The tragic shooting in a Pittsburgh synagogue on Oct. 27 illustrates how much room we still have to improve as a society before we can call ourselves the peak of progress. Anti-Semitic thought may have appeared to be a thing of the past, but that Saturday showed us that hate is not so easily erased and that minor differences continue to breed sinister actions. It seems like this kind of religious hatred has manifested in vile hate crimes that minority groups are just supposed to accept as part of life. We're supposed to accept it when someone tells us to "go back to our country" just because we look different. We're supposed to accept it when a hate crime is committed and lives are lost, like in Pittsburgh or like in Kansas in July of this year when an Indian man was killed by a man saying ethnic slurs. We're supposed to accept the injustice that a minority faces just because they don't fit in with the majority. When hate rears its ugly head, we're supposed to just bear it and move forward.
In our attempts to look forward and rid ourselves of intolerance, it would do us well to look back to ancient empires that somehow had more tolerant attitudes than even some of our most "progressive" modern societies. The Middle East, a region that modern media consumers tend to immediately associate with war and violence and suffering, was a region held by prosperous empires through much of human history. The Achaemenid Persian Empire, which ruled during the 1st millennium BCE, followed in the tradition of prior rulers by adopting local religious cultures when they integrated territories. When Cyrus the Great sought to absorb Babylon, he included the Babylonian god Marduk in the typically Zoroastrian tradition, garnering Babylonian support.
Though this was a decision motivated by politics rather than benevolent intentions, the tolerance is remarkable when one considers how Crusaders over a thousand years later from Europe had no tolerance for Jewish or Muslim populations and sought to remove them from the "Holy Land" of the Levant. It's no wonder that the Persians faced little internal conflicts propagated by subjects when the Crusades were incredibly violent. Not only is the idea of acceptance a morally righteous ideal to pursue, it's also simply a logical one to enact as it leads to a greater sense of security, both within a state and externally with others who have different beliefs.
The later Islamic Empire would engage in a similar practice, allowing Christian, Jewish, and Zoroastrian populations to remain in the Empire despite Islam being the primary religion. Islam dictated that these people were "People of the Book" who need not be persecuted. Again, this was primarily a political decision to stabilize regions with diverse populations, and though emperors did collect tax from those who practiced different religions, the tolerant attitude remains surprising in such a distant time period.
Many media organizations and politicians seek to divide, promoting the agenda that what differs among us prevents us from achieving peace. They'll argue that Islam or Judaism or any religion cannot cooperate with another simply because they are different and won't accept one another. In the wake of the tragedy in Pittsburgh, Muslim Americans have fundraised over $150,000 to support the victims of the shooting, standing in solidarity with them. The potential for acceptance is clearly there, and the solution is not to divide and hate, but to teach appreciation. We must deny this agenda of hate and difference and accept our agenda of acceptance. Only when all of us can learn to appreciate difference rather than reject will we reach the more egalitarian society that humans have always sought to approach.