Today’s New York Times has a fantastic article by Clyde Haberman, about an interfaith program between a Jewish school and a Muslim school. I strongly encourage you to read the whole article but if you can’t, here are a couple of short excerpts:
For the last few years, the [Museum of Jewish Heritage — A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, in Battery Park City] has sponsored a program to bring together Jewish and Muslim children, most of them on the cusp of becoming teenagers. The idea is as simple in theory as it is difficult to put into practice: breed understanding and tolerance at an early age. Make “the other” not seem so other. […]
Sheikh Moussa Drammeh — Sheikh is a name, not an honorific — recalled a survey that he made of his students before this program got rolling in 2005. He asked them, “Who are the best people in the world?”
“Everybody says, ‘Muslims, of course,’ ” said Mr. Drammeh, originally of Senegal. Several years into the program, he posed the same question. “One hundred percent, they said, ‘It is who is the best in conduct,’ ” he said.
“Adults do not always say what is in their hearts — children do,” Mr. Drammeh said. “They found we are all the same. Good people can be found everywhere.”
Nowhere is the saying, “a stitch in time saves nine” more true, than in avoiding the formation of prejudice in people when they are young. If given the opportunity, children will naturally seek commonality with others. Or, as Rodgers and Hammerstein put it,
You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear.
You’ve got to be taught from year to year.
It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear.
You’ve got to be carefully taught!
You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
of people whose eyes are oddly made,
and people whose skin is a different shade.
You’ve got to be carefully taught.
You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
before you are six or seven or eight,
to hate all the people your relatives hate.
You’ve got be carefully taught!