“No human race is superior; no religious faith is inferior. All collective judgments are wrong. Only racists make them.”
~ Elie Wiesel
Eliezer “Elie” Wiesel, (1928-2016) was a Romanian-born, American Jewish author, professor and human rights activist. He survived the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps under the Nazi regime. He championed the cause of human rights throughout his life and in 1986 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
I doubt there are many people who don’t have strong feelings about the twin issues of racism and religious intolerance. They fuel confrontation and discord, violent incidents between caucasian police and people of colour, the targeting of specific nationalities and religious groups by terrorists, and even setting part of the agenda for the Presidential Campaign in the United States. This reality goes way beyond sad and deplorable to utterly tragic.
It is safe to say, that in the Twenty-first Century, the human race has achieved the highest level of education in all of history. The Internet and other global communications systems, made possible by satellite technology, have put people of every race, in every country, in touch with each other. Within moments, people around the world are made aware of momentous events happening anywhere around the globe. We are educated. We are aware. And we have not learned a thing about the price of intolerance.
In this brief quote, Wiesel doesn’t mince words; but rather, he states his case aggressively from the outset: “No human race is superior…” He offers no qualification or exception as he declares his truth, that there is no race and no religion that can claim superiority over any other race or religion. The very notion of superiority breeds intolerance toward all others, and this, in turn, is a violation of the very principles upon which the great religions of the world were founded.
Once one buys into the notion of superiority, it is a short, easy jump to justifiable intolerance and discrimination. After all, why should a person who is a member of the superior race or religion, treat outsiders with any respect at all? Once in that position, the door is wide open to practise oppression and even genocide. Many people thought that once the Nazi regime was defeated in World War II, the world had learned its lesson – that the concept of a Master Race and the enslavement and extinction of others would never occur again. Tragically, that has not been the case.
In the face of all the horrific examples of enslavement, violent crimes and genocide, why does this cycle of inhumanity continue? Can we put it down to evil being perpetrated by Satan and his followers? Perhaps, but why would the perpetrators of such evil be attractive to people – why does their message of excessive pride and hate resonate with so many?
I firmly believe that people who succumb to these ideas, do so because they feel very inadequate – even worthless. In order to build self-respect, they choose to proclaim themselves superior, and then tear down others. Many people don’t learn from the mistakes of the past because their drive to embrace a culture of superiority has nothing to do with rational thought. They are driven by deep-seated feelings of inadequacy, and are desperate to see themselves in a better light.
In the aftermath of World War I, a proud German nation was defeated, humiliated and bankrupted by the victors who were determined to insure they would never recover to threaten anyone again. They didn’t count on Adolph Hitler and his Master Race doctrine. The Nazi leader used German feelings of inadequacy and bitterness to sew the seeds of hatred. The Jews were an easy scapegoat and Hitler conducted the Holocaust like a well-tuned symphony orchestra. Once the Führer had enough supporters in his pocket, he used fear and brute force to keep the rest of the nation in line.
As we live our daily lives, we are faced with many situations calling for decisions. How do we react to, or interact with, people of different racial backgrounds? Are we put off by the garb of people who believe and worship differently from ourselves? As human beings, the things physically, emotionally and spiritually that we have in common are far more numerous and significant than the factors that differentiate us. Yet, we focus on those unimportant details like skin colour, clothing and rituals of worship. In my view, we need to deliberately train our focus on our shared humanity.
How do we really, honestly view ourselves? Instead of looking at others, we need to concentrate on our own sense of value as a person. If I’m not happy with who I am, I have work to do. If I am pleased with myself, I need to work harder to become an even better person. In doing this, I am able to cast an accepting and caring eye toward others, and will not fall into the evil ways of racism and religious intolerance.