Baha'i News -- IRS forum takes a shot at stereotypes

IRS forum takes a shot at stereotypes

By LARRY MITCHELL - Staff Writer

Thu Apr 25 01:10:06 2002-- Greedy Jews, dangerous Arabs, pessimistic Buddhists

These and other stereotypes are unwarranted yet they persist, speakers said at a forum on religious diversity held in Chico Wednesday.

If any conclusion could be drawn from what was said, it might be that most groups feel the sting of bias and are subjected to broad-brush characterization.

The forum - sponsored, oddly enough by the Internal Revenue Service - featured speakers representing Christianity, Judaism, the Baha'i faith, American Indian religion, Islam, interfaith spirituality, and Zen Buddhism.

The discussion seemed to inspire some of the 40 or 50 people in the audience at the Chico City Council Chambers.

"How proud I am of Chico for having something like this," one woman stood up and said when the forum was over. "If only we could wrap all of you together and spread the message that we are all one. We've got to learn about other people."

Participants were asked to talk briefly about negative stereotypes their religion or people face.

Professor Sam Edelman and Rabbi Yitzhak Nates of Congregation Beth Israel said Jews unfairly have been branded as greedy, as the killers of Jesus, as spreaders of disease and as desiring to control the world.

Both said they'd encountered non-Jews who believed that they actually had horns underneath their yarmulkes.

The stereotype of the greedy Jew originated in the Middle Ages when oppressive governments barred Jewish people from any sort of work other than money-lending, said Edelman, a professor of Jewish studies at Chico State University.

Chico's Mayor Dan Herbert said increasingly Christians encounter negative characterizations, especially in the media. He cited the movie "Pleasantville," which he said portrayed Christians as old-fashioned, rigid and stuck in the 1950s, while it pictured today's secular culture as rich, free and vibrant.

Herbert said he couldn't sit through the whole movie because it's so painful to see Christianity presented as dated to his children and other youngsters.

The Rev. Mark Allen, pastor of St. Nicholas Episcopal Church in Paradise, said many people think all Christians are conservative and fundamentalist. It's a mistake "to assume that we all dance to the same drummer," he said.

Ali Sarsour, a Palestinian American and a Muslim who's lived in Chico many years, talked about the problems some of his relatives had in other parts of the country after Sept. 11. His niece heard derogatory remarks about Muslims from her high school teacher. When his cousin tried to buy a short-wave radio at an electronics shop, employees called the police.

"When you have a million Muslims, they don't think alike and don't look alike," Sarsour said. "We have different backgrounds, different views."

Don Slaughter, who works for the IRS in Redding and is an American Indian, said Indians may have been subjected to more false stereotypes than any other group. "Indian" itself is a misnomer, he said. "We were all piled into one group and called Indians" because Columbus thought he was in India.

Lin Jensen, representing a Zen Buddhist group in Chico, said many people have the misconception Buddhists are pessimistic. In fact, the opposite is true, he said. Zen Buddhism's "ultimate aim is to alleviate the suffering that exists in the world."

Roger Hogan of Redding, representing the Baha'i faith said his religion, which began in Persia in the 19th century, stresses "the conception that we are all one people."

Rebecca Senoglu, an interfaith minister from Chico, said "interfaith spirituality" isn't well understood.

At its core, she said, is "the thought that there is a universal deity greater than our minds can comprehend but that can be experienced in the heart as pure love."

Shirley Nunn, an IRS employee from Chico who arranged the forum, said it was one of many her organization sponsors around the country to help people better understand each other.

©Copyright 2002, MSNBC

Page last updated/revised 020426
Return to the Bahá'í Association's Main Web Page