeny will succeed where we have failed.
This is the message of my book, "Jacob's Courage." Governments do not have the right to kill people because they are religiously different. Love can overcome almost anything, including outdated ancestral dislike. We can discover value in those who are different. A better future awaits those who tolerate rather than mistrust. We are all humans. Our presence on this planet is ubiquitous. And we have a responsibility to our progeny. One need not accept in a literal manner ancient religious documents that tell us to hate. There is more to life than archaic detestation. We must learn to share our planet in peace and mutual respect.