I have a Muslim friend who happens to work close to my place of work and so we often meet and, as he is as much a political junkie as I am, we inevitably talk about the presidential election. He is married and has two children. And he has been growing more and more despondent over the past few months. We met today and I was startled to hear him talk about how he feels and what his fears are for the future. Startled, because he is the quintessential optimist and because we both live in New York where religion is not usually an issue. Startled, moreover, because although I have followed the current wave of gratuitous Islamophobia on display in the GOP field (see my diary here) I had not realized how far things have gone and because, frankly, only Muslims know the many ways in which they feel threatened or degraded by what is occurring.
He told me that at his son’s school, some kid told his boy that “all Muslims should go to jail”. This after the hoopla surrounding Ahmed Mohamed’s clock that has become a landmark for the conservative xenophobic circus of politicians and media pundits. And that a teacher said something to the effect that it was “inevitable” that sooner or later the United States will have to simply nuke the Muslim world and “solve all these problems”.
“Where can we go,” my friend said, “how will I start again from scratch?” I realized with a shock that he has been thinking and quite seriously about leaving the country. Upon probing further, I realized he believes that a wave of Islamophobia is on the horizon. “If not this time,” he said, meaning the 2016 election, “then sometime soon” the country will elect someone in the mold of Trump or Palin and it will become intolerable for Muslims to live here.
Seeing him like this has made me angry.
And it should make any patriotic American angry. I said above that the GOP’s Islamophobia is gratuitous. And I stand by this statement. There is absolutely no reason for it. Quite apart from being appalled that a 13-year old kid should be told that he and his co-religionists deserve jail and/or death, I am disgusted by the short-sightedness of people who continue to stir anti-Islamic passions.
First of all, we need to realize that it is in the Western world’s power, right now, to nurture the moderate, peaceful tradition of Islam that we have all been yearning about. Why? Because for many of the Muslims who come to live in the United States (and those who have been living here for generations) as well as for many of the refugees who are knocking on the doors of Europe, there is no more immediate concern than the concern that is common to all of us – to have a peaceful life, to devote time to raising their families, to ensure their children have a better future. In the meantime, they would like to worship in peace. Isn’t this what the United States is about? Isn’t it?
If we accept them here, if Europe accepts them. If they feel welcome, feel like a part of the community, then don’t you see? They will have a stake in our democracy, they will have a stake in preserving the spirit and tradition of tolerance. For, as my friend says, where else can they go? I ask you… Where else can our Muslim citizens find the kind of life that they have here? The (relative) peace – I say relative because it cannot be really complete with what has been occurring – the freedom to pursue careers and self-enrichment (in the spiritual sense). I ask you… Where else?
It is time for us to realize that we, here, in the US and Europe PROVIDE the alternative to ISIS and al Queda. By embracing the Muslim community and making them feel at home, we do nothing less than prove all radical and militant Muslims the world over WRONG. We need this. We need this not merely from a strategic point of view – in the sense that having a peaceful and democratically integrated Muslim community is good for our country and good for the world. We also need it because believe it or not there are those Muslims who are not plotting the Islamic takeover of the United States, or the next spectacular terror attack. There are those of them who simply want what we all want – to live well, raise a family, have kids and grandkids.
Secondly, though, we have to realize that Islamophobia has become fashionable among the GOP not merely because the 9/11 psychosis and not merely because a lot of GOP voters have no understanding of Islam but have been taught to fear and loathe it. We have to realize that Islamophobia is nothing less than the sublimation of racism that has gripped the rightwing conservatives, from Evangelical crazies to run-of-the-mill Tea Party racists. When an African American is president, when a gun wielding white supremacist wacko single-handedly (and VERY VERY unintentionally) brought down the Confederate flag throughout the South, and in the wake of Ferguson and Baltimore and Black Lives Matter, Islamophobia is the only socially accepted racism that can be spouted by public figures with a great deal of impunity. It is the latest expression of the “other” that we have to fear and fight. The latest incarnation of the public enemy.
I am really glad that both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton came out and declared Carson’s remarks unacceptable. I am even gladder that some in the GOP field (Lindsay Graham and Ted Cruz of all people) took him to task. Carson, as an African American, should be especially ashamed of himself for what he said and I am especially angry at him for having said it.
But it is not enough.
We need to make sure our Muslim American citizens feel integrated and appreciated. Like I said in my previous diary, America is the place of hope and the place of peace. That hope and that peace is for EVERYONE who is a citizen. It is why China can never replace America as a cultural symbol. It is why America remains and abides … We need to make sure America remains what it is meant to be. The GOP has apparently decided otherwise. So, it is up to us.
3:20 PM PT: Rec List! Thank you so much. I am glad. I have faith in our community. Let's make a difference!!!