In the fall of 2011, my oldest daughter presented me with a dilemma. We had just left the local fitness center where she and her sister attended a weekly exercise and wellness class designed for children. I noticed a change in her behavior, a reticence and shyness about attending class that she’d never exhibited before.

“You’ve acted strange the last couple of weeks about your class, Shay. Is there something wrong?” I asked and peeked at her through the rearview mirror of our family vehicle.

She folded her arms and squinted out the window. “No…”

“The other kids pick on her,” he sister sitting next to her volunteered.

“Nevaeh! Mind your own business!”

“Well, somebody had to say it.” Nevaeh insisted.

Shaylie has a seemingly preternatural talent for anything she attempts, so it puzzled me that anyone would find grounds to tease her.

“Well, how do they tease you?”

Shaylie was silent.

Nevaeh huffed, rolled her eyes and said, “There’s this girl, I think her name is Lauren. She teases us because we’re homeschooled.”

“Is that true, Shay?”

Tears budded in her eyes. She slowly nodded and tightened her folded arms.

Teasing and bullying are a sensitive issues for me, as it is for most parents. I was a victim of relentless bullying for the majority of my school career until the 11th grade of high school, so when my daughters suffer in this way, everything becomes personal.

A few days ago, on the eleventh anniversary of the September 11th attacks, we suffered another blow from bullying. I use the pronoun “we” here because this pervasive issue of sensitivity is becoming less and less a Muslim, Christian, Jew, etc. problem and wholly a human one.

Libyan protesters, angered by an American-produced, anti-Islamic film that depicted the prophet Muhammad, stormed the US consulate in the city of Benghazi and killed the American ambassador to Libya and three others. The perpetrators claimed they were defending the honor of Prophet Muhammad against the blasphemous acts of the film’s production. Similar protests broke out in Yemen later in the week.

This reaction among Muslims is only the latest in a long history of sensitivity deeply seeded within the general religious ethos. One must only brush the surface of religious history to find the intense iconoclasm during the bitter years of the early Protestant Reformation, the distrust and expulsion of Buddhists in Northern India, or the Israelite extermination of the competing theological communities in Canaan. All of these examples and others point more often than not toward a simple yet pervasive carcinogen to human character:


At the height of my bullying experience as a child, my father offered a simple solution. He asked, “Andrew, do you believe what these kids say about you? Are you what they say you are?”

“No,” I replied with hesitation.

“Then what difference does it make what they call you? If you are confident in whom you are, then their words have no power. Bullies only pick on people who allow themselves to be victims.”

I applied this wisdom and soon, the bullies moved on to greener pastures.

What we must understand is that while creating offensive material usually represents a lack of respect, individuals on the receiving end of that equation are under the same moral expectation to act civilly and with restraint. There is nothing wrong with taking offense, but that does not warrant taking a life.

The individuals who continually take advantage of the strictures Muslims place on themselves concerning depictions of holy figures will always exist so long as there are Muslims who act disproportionately to the affront. This is the work of a court jester, one who uses art and comedy as a mirror against society. The artist asks, “How secure are you in your faith that you must murder in order to sustain its so-called honor? Does not your faith speak for itself? Does it demand violence, threats, and bloodshed?”

This is a time for restraint and prudence on both sides of this all-too human issue. Bullies persist only as long as we offer them asylum in the space of our insecurities. It’s time we exhibit a greater form of humanity—a mature humanity—and understand that responsibility is freedom tempered.

Andrew Bowen, who completed a year-long immersion in 12 faith systems from around the world, now writes and speaks about interfaith issues and blogs at www.projectconversion.com.

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