Civil Rights?

North Americans often assume that people will or at least should function as if their behavior is governed by Judeo/Christian-based laws or ethics. A teacher colleague of mine discovered to her shock that isn’t always the case.

Even here in the north central part of North America, many immigrants from Africa and the Middle East are our neighbors these days. Just because these newcomers have come to the “land of the free” doesn’t mean they have shed any of their assumptions, prejudices, or culturally engrained ways of handling relationships. When my colleague objected to the way a neighbor had treated her, the neighbor replied, “You’re an infidel (not a Muslim). So I can treat you any way I like.” Remember now, this incident occurred in North America in the twenty-first century!

Evidently, a Muslim’s understanding of Sharia (Islam-governed law) holds that Muslim accountable for how he or she treats another Muslim. (And punishments for disobedience can be quite severe.) Apparently, any activity or attitude of a Muslim is permissible toward a non-Muslim.

That expectation evidently hasn’t changed since twelve hundred A.D. after the Seljuk Turks took over Armenian territory to establish the Ottoman Empire. By 1915, the Empire’s Armenian population had already endured centuries of subjugation as second class citizens (See “Segregation Device: Shoes by Firman,” December 7, 2012 posting). Whenever an Ottoman Turk had a mind to harass, beat up, steal from, rape, or even kill an Armenian, the Turk could do it with impunity. The Armenian had no recourse. Any attempt at a protest usually resulted in more mistreatment.

Justice and civil rights existed only for Muslim Turks in the Ottoman Empire in 1915. 



Is Wealth Made or Stolen?

“Wealth is made.” This Western cultural belief follows on the heels of another belief that is dear to the heart of every North American. If a man or woman works hard at obtaining an education and is diligent in business or at a job, he or she can and will make personal wealth. So wealth is not evil. It is a just reward for great effort.

In most developing countries, however, no such assumption exists. Peoples of third world cultures assume that there is only so much material on earth. They firmly believe that the world has limited goods (1976, Cultural Anthropology, p. 265). Therefore, if a neighboring farmer succeeds in growing a dozen more yams than the farmer with fewer yams, the poorer farmer assumes it is because the richer farmer has somehow cleverly stolen the ‘extra’ yams from the poorer farmer’s field. Wealth is viewed as theft. Third world people assume any evidence of personal wealth is a sign of evil, proof of intelligence used to rob everyone around the wealthy one.

“Wealth is stolen” was an assumption alive and well during the days of the Ottoman Empire. Turks acted as if the prosperity and success of the Armenians in Turkey were  signs of evil intent.

Functioning on Christian principles, the Armenians of Turkey embraced any opportunity for an education that became available, especially for their young men. The Armenians also acted on the teaching from the Bible that God expected every follower of Christ to work hard and to do his or her best everyday and in every way.

Their Turkish neighbors and overlords, however, viewed the prosperity of the Armenians with jealous eyes. One rumor Ottoman Turks evidently believed was that Armenians had gold buried in the walls of their homes. Once the Armenians had been forced out in 1915, there were instances where Turkish neighbors pulled apart Armenian houses looking for the gold. Of course, the looters found nothing.

If you or I had been living in Ottoman Turkey in 1915, would we have believed prosperity to be a sign of God’s blessing, e.g., His reward for diligence, or assumed wealth to be a sign of thievery? Are commonly held assumptions mirrors of a group’s religious foundations, or are assumptions the reflections of the weaknesses of human hearts and minds?