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Continued discussion about the culture clash illustrated in Minnesota, where some Muslims who work at grocery checkouts in the Twin Cities “are adhering to a strict interpretation of the Qur'an that prohibits the handling of pork products” – and are refusing to touch, scan or bag products that contain any amount of pork.

The story is thematically linked by some to the occasions when some pharmacists have refused to dispense the FDA-approved Plan B “morning after” birth control because of their own personal value judgments.

The vast majority of people who wrote in last week suggested that the Muslims in question should go back to their own country if they don’t want to be assimilated into the way we do things here in the US, and noted that no other country would be as sensitive to these issues as some would suggest the United States should be.

To which we responded, in part:

You’re right about what other countries would expect. But we’re not supposed to be like other countries. We’re supposed to be different.

There is no question that the simultaneous diversity and pluralism of our nation, combined with the challenges of instant communication and the near-instant ability to travel to the US, creates new tests for us as a culture, a society and a nation.

But we’re supposed to rise to these opportunities…it seems to us that the very heart of what it means to be American is the ability to be oneself without being able to force one’s beliefs on any other person. As a nation, we’re supposed to gain strength from this, not be threatened by it.

It also seems to us that companies can benefit from these opportunities, allowing them greater insight into customers.

There are no easy answers to any of these questions. Not to the pharmacist who, in good conscience, is troubled by some of the prescriptions he or she must fill. Nor to the checkout person with religious beliefs that conflict with the job.

But we have to believe that we can do better than “if you don’t like it, go back to your own country.”

One MNB user responded:

Kevin, you say “without forcing one’s beliefs on others”. What is refusing to handle pork when you seek a cashier’s position? It is forcing on me the customer the inconvenience of waiting for someone else to handle the pork. Come on, this is all about “resegregating” this country something that I believe we have worked hard to eliminate. Now all these various groups want us to provide what they want (have you read about separate public swimming pool hours for Muslim women?). My answer is simple: no. If you want these “separations” then you create them for yourself just as other religions have done for years in this country. How about Catholic schools, Jewish community centers, etc? We’ll respect your places and perhaps even help you create them. But America is what it is and please do what other groups have always done: create your own special needs not force your needs on us. And be mindful of the jobs you take so you do not place yourself in a difficult position and that your beliefs are protected as they should be. This is your responsibility in this country; it is not society’s job to conform to you.

Another MNB user wrote:

One thing that we all CAN agree on is that this is America, and we all have a right to our opinions, right or wrong.

Well, here is my opinion. In your response you point out that we are not supposed to be "like other countries". Well, we certainly are not. Instead of the founding principles of this country that has opened it's doors and its promise of a brighter future to millions of immigrants who have become part and parcel and helped create the "melting pot" of diversity that is the United States- we are now becoming a victim of our open door policy. Today's immigrants come here for the same reason, but with a different purpose. Rather than becoming part of that melting pot and contributing to the diversity of THIS country, they come here and demand benefits for illegal immigrants, steal jobs from legitimate citizens, force the demands of THEIR religion/culture on us, and you say we should allow this.

I don't know about you - but I am a boomer also, turned 60 in September BORN AND RAISED IN THE USA, and I am sorry Kevin but I have to say that I resent having to "push one for English" - the native language of THIS country, share MY Social Security that I have contributed to with an illegal alien, tolerate someone behind the counter who cannot count US currency, and now have to put up with someone who will not touch our food. Define the job clearly, make a point of the requirements, and if they cannot or will not comply, then seek employment somewhere else. So I can and do say assimilate OR GO HOME.

How much more of our identity as a country do we have to give up to today's immigrants? Perhaps we need to SLAM that door.

MNB user Steven Ritchey wrote:

You are correct, as Americans we are supposed to be different. Democracy is messy, it isn’t neat and clean with everyone falling into lockstep with each other. It means I can live as I wish, provided I’m not harming someone else. America has always attracted immigrants from other countries, indeed was originally totally populated with people from other countries, hence there is no such thing as a true American race, American ideology, American attitudes, yes; race, no. Part of what makes America culturally rich is the diversity of its population, instead of trying to homogenize immigrants, we have traditionally embraced different cultures, different religions and different ways of living, and are stronger for that diversity.

A couple of years ago, the Minister at my Methodist church was asked to speak to a gathering at a local Catholic church. He delivered his little speech and hung around for a question and answer session. One of the inevitable questions was, “How are the Catholic and Methodist churches different?” Instead of focusing on our differences, of which there are several, he focused on what we have in common so by the time he got to the differences, they didn’t seem so large. I wish we could do this in a cultural sense, find our commonalities and once you do that, the differences aren’t so insurmountable.

As to our Muslim friends handling pork, they aren’t the only religion who doesn’t handle pork, our Jewish population doesn’t either. We can work through this problem, and others, it might take some work, it might get a little messy, it might even be uncomfortable, but in the end, we may end up understanding each other better, unless of course you don’t want that kind of understanding, in which case I feel sorry for you.

