I hopped a taxi to get out of Calgary to the airport; the driver was a friendly fellow. We talked about the (bitterly cold) weather, then about the perils of flying, and he made an offhand remark about terrorism, and my spirit sank. The front seat was an outpost of tribal bigotry.
His particular bias was of the Hindu-despising-Muslim flavor, but was really very generic. You could take his remarks about criminal tendencies, predisposition toward violence, deviousness, and so on, and plug in your ethnic group of choice, and he could have been pretty well any flavor of racist. Listening to him - a smooth-spoken, affable guy - you got a flavor of how Yugoslavia or Rwanda or Israel/Palestine can happen. Tribal behavior seems wired into all of us at a deep level, and to be free of it may not be a "natural condition" at all, but that freedom is the only thing that's going to save our asses from ourselves in the long run.
I challenged him in a mild-mannered way, pointing out that Islam is a pretty big religion with every which flavor of person in it, and a spectrum of doctrinal differences almost as big as in older religions like Christianity and Hinduism.
But he wasn't having any of it - "Oh, you haven't dealt with these people, sir, or you wouldn't say that." Well in fact I lived in the Middle East for eleven years, but at that point I just shut up and thought about it.
What my gut wanted me to do was say something along the lines of "I have no time for this racist bullshit, shut fucking well up right now or I'll be lodging a complaint with the taxi company about their drivers trying to launch religious wars." On reflection, that probably would have been a better course of action than the one I took; because I'm not sure that reasoning with someone like that is really useful. But anyone, no matter how bone-ignorant, can clue in that what they're saying is pissing someone off. And since nobody is ever going to stamp out people's tribal feelings (I have my own), maybe the best we can hope for is to keep them from poisoning the atmosphere.
Oh well, at least I got an interesting picture of Calgary from the plane.