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Walter Rodgers

Why the Taliban gave me a Christmas tree

Political correctness, under the guise of tolerance, tells us not to say, "Merry Christmas." But I've seen that the spirit of Christmas is transcendent – across cultures, nations, and even religions.

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The Jewish state of Israel always did the same, delivering free Christmas trees from kibbutzim to the goys. Once, while living in Jerusalem, I recall a Jewish friend asking if he could bring his three children to our apartment to see our Christmas tree after it was decorated. They had never seen one before.

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Here in northern Virginia, my neighbors – the Jewish husband and the Iranian Shiite wife – clearly understood that Christmas belongs to whomever wants to partake of it to the degree they wish to celebrate.

IN PICTURES: Presidential Christmas

One thing you can take to the bank, this Christmas, as in all the others, my Jewish friends in Israel will telephone and e-mail to wish my wife and me a Merry Christmas.

It doesn’t make them less Jewish any more than my Shiite neighbor becomes less Muslim because she decorates her house at Christmas.

Cultural cowardice

So why do Americans who love Christmas shudder at the thought of buying and sending seasonal cards reading “Merry Christmas?”

IN PICTURES: Animals ready for the holidays

What is it about uttering those words that produces guilt among some Americans? It is cultural cowardice. But there can be no true religious coexistence within a culture as long as one sect feels duty bound to cower.

My wife once chanced upon a greeting card store with a sign in the window that read in effect, “In order not to offend our non-Christian customers, our cards this year will not say Merry Christmas.”

To say 'Merry Christmas'

Mine is not a call for mangers to spring up in government buildings or for public school children to be forced to observe a religious holiday. That’s the tyranny of the majority over the minority. But discouraging a verbal greeting of “Merry Christmas” is also tyranny. It’s oppressive and discriminatory. It gags free speech and curtails religious freedom.

If our marshmallow American apostles of political correctness tried to pressure millions of Hispanic Americans to forgo saying “Feliz Navidad,” there would be thunderous cries of “Kill the gringos.” So why does the English-speaking world quake and quail at the words “Merry Christmas”?

It is inane to discourage Americans from mentioning “Christmas” in holiday greetings. During the Eid al-Adha, Muslims aren’t expected to apologize for cutting a sheep’s throat when they commemorate Abraham’s near sacrifice of his son, even though many of us find animal sacrifice offensive in the extreme.

I’ve even seen the Taliban catch the Christmas spirit. In Afghanistan in December 2001, a bearded gang of Taliban fighters, all devout Muslims, emerged from Al Qaeda’s lair in the Tora Bora Mountains. They were dragging a Christmas tree for us journalists. If these Kalashnikov-toting Afghan fighters could bring us a Christmas tree, why can’t I wish you a Merry Christmas?

Walter Rodgers, a former senior international correspondent for CNN, writes a biweekly column.

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