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Admyering the view: The danger of ignorance

When I realized my blindness, I decided to do something about it

 by Amanda L. Myers  published on Thursday, February 3, 2005

Myers/issues/arts/691866
Myers
 

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I am ashamed of myself.

Before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, I was entirely unaware of Arabs and Muslims.

I had no idea who they were, what they believed or that they were my neighbors.

Like other Americans, I was self-absorbed and only knew Muslims as the odd people who wore black turbans in 100-degree weather.

As for Mormons, the only thing I knew about them was that there were a lot in Mesa for some reason.

And Jews? Well, they had large noses and lit menorahs instead of Christmas trees.

It's shocking, but at the time, I considered myself a well-informed individual. I had traveled overseas twice, and many of my friends were native Mexicans who didn't speak English. I understood diversity. I accepted others.

But what I didn't get is that there is no such thing as enough understanding.

I didn't understand Muslims, Mormons or Jews because I didn't actively seek to understand them. I just basked in my ignorance.

You could say when the planes hit the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., my ignorance hit home.

More than anything else, it was the killing of Balbir Singh Sodhi that did it. On Sept. 15, 2001, the Indian immigrant and Sikh was shot in the head and killed in front of his convenience store in Mesa.

Sodhi, who wore a turban, was the victim of ignorance. Ignorance and hatred.

His killer's misunderstanding existed on several levels. For one, he assumed because the men who committed the Sept. 11 terrorist acts were Arab, all Arabs must be bad.

Then, he assumed Sodhi was an Arab because he wore a turban, and if you wear a turban, you must be Arab.

But, Sodhi was neither Arab nor a terrorist. Friends and family describe him as the kindest, most gentle man they had ever met. Children who went to his convenience store said he would give them candy even though they didn't have enough money.

Thousands attended his memorial service to honor him, remember him and mourn the needlessness of his death.

A death that would never have happened if it hadn't been for ignorance.

I finally realized that although I had never been a prejudiced person, I had no excuse to continue being an ignorant person.

And neither does anyone else.

So I'll even make it easy by telling you where to start.

Read this week's cover story by Katie Kelberlau titled "Challenging beliefs" on page 6.

Katie talks to a Muslim, Mormon and Jewish student and exposes the prejudice and stereotypes they encounter on a daily basis.

You might not even realize the assumptions you make or the pain they can cause, but you have to do something about them.

I did.



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