During the last week, The Chicago Maroon ran two advertisements paid for by an anti-Palestinian organization. Using crude images, these ads purported to generalize, misrepresent, and then condemn the aspirations of the entire Palestinian population. One ad juxtaposed a golden-haired, triumphant Israeli athlete with a dark and grizzled Palestinian gunman; the first, the ad asserted, represented the hero of Israeli children: the second that of Palestinians. Such stark and absurd generalizations merit no rebuttal, but they should remind us as a University and as a nation of the lessons that history has but recently provided. Such images appeal to the lowest, most base, and racist elements of our characters. It was images and malicious generalizations such as these that convinced our grandparents' generation that Japanese Americans were somehow traitorous and not to be trusted. As a result, American citizens of Japanese descent were herded into concentration camps. Such propaganda asks us to forget that children from all nations essentially dream of the same things: peace, prosperity and happiness. It further tries to convince us that one specific group of people somehow does not deserve to be treated as humans. Rather, they deserve to be ignored, detested or even killed.
The tragic events that took place on September 11 made Americans plainly aware that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was not constrained by the boundaries of the Middle East. The hatred and radicalism bred in that struggle could and did affect American citizens. As a result, it became clear to American policy-makers that finding a just and lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was the one essential step to promoting security and prosperity both in the Middle East and here at home. The American government and the citizens who elect its chiefs have thus been presented with the challenge of rising above the hatred, virulent rhetoric, and absurd generalizations that have plunged Israelis and Palestinians into a ceaseless circle of violence. As some of the most talented and informed citizens in this country, students of the University of Chicago and our campus newspaper must not fall into the same trap that ensnared generations before us. Ours should be a discourse of fairness, understanding and progress, not of ignorance and racism.
This op-ed was submitted by members of the Muslim Students Association at the University of Chicago.