MNB user Brad Morris wrote:

As I read today’s rants against the Muslims in Minnesota that preferred not to touch pork, all I kept thinking was how quickly they forget. “If they don't like our customs, they are free to go home.” Our customs change with the wind!

Most of your writers stated that new immigrants should acclimate themselves to being American. What does that mean? Every wave of immigrants to this country has materially changed the meaning of what it means to be an American. Why should this group or these waves be any different?

Do they forget that there was a time not so long ago when Irish Catholics were discriminated against? As we approach St. Patrick’s Day I think it is important to point out as we plan to sit down to our Corned Beef and Cabbage dinners that Corned Beef was not a dish that was served often in Ireland. It was a dish that the Irish who arrived here borrowed from their Jewish Neighbors in New York City.

Why is everyone so threatened by someone who chooses not to touch or eat pork? Why can’t we learn to appreciate and even enjoy our differences?

Personally, I would consider it very boring to have to live off of wild game and only local fruits and vegetables. That was all the first Americans had. CHANGE IS GOOD. I love Lamb with rosemary and yogurt, with grilled vegetables and Baba Ghanoush on the side. Yum! I love Mexican food, and Indian food, and German food, and Chinese food, and Italian food, and Polish food, and Spanish food, and Thai food, and French food, and Greek food, and Japanese food and yes, I love a great Kosher Corned Beef sandwich with Latkes on the side.

Most of all, I love to make one truly American food: slow-smoked, North Carolina, pulled-pork BBQ. However, when my observant Jewish or Muslim friends visit, I prefer to do a Texas-style smoked beef brisket instead. It is the least I can do so that we can celebrate together our love of each other, and our similarities as Americans instead wallow in of our relatively few differences. We can save reveling in our differences together for another time, after our bellies are full.

And MNB user Amy Buttery wrote:

I could not believe the xenophobia and religious ignorance displayed in the reader mail you printed in reaction to the story on Muslims who do not wish to handle pork products. What shocked me most was the repeated suggestion that Muslims should "go back where they came from" or "act more American." My close friend is Muslim, born and raised in the U.S.--where is she supposed to go back to? I believe she told me her grandfather came to America about 80 years ago to escape poverty and religious intolerance.

Secondly, I wonder how the Muslim community has handled this issue in the past--surely this is not the first case of a Muslim confronted with the dilemma? The solution of food handler gloves seems sufficient to me, and at larger stores, it seems reasonable to me to train these cashiers to work in other departments if possible. Reasonable solutions can be found much more easily when we turn down the judgments.

I have no doubt that these Muslim grocery workers either got the idea from the pharmacists or found the conviction to do what they had previously wanted to do from these pharmacists. Still, I think it's a troubling trend, overall, and would rather people just recognized before they applied for a job that it might cause conflicts. But times and boundaries are constantly changing, and I hope we find more civilized ways to discuss these issues.

I also wonder if your readers assume that there are no Muslim readers of MNB.

This last point is a good one, and it allows us to make an even larger one.

The people were are talking about here – no matter what religion they practice, what country they come from, no matter what their ethnicity – are both your customers and potentially the future leaders of your companies.

Which is why we are going to keep talking about these issues here on MNB. We may not come up with solutions or even any sort of consensus, and the variety of opinions and values may only serve to illustrate how messy the American democracy can be.

But we cannot afford to ignore this important subject.

Writing about the same issue – but from another perspective – MNB user Lorri Putnam sent us the following email:

A while back you had an article about female bosses and sexism in the workplace. You mentioned a party invitation from your daughter’s middle school, where the girls’ (pink) invitation was for a Sweet Dreams Pajama Party and the boys’ (brown) invitation was for a Poker Party. Obvious gender stereotyping.

My daughter is a high school junior. The other day she received a brochure from the School of Engineering at a major Midwestern university. They are offering separate engineering-oriented summer camps for high school "guys" and "girls." The male version (green block print) was called was called "SURVIVOR: ENGINEERING OUTBACK (Guys-only Engineering Camp)." The female version (pink with curlicues) was called "Project Discovery (it’s a Girl thing)."

The Guys "complete an intensive engineering project including field work led by our professors". The Girls "attend hands-on lab sessions."

The Guys "explore engineering specialties hands-on" while the Girls "gain an understanding of what engineers do."

The Guys "see engineering in action on a mid-week field trip" while the Girls "tour engineering facilities with our faculty."

The Guys go "GPS geocaching, rock climbing, and other fun stuff" while the girls "develop problem-solving skills through team-building exercises."

The contact for the Guys’ Camp was the Director of Recruitment, while the contact for the Girls’ Camp was the Director of Diversity.

Guess which college my daughter crossed off her list!

Good for your daughter. We are showing your email to our daughter in the interest of her continuing education.

We don’t know what those engineers are teaching at that university, but we wouldn’t want to ride on any bridge that they build – because they clearly don’t have the common sense of a fire hydrant. It’s 2007, and these morons are acting like it is 1957.

Those who suggest that women need to relax and take advantage of their “natural skills” when trying to move ahead in the workforce simply don’t get it.

As an industry – as a culture – we have to get it. We can’t afford not to.
KC's View: