Today’s guest blogger is Farhana Khera, the Executive Director of Muslim Advocates, a national legal advocacy and educational organization.
As this weekend’s arson at a Portland, Oregon mosque perfectly illustrates, 2010 has been one of the most difficult and fearful years on record for many American Muslims, surpassing even those dark days following the tragedy of 9-11. This was the year that it became acceptable in America to openly state your hatred of Muslims and, in some cases, act on it.
Put simply, some fail to grasp the motto created at our nation’s founding–e pluribus unum–”out of many, one” — and that our nation’s strength is derived from its diversity. As Americans, we are obliged to demand that our elected officials act to stem this rising tide of hate and defend our nation’s founding values.
This year, Americans witnessed a perfect convergence of events for such demagoguery: ignorance, fear-mongering, and an election cycle. In addition to the hate-crime in Portland, arson, intimidation and lawsuits in a Tennessee mosque’s construction, a threatened mass Qur’an burning in Florida, and an incoherent, unnecessary state law passed by Oklahomans all illustrate how irrational the fear of American Muslims has become. Anti-Muslim hatred is now a well-funded, politically useful and corrosive social malady in America.
In Tennessee, a Muslim community whose congregation has never exhibited any unlawful behavior was effectively told “go back where you came from…”, first by protesters shouting anti-Muslim slurs, then by thugs who set fire to construction equipment, and finally, by opponents who tried to stop the new mosque in court. They failed.
It should come as no surprise to some that members of this community report that the protests have abated since the November elections, though tensions remain. Unfortunately, the hostile tone set by those months has left many in what was once a quiet community resigned to always look over their shoulder and avoid the public eye. Is this how we create community in America?
In Florida, pure, unadulterated religious bigotry drove one self-anointed Christian pastor to threaten to burn multiple copies of the Qur’an, while encouraging Americans to mail him more copies for his bonfire. His defiant plan brought condemnations from U.S. officials, including General David Petraeus, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. It also unified many Christian, Muslim and Jewish faith leaders in their opposition to the burning.
But the damage was done, and copycats began burning Qur’ans in places like Texas, Illinois and Michigan. The charred pages of each sacred book spoke clearly to American Muslims: “You are not welcome here.”
Most recently, 70% of voters in Oklahoma decided to banish Shariah law even though there has never been a case of Shariah law–or any other religious doctrine–trumping local laws. The ‘Supremacy Clause’ in the U.S. Constitution has always made it clear that the Constitution takes precedent to any religion’s laws. The Oklahoma shariah ban–which was suspended on November 29 by a federal judge –did succeed in doing one thing: it further demonized the state’s tiny minority of Muslims. The attempted law also illustrates a divisive and self-serving opportunism that some–mostly politicians–have decided to pursue.
Such hateful acts and words have real-life consequences. Muslim advocates around the country reported that their communities are seeing an alarming spike in harassment of mosque congregants, anti-Muslim graffiti, and, in one case, in New York City, a near-fatal attack on a Bangladeshi-American taxi driver.
If history is any guide, such bigotry, especially when led by political leaders, will prove to have disastrous consequences for us as a nation.
While American Muslims are exhausted from this year of hate and ignorance, they can look to a few positive signs, such as U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s October announcement that the Justice Department was filing a legal brief in the Tennessee mosque construction case, siding with the Muslim community and defending religious freedom.
Now, the State Attorneys General need to follow the federal example. It was appalling that the State of Oklahoma’s top law officer remained silent about the anti-Shariah law after its passage. With other states threatening to pass similar laws, Americans of all faiths need to let their elected officials know that we will not let hate and bigotry destroy our nation.
The content of this blog reflects the views of its author and does not necessarily reflect the views of either Eboo Patel or the Interfaith Youth Core.