Thursday, August 19, 2010

I See You on the Bus and I'm Ashamed


The percentage of people who believe that President Obama is a muslim has increased from 12% before the election to 18%. I believe Steve Benen has it right when he says that this is not a reflection of people who believe, contrary to all evidence, that President Obama prays towards Mecca five times a day, but simply that "muslim" is the nastiest thing these people can think of to say about our president.


Think about that for a second. "Muslim" is the new "ni*ger".

What country do we live in? What century? Who are these people, my countrymen, my neighbors, who seek to turn an entire religion into an insult? And why do I feel so responsible?

There has been a large influx of muslims to the area I live in in the last decade. A muslim family has, in fact, moved into the house down the street from me. My niece saw one of the women, wearing a gorgeous gold and red headscarf, and said, loudly, "Oh, that thing on her head is so pretty!"

I cringed.

I feared that the woman had heard and that my niece's innocent enthusiasm for a truly beautiful piece of fabric would offend this woman, make her feel out of place or unwelcome. Then I cringed over my cringing. Was I being hateful, too, assuming she would misinterpret a child's innocent enthusiasm?

I can't imagine how they feel, listening to the uproar over the (not at) Ground Zero (not a) Mosque. Do they feel safe at all, trusting of anyone when "muslim" is the worst insult 18% of Americans can think of? Are they safe?

I see another muslim woman on the bus with her young son. He is adorable, she is loving and kind. How does she feel, bringing her son up in a country that considers him the ultimate insult, the most terrible of dangers? How does she explain this to him? How does he understand?

Nothing ever changes, does it?

26 comments:

  1. My gf is thinking of wearing a hijab just for the reactions.

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  2. Having accidentally worn partial hijab (I wrapped a pashmina around my head for warmth in a snowstorm, and I look very Iranian), I can tell you the reactions really aren't pleasant.

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  3. I think this issue is grossly overblown. For the most part Muslims are welcome in America. We atheists are actually a far more despised minority than Muslims.

    Where I work (Wilmington, DE) there are a significant number of Muslims. There are some black Muslim men walking around all the time in distinctive dress, and there are various women working in different establishments that I do business with who wear the hijab. On the streets there are several women that I see every day going to and from work wearing full chadors. From what I've observed, no one seems to give them a second glance. The Muslim women at the businesses I deal with seem to interact with everyone just like anyone else.

    I've never heard a single negative comment specifically about Muslims, and I talk to many people each day in the city. (In contrast I've heard plenty of racist comments about black people, and a couple about Jews). Muslim dress is going to attract stares and attention primarily out of unfamiliarity. Once Muslims become known in an area, most people probably treat them as just another group with certain quirks. There's always going to be some bigots, but in general the U.S. is probably one of the most open and welcoming places in the world.

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  4. UNRR:

    That's the big disconnect, though. An awful lot of the people who are screaming about the "Ground Zero Mosque" are probably people who walk through a Best Buy or a Panera or whatever, see someone in a hijab, and think nothing of it.

    But there are the demagogues who see this as an opportunity to do their demagogue thing. That's why the argument has shifted to one of sensitivity and an attempt to conflate the people behind the Cordoba House/Park51/whatever it's actually called with "radical Islam." They want unthinking, reactionary freakouts. And, unfortunately, one of the hallmarks of a good demagogue is that they're capable of creating an unthinking, reactionary freakout over nothing.

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  5. "That's the big disconnect, though. An awful lot of the people who are screaming about the "Ground Zero Mosque" are probably people who walk through a Best Buy or a Panera or whatever, see someone in a hijab, and think nothing of it."

    Yes, which is why the smear campaign aimed at the large majority of Americans opposing that mosque is ridiculous. There'd be no such massive reaction to constructing an Islamic center in downtown Philadelphia.

    I'd be willing to bet if a couple of years ago, before this issue ever came up, you walked up to random Americans and asked: Do you think it would be a good idea to build an Islamic center two blocks from Ground Zero, the vast majority would have said no. It's just seen by most -- including some Muslims -- as in extremely poor taste, similar to building a huge gun store/shooting range two blocks from Columbine High School. That's why so many people across party lines oppose it.

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  6. @ UNRR - the problem is, in order to see it as being in poor taste, you have to assume that "Al Quaeda" is equivalent to "Muslim" - if it was the specific terrorist network Al Quaeda who attacked us on 911, then a random Muslim community center has nothing to do with that event at all. There's no reason to find it offensive because there's no connection.

    A large section of Americans find the idea offensive because they do feel that we were attacked by Muslims/Islam on 9/11. Some of that may just be sloppy thinking - Al Quaeda is composed of Muslims, after all, so it's a natural association - but some of it is precisely because we have people explicitly drawing a connection between Al Quaeda and Islam-at-large. This is dangerous not just to American Muslims, but also because it leads people to think of large sections of the globe as enemies or potential enemies... and those perceptions tend to self-fulfilling prophecies.

    The people responsible for the attack on 9/11 were Muslims, yes. So were some of those who died in the building. That does not mean we were attacked by Islam itself. Building an Islamic community center in the general vicinity of Ground Zero is not a "celebration" or even a "reminder" of the 9/11 attacks, and it's only offensive to people who don't distinguish between All Muslims and The People Who Actually Attacked Us.

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  7. In Tulsa it is quite common to see women wearing hijabs, but Tulsa is weird. Tulsa has some the largest mega churches in the country, it also has the largest Unitarian Church in the world. Tulsa is full of fundies and hippies.

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  8. UNRR: There'd be no such massive reaction to constructing an Islamic center in downtown Philadelphia.

    Interesting you mention that, considering the massive negative reaction to the building of mosques in Temecula, CA, Murfreesboro, TN, and a bunch of other places that I can't recall right now.

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  9. Personally, I'd rather have all the energy and outrage directed to the fact that there is still a great, big, gaping hole in Lower Manhattan. That and the 9/11 rescue workers' benefits resolution being defeated (WTF?!?) the other week in the House. Where's the furor over these actual affronts - especially the latter?

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  10. "@ UNRR - the problem is, in order to see it as being in poor taste, you have to assume that "Al Quaeda" is equivalent to "Muslim" "

    No, you do not, any more than you have to assume that all gun owners are murdering maniacs to find putting up a huge gun store near Columbine High in poor taste. I'm not sure why that is such a difficult concept for a small minority to grasp. There are even prominent Muslims, such as the director of Al-Arabyia that get it.

    "Interesting you mention that, considering the massive negative reaction to the building of mosques"

    Those are local reactions, in no way similar to the nationwide response to the Manhattan situation. The vast majority of people could care less about a mosque in Tennessee. There's often opposition to major religious centers for various reasons. There were significant protests in Minnesota a year or two ago about the construction of a Scientology center.

    "Personally, I'd rather have all the energy and outrage directed to the fact that there is still a great, big, gaping hole in Lower Manhattan."

    I think that's part of the problem. The twin towers haven't been rebuilt, there's no memorial, and the first major structure that's going to get built in that area is an Islamic center? It just rubs people the wrong way.

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  11. The no memorial thing is all New York's own fault. In Oklahoma we had a memorial up in 5 years. We also had Ryder moving vehicles come in and help with the aftermath, people around here laughed at the irony of it but did not find it offensive (it was a Ryder truck used to blow up the building).

    Offense also is not part of the law. It doesn't matter if it offends, they still have the right to build there.

    The first thing built at ground zero was the 7WTC building, built shortly after.

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  12. http://thebumblinggenius.blogspot.com/2010/08/religions-rule.html

    This guy is usually pretty thoughtful and interesting. But on this topic he's really boarded the bi-polar express.

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  13. A narrow majority of the people in Manhattan support the mosque. The farther you get away from the site, the more opposition you get.

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  14. "Offense also is not part of the law. It doesn't matter if it offends, they still have the right to build there."

    True. I don't think the right of private property owners to build on their own property is seriously questioned, except by a minority of the Islamic center opponents. But if you accept that right and oppose the project, there's no other option except protest in an attempt to change the mind of the developers. That's the normal thing that happens when people oppose construction project for whatever reasons.

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  15. Conservatives use code. "Muslim" is code for "outsider," just like "Nazi" or the claim he has no birth certificate. I don't think "Muslim" replaced anything, it's just another shade of the intolerance rainbow.

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  16. "Conservatives use code."

    Nonsense. You might want to read something other than left-wing propaganda if you actually believe that.

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  17. Let me clarify my quick reaction above. The conservatives who think Obama is a Muslim actually think he's a Muslim. They come right out and say so. They have all sorts of conspiracy theories they rely on, as do the birthers. There's nothing "coded" about it, and it has nothing really to do with intolerance. It's conspiracy-theory thinking.

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  18. My husband's grandpa's wife (got that?) truly and steadfastly believes Obama is, and I quote, "a Muslim plant." My in-laws are some of the most conservative people I know (except when it comes to sex-related things, like education, contraceptives, Planned Parenthood, etc.) and they are just about at their wits' end with her.

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  19. @ UNRR - "No, you do not, any more than you have to assume that all gun owners are murdering maniacs to find putting up a huge gun store near Columbine High in poor taste. I'm not sure why that is such a difficult concept for a small minority to grasp. There are even prominent Muslims, such as the director of Al-Arabyia that get it."

    If it's so simple and obvious, could you please explain to me why building an Islamic community center in a former Burlington Coat Factory a couple of blocks from Ground Zero is in poor taste? Seriously, you can ignore the rest of this post. Just answer that.

    Look, I'm perfectly willing to accept that it might be; my sense of social propriety is... sometimes inadequate. But in this case, I simply don't see it. It makes no sense to me, and none of the explanations I've heard have clarified it at all, including yours.

    Mostly what I see is people responding to the combination of "Mosque" (which it isn't) at Ground Zero (where it isn't). As far as I can tell, it's a visceral reaction: Muslims attacked us, and now they want to build one of their foreign temples on the site of the attack. If that's not what's responsible for the reaction, what is?

