I Need Your Help

Balint Vazsonyi

When I first arrived here, in 1959, frequent references were made to God, and people were admonished to look to their churches.

Some years ago, Americans started to be admonished to look to their churches and synagogues.

Lately, we are reminded to go to our churches, synagogues and mosques; and to consult our Bible, Torah, and the Koran.

One of my burning questions is how far we intend to go on this road. How soon are we planning to add Brahmanism and Buddhism? Are we going all the way to female genital mutilation?

But that is not my real question.

Growing up in Hungary, a hundred-and-fifty years of Turkish occupation makes every schoolboy acquainted with Islam. But here comes a story far closer to home.

It is Thanksgiving 1990. Hundreds of thousands of Americans are spending it in Saudi Arabia, invited by its rulers to protect the country - not against the infidel, but against a fellow Arab Moslem, Saddam Hussein of Iraq. Having raped Kuwait, the Iraqi forces were poised to storm Saudi Arabia, a country as incapable of defending itself as indeed it is incapable of doing practically anything at all. It lives off the geological accident of petroleum deposits underneath its territory.

The President of the United States, George Herbert Walker Bush, arrived to share the Thanksgiving meal with the armed forces whose Commander in Chief he was. Upon arrival, the Saudi hosts informed him that the sight of a banquet connected in any way, shape or form with Christian traditions, giving thanks to God, was so hateful to Moslems that he and his lot would have to repair to the high seas, far from the shores that would be soiled, defaced, desecrated by their act and presence.

(Astonishingly, the President of the United States complied.)

The foregoing did not happen in Islamic fundamentalist Iran, or under the Mullah of the Taliban regime in fanatical Afghanistan. It did not happen in communist South Yemen. It happened in enlightened, America-friendly Saudi Arabia, whence princes of exquisite taste come to be celebrated among the playboys of the Western world.

Here then is my question. When Arabs and other Moslems arrive and settle in America, when and how does the miraculous transformation occur whereby the Christianity - or Judaism - that surrounds them ceases to offend?

Does it really occur?



How do we know it has occurred?

Or do they live here, quietly hating the rest of us, waiting for the time when our unwanted presence no longer obscures their sight lines to Mecca?

I believe we need urgent replies to these questions while we are still alive to ask them. In all the television newscasts, with all the Moslems appearing everywhere in force, I have not heard a single word that would somehow indicate the presence of the first germinal molecule of religious tolerance from an Arab, or other Moslem.

And speaking of which, I find it in questionable taste that Moslems are paraded on television at this particular time. Why are we incapable of a middle road? Why is it not possible to keep our Arab residents free from harm, but not have them pushed in our face?

It is of equally questionable taste when Tom Brokaw and others in his position repeat the word "bigot" five times per sentence in describing fellow-Americans who are openly angry at Arabs just now. When nineteen out of nineteen highjacker/mass-murderers are Arabs, the stereotyping did not originate with us. Arabs have been attacking civil aviation for decades. No other people has a comparable record.

I will be eternally grateful to anyone, regardless of religion and ethnicity, who can shed light upon my questions. This nation was founded upon, and in many ways for the sake of, religious tolerance. People died for founding it, people died for preserving it. Might we, just might we owe it to our dead of the distant and very recent past that we make the adoption of religious tolerance a condition of settling in this country?

Please write to me, chastize me, instruct me. But do not sidestep the question. Until we hear differently, our whistling in the dark about Islam the peaceful, Islam that shares the same God, remains a disturbing puzzle. We repeat breathlessly that Christians, Jews, Moslems share the same God. Has anyone heard a Moslem say that - except, perhaps, when they feel threatened for a change?

For, if we share the same God, why can't we give thanks to Him in Saudi Arabia?