One good theory among language experts is that the word bigot comes from a Middle English phrase, “bi god,” which essentially is this exclamation of intolerant certitude, “By God!”
So people of faith who oppose bigotry are standing against prejudice that is offered as divinely verified fact.
No doubt that’s one reason Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes described bigotry this way: “The mind of the bigot is like the pupil of the eye; the more light you pour upon it, the more it will contract.”
Calling someone a bigot is subjective, of course. True bigots would deny that prejudice is their motivation because they would contend that they are just speaking God’s truth. And yet for most of us, bigotry is like pornography in that we may not be able to nail down a precise definition of it but we know it when we see it.
Some local people of faith recently have created a group to fight bigotry because they believe they know it, too ­ not when they see it but when they hear it. And they’ve been hearing it, they say, from the radio talk show host known as Michael Savage, whose real name is Michael Alan Weiner. . .
Savage has a history of saying outrageous, hateful things. In recent years he’s fired vicious verbal shots at Islam. An example he practically screamed: “I don’t want to hear any more about Islam. I don’t want to hear one more word about Islam. Take your religion and shove it up your behind. I’m sick of you.”
Savage ­ described on one political Web site as a “beatnik comic” who simply is putting everyone on the way the late comic Andy Kauffman used to ­ has his defenders, who sometimes say they’re simply standing up for the principle of free speech. Some defenders have been especially critical of a national Muslim advocacy group, the Council on American Islamic Relations, which has helped to lead an anti-Savage campaign.
To me, Savage is just a symptom of a larger disease, though I consider him a bottom feeder, even among America’s collection of execrable radio talk show hosts. And the question for people of faith is whether and when they have an obligation to speak up as they encounter behavior and ideas that undermine essential human dignity and universal values. . .
A Muslim organizer of the coalition, Muhammad S. Chaudry, said “demonizing Islam has become a growing problem,” but “my faith and personal values teach me mutual respect, tolerance and acceptance of people of different backgrounds.”