    Let's consider the Oklahoma City bombing as a comparison. (I'm not ignoring your Columbine/Gun Store analogy, I'm just not sure how well it maps to the present situation.) McVeigh requested a Catholic chaplain before his execution; should we not allow churches to be built in the vicinity of the Murrah Federal Building? He was also a military veteran, and one of his convicted co-conspirators was his former Army roommate. Are there any military recruiters operating within two blocks of the site of the attack? If so, is their presence in poor taste?

    While there are Muslims who have spoken out against the idea - you aren't the first to draw my attention to this - I can't help but think that they're mainly concerned with avoiding any more animosity than this has stirred up already. Hell, I would be.

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  20. oh, another reason to cry today... sigh.

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  21. Michael I agree with just about everything you've said (so shocking, right) but I do think that the media is exploiting the issue of Park 51 and inflaming things.

    As for the increase in the percentage of people who think Obama is a Muslim, and whether that meanls it's an insulting term devoid of real religious meaning in the eyes of most Americans, I'm not sure I agree because that wouldn't explain the venomous opposition to the Park 51 center (which I am so tired of everyone calling a mosque because it is so much more than just a mosque and that's what scares me for the Muslims who might join the community center because their children will be In daycare there, no doubt).

    Anyway, if Muslim is the new denigratory term are Americans just saying that they don't want those (insert racial epithet of choice) there because they 'don't like how they look' or are they saying on a deeper level, like that despicable pastor condoning Qu'ran burning day, that they don't like what they think all Muslims, fundamentalist to liberal, stand for or are born into?

    I think the fact that almost a fifth of all Americans think that Obama is Muslim goes deeper than the analogy that they have noticed he looks black/African American. It is deeply troubling to think of what being Muslim might mean to some of these people. Because the implication is, like that despicable pastor implies, that they are somehow inferior and just... wrong humans.

    The lack of tolerance and continuing need to find some focus group for discrimination, be it gays or Muslims or Hispanics or illegal immigrants appears, at least in my eyes, to be a profoundly disturbing hallmark of the American ethos. And not that different from Germany in the 1930's when cast in that light.

    The extent to which the American public appears to both seize upon and further entrench these ideas is really disturbing. And the media coverage of it seems only to drive it in most areas...

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  22. Hey look! Muslims are people too! With individual, nuanced opinions on the center and everything! Who knew?!

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  23. I don't think you can blame an entire religion for what happened. Terrorists groups, yes, Taliban, maybe. But not an entire faith.

    Frankly, any group can build anything anywhere as long as it does not contravene zoning ordinances. This is America.

    What Michael and Marzie said. I deplore the degree with with discrimination and lack of tolerance seems to be increasing-and the degree to which the media seems to foment this.

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  24. Let's consider the Oklahoma City bombing as a comparison. (I'm not ignoring your Columbine/Gun Store analogy, I'm just not sure how well it maps to the present situation.) McVeigh requested a Catholic chaplain before his execution; should we not allow churches to be built in the vicinity of the Murrah Federal Building? He was also a military veteran, and one of his convicted co-conspirators was his former Army roommate. Are there any military recruiters operating within two blocks of the site of the attack? If so, is their presence in poor taste?

    Actually all those things are around the memorial site (I have been there several times), but they were there before the bombing too. One church that was across the street from the Murrah building, erected their own memorial in front of the Church for 19 children that died in the blast.

    As I pointed out previously, a Ryder truck was used as the car bomb and later Ryder trucks were used to help clear out the rubble. I don't remember anyone talking about how offensive it was to use these.

    Just like I don't hear anyone talking about how offensive it is use to airplanes after 9/11. There were a few people that said it was offensive for Arabic people to fly on planes but that was called racist for the obvious racism. I see no difference between any of these and the Islamic Community Center.

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  25. I know I keep bringing it up in various people's comments, but I'm tellin' ya again: this book on Prohibition has got me in the most cynical place where American politics and public opinion are concerned. The scapegoating of an "other" group? Check. The media fanning the flames? Check. Disingenuous "concern"? Check. And on, and on, and on, and on. I mean, it's never going to stop, is it?? I just don't see it ever stopping.

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  26. From CN's link:
    "Many of them expressed a welter of mixed feelings in interviews this week on street corners, in stores and in mosques: Some said they felt embittered or hurt by criticism of the project, and of Islam in general, yet understood opponents’ misgivings. Others said Muslim-Americans should continue to push for the center’s construction as a means of asserting their full citizenship rights — but not too hard, lest they draw even more resentment. A few said they wished the project had never been proposed in the first place."

    See, those reactions make sense to me - not that what makes sense to me is the final arbiter of, well, anything.

    "Hey look! Muslims are people too! With individual, nuanced opinions on the center and everything! Who knew?!"

    I know - it's shocking, isn't it?

    I haven't asked any of my co-workers about it (a couple of them are Muslim) because, y'know, awwwwwkwarrrrrd. Also, because I still think this shouldn't be an issue in the first place - and I suspect it wouldn't be, if we didn't some vested interests pushing the "Mosque at Ground Zero" version of the narrative.

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