We in the United States proudly claim we are the land of rights for all.
Although great leaders and organizations fought battles for these rights, the great victories ultimately were won when people from different walks of life stood up and demanded change.
While bystanders at the time may have been resistant to change, today we remember those victories as our victories, belonging to the nation as a whole.
It would seem natural, then, that a belief in rights for all would predominate today, and that it would be the norm rather than the exception for people to fight for the rights of groups other than their own.
But, in my experience at least, this is often not the case. And if this trend continues, it bodes ill for all Americans.
One area where this has been made clear is discrimination against Muslims.
Yes, the 9/11 attacks were committed by self-proclaimed Muslims. That is not in dispute.
But damning the millions of American Muslims for a crime committed by a few lunatics is morally reprehensible and logically crazed.
All religious and ethnic groups have blood on their hands. Yet many Muslims have been murdered since 9/11 in misguided acts of vengeance.
So have some who merely “looked Muslim,” such as a Sikh gas station owner who was killed in Phoenix a few years ago for wearing a turban.
Hate speech – flowing across the airwaves and in far-right wing tracts by the likes of Ann Coulter – have called for revisiting the Japanese internment-camp system, if not worse.
Just recently, a group of imams including Omar Shahin, Tucson’s former imam, a tireless worker for peace and a family friend who attended my Bar Mitzvah, were thrown off a plane for praying, as they are required to do five times a day, an act that was somehow interpreted as threatening.
The gay community also has been the victim of bigotry.
In addition to the omnipresent gay bashing by the far right, now the Senate is stalling on the Matthew Sheppard bill, which does nothing more than strengthen hate-crime laws.
The delay is based on the entirely made-up charge that the legislation provides funding for “gay recruitment.”
Yet where has the outcry been from average Americans? For the most part, it has been sadly lacking.
Many people I have met seem rather ambivalent, unmotivated to take action as long as their rights are not threatened.
This lack of concern for our neighbors’ welfare is tragic in its own right.
But there is also a practical reason we all must stand up to protect the rights of gay and Muslim Americans: It could easily be us next.
Once we establish that denying rights to one group is acceptable, it becomes that much easier to deny them to someone else.
To quote a work from another time when people did not protest as others lost their freedom: ” . . . and then they came for me, and by then there was nobody left to stand up.”
Teen columnist Colin Killick is a senior at Basis Tucson High School. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org