On hate

“New Home, New Life,” an often humorous soap opera broadcast from Pakistan, reportedly reaches 80% of its target audience of radio listeners in Afghanistan. “Live with Regis and Kelly” doesn’t get nearly that rating here in New York. But there was still a large crowd this morning waiting to get into the studio, even though it’s in one of the complexes where someone probably recently contracted anthrax.

The giant headline on the front page of The New York Post today was “WIMPS,” referring to the shutdown of the House of Representatives when anthrax was found in a Senate office building. The Post was founded in 1801 by Alexander Hamilton. It was bought by Rupert Murdoch in 1976, whose greatest non-financial contribution was what “The Encyclopedia of New York City” calls “deliberately outrageous headlines, of which perhaps the most memorable was ‘Headless Body in Topless Bar.'” Murdoch sold the paper in 1988 to comply with media cross-ownership regulations and then bought it back in 1993 when he got a waiver.

The difference between the House leadership and those waiting on the Regis line may have had nothing to do with wimpiness vs. bravery but instead with New Yorkers’ willingness to do almost ANYTHING (including spending lots of money) to get something for free. This summer, for example, people bought camping equipment to sleep in Central Park to be on line (New Yorkese for “in line”) in time to get free tickets to “The Seagull,” a play they might never otherwise have considered attending.

For years, the Transit Authority tried unsuccessfully to get subway riders to switch from lugging heavy tokens to carrying a lightweight Metrocard. When they finally added free transfers to and from buses and a discount structure, Metrocard sales took off almost overnight.

People who wouldn’t dream of buying a ticket for an opera fill New York’s parks for the Metropolitan Opera’s free summer performances. And some people will take an hour out of their busy schedules for a round trip on the Staten Island Ferry just because there’s no charge.

That is, before September 11 they did. The subway that stopped at the Manhattan ferry terminal is the one that will take years to repair.

Perhaps the question I hear most often in regard to that date is “Why do they hate us?” The three most common answers I hear are variations on: (from a few on the political left) “Because of U.S. foreign policy,” (from a few on the political right) “Because of a breakdown in our morality,” and (most often) “I don’t know” or “I don’t understand it.”

I think the question may be improperly phrased. Shortly after the September 11 attacks, a Sikh was killed in Arizona in an apparent hate crime. The perpetrator and victim were not the same as those of September 11. Shortly before September 11, however, preparations were being made in Canada to try accused Sikh terrorists for blowing up an Air India plane in 1985.

This week the New York Times carried the story of Catholic girls as young as four being stoned on their way to school in Northern Ireland. In 1998, however, a Catholic group claimed credit for a deadly terrorist bomb in Omagh in Northern Ireland.

No, I don’t think the question should be “Why do THEY hate US?” I think it should be “Why do PEOPLE hate so much?” And, although I wish I could say “I don’t know” or “I don’t understand it,” I cannot. The song from “South Pacific” says “You’ve got to be taught to hate.” It’s right, and I was.

I had more than 12 long years of religious education. I started high school at 8 am and ended at 6:30 pm, not counting an hour-long commute each way and homework. And, over the course of that education (and in houses of worship), I was taught to hate Amalek.

Who or what was or is Amalek? That’s a good question. One Amalek was said to be the grandson of Esau, son of Isaac, son of Abraham. Another was a tribe of bedouins who might have attacked some Hebrews (or might simply have been inhospitable to them) after what might or might not have appeared to them to have been an invasion of their land. They were eventually completely wiped out way back in biblical times. So it might seem that being taught to hate Amalek was not a big deal. But it was.

There’s a curious passage in Exodus (17:16). “…the Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.” I was taught that every generation has its own Amalek. Some people told me Hitler and the World War II Germans were Amalek. Some people offered other, more-recent targets. I was taught always to remember Amalek. I was also taught to wipe out the memory of Amalek.

Amalek was evil. It didn’t matter what Amalek’s domestic or foreign policies were. It didn’t matter what Amalek perceived its societal morality to be. Amalek had to be destroyed.

How badly did I have to hate Amalek? VERY badly. Here are some words that are still used in teaching about Amalek (I did a web search today): annihilate, eradicate, exterminate.

We were shocked, of course, by the attacks on so many innocent people on September 11. We cannot believe that any religion could be interpreted to condone, let alone encourage, such acts.

Here’s a passage from the first book of Samuel (15:3), part of what’s called the Judeo-Christian tradition. “Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not, but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.” In other words, kill even innocent newborns. If you don’t, new evil will spring from them. Hate and kill. Destroy evil. God is on your side.

The programming worked. When I was (fortunately) too young to do anything about it, I wanted to help wipe out those I was told were my generation’s Amalek. I would gladly have been a suicide terrorist. It was, after all, what I was convinced that God wanted me to do. I would not be killing people; I would be destroying evil. I could hate with the worst.

I don’t know how I was deprogrammed. Perhaps it was seeing my parents not hating anyone — even after their families had been destroyed in the Holocaust. Perhaps it was wondering about the conflict between being ordered to kill infants and “Thou Shalt Not Kill.” Perhaps it was getting to know people outside my insular ethnic group — to know that they were people, with names and faces. They may have had their foibles, but they were people, not demons.

I cringe now when I hear anyone say “God is on our side.” I cringe now when I hear anyone being demonized as evil. Evil is code for Amalek. Anyone can teach that anyone else is Amalek and that God wants Amalek destroyed. It’s in the Bible.

I cannot condone the acts of September 11, but I can understand how someone can be taught to hate so much. I was.

TTFN, Mark

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