Politics of a Different Sort: Islamophobia?

“Is America Islamophobic?” asks the covers of this week’s Time Magazine.  Why yes, as a matter of fact we are and with Time fanning the flames (last I checked, 44%— the percentage of Americans who “say it [Park51] will be an insult to those who died on 9/11” according to Time—is not a majority) it would seem that there’s no end in sight.

But since everyone and their brother seems to be blogging about Park51 these days (and since I promised not to talk about dating today), I figured I might as well add my two cents.  I’ll be like Becky Bloomwood: financial adviser by day, Shopaholic fashionista by night (and yes, before someone reminds me, I know Becky Bloomwood is a fictional character but I don’t care).  So here we go, for one day only: Kat Richter, political analyst by day, serial dater (and relationship screw up) by night.

Let the games begin.

I take issue with several points raised in the Time article.  I would refute these now, intelligently and systematically, if not for the fact that A) this would be boring and B) the Richter household copy of Time is currently on a ship in the middle of the New York harbor because my dad had the audacity to take it to work with him (and I didn’t even get to finish reading the article about why Haiti isn’t going to let Wyclef Jean run for president, so this was rather inconsiderate.  Never mind that the subscription is in my mother’s name so this makes me something of a Time magazine freeloader anyway, but I digress).

One of the points I do remember is that the folks over at Time discussing how “aggressively” Bush reached out to the Islamic American community after 9/11.  Yes, he reached out very aggressively.  He invaded half of the Middle East, for crying out loud!  And yes, he visited a mosque too.  That was nice of him, especially because (as Time was quick to point out) Obama has yet to step foot in a mosque on American soil.

Far be it from me to point out that perhaps Obama would visit a mosque if Time wasn’t too busy polling the American public on their opinion of the President’s “secret” Muslim identity.

But I have no desire to enter into a debate, either over Obama’s religious affinities or the proposed construction of a community center in New York.  Personally, the fact that a handful of xenophobic Republicans have actually managed to turn the latter into a national debate leaves me feeling rather embarrassed for my country.

So instead of adding fuel to the fire, I’d like to address two rather disturbing statistics I read this morning: firstly, that 46% of Americans believe that Islam is more likely to encourage violence against non-believers than any other faith.  Umm, okay people—ever heard of the Holocaust or the Crusades?  Or the Bible Belt-sanctioned so-called War on Terror?

And if we’re going to talk about religions that encourage violence, let’s talk about Sikhism.  Of course, this would require the average American to be able to distinguish between Muslims and Sikhs and most can’t (remember how many Sikh-owned gas stations got their windows smashed after 9/11?).  And lest the first sentence of this paragraph give you the wrong idea, I actually quite like the idea of Sikhism.

From what I learned in my comparative religion class back at Brookdale Community College, Sikhism was founded in the sixteenth century by one Guru Nanak who managed to transcend the differences of two seemingly-opposed religious persuasions, Hinduism and Islam, when he announced, “nā kōi hindū nā kōi musalmān” (“There is no Hindu, there is no Muslim”).  And although Sikhs traditionally carried swords (which is why Sikhism originally came to mind when I started thinking about the word “violence”), these were for self defense.  You’re average Sikh doesn’t go around killing non-believers and nor, for that matter, does your average Muslim.

And this brings me to my next point (the second disturbing statistic I read in Time magazine): only 37% of this country’s population actually knows a Muslim American.  If this is true, then quite possibly you don’t know a Muslim American.  I myself know only a handful, but I lived with two Muslims in London and the sake of good anthropology (the kind that builds bridges and prevents the sort of ignorance that now stymies both domestic and foreign policy in this country and many others around the world), I would like to introduce you to one of them.

Two Catholics, a Buddhist, a Muslim and a Quaker… bet you can’t even tell which is which!

And before we get started, no, neither of them ever tried to kill me for a being a non-believer.  In fact, the one, a soft-spoken Libyan MBA student with coffee-colored skin, used to do my makeup for me.  Owing to the fact that she wore a hijab, she never had to worry much about her hair; my theory is that this allowed her to develop a knack for eyeliner that the rest of us could only hope to achieve (kind of like how blind people end up with a superhuman sense of smell).

She had the Muslim call to prayer programmed to play on her laptop and she didn’t drink.  Instead, she introduced me to dates (the dessert, of course) and the notion of someday wearing multiple wedding dresses (evidently this is customary in Libya!  How cool is that?).  On Election Day, she paced around our kitchen banging her box of cereal on the counter as she chanted, “Obama Day, Obama Day, I love the USA!” and as far as I know, neither she nor any of her friends are plotting terrorist attacks.

So there, now you know a Muslim.  And now you know where I stand on the whole Park51 debate.  And now, I will dismount from my soapbox because tomorrow, the romance resumes.

12 Responses to “Politics of a Different Sort: Islamophobia?”

  1. Laurie Block Spigel

    While I love thinking of your Dad in the middle of NY Harbor reading Time Magazine, I also want to point out to you that the magazine is available online to those whose fathers have absconded with the latest issue.
    Cover story: http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,2011798,00.html
    I am also hooked on the New York Times online, where stories come with slide shows and video interviews and recipes come with film clips: http://www.nytimes.com/ . This is now my home page on my computer, even though I still get the Times delivered every day. I guess I’m a sucker for having actual pages to turn, to clip and save and use for very important purposes, like collage art.

    BTW, I too am shocked that this story has gotten so huge. Does anyone bother to notice that the majority of New Yorkers want this community center built?

    • Kat Richter

      Thanks, Laurie 🙂 I did check their website but I could only access the abridged version; fortunately my dad is back home now so I’ve reclaimed “my” magazine, haha

      And yeah, you’d think that the opinions of New Yorkers such as yourself are really the opinions that ought to matter in this debate!

      • Laurie Block Spigel

        The overwhelming majority of New Yorkers was also against the war in Iraq, but that never seemed to have any influence on the opinions of politicians or folks in “Middle America”. Sometimes I wonder if we’re living in the same country!

  2. Landlord

    How could I not comment on this post…sending it to my Pink friends too. Don’t be surprised if you get nutjobs posting though, they seem to troll for any chance to demonstrate their ignorance, just ignore and do NOT engage. Intelligent, sensible, peaceful thoughts and observations, and you know how I felt about your flatmates, loved them all, and loved exchanging thoughts and ideas as well as cultural pleasantries when I visited. Next time, take the TIME mag with you once you start to read it, you never know where it will end up if you leave it around here 🙂

  3. Digger

    I bet more people know a Muslim than think that they do; the poll only actually records people who KNOW they know a Muslim. And I can totally understand why some Muslims would rather keep that private.

    I am also extremely tired of the garbage around the mosque in NYC. 9/11 was a horrible thing. It was perpetrated by fanatics. Fanatics of ANY stripe scare the crap out of me (really… murdering abortion doctors is ok? really??). I don’t know the statistics, but I would put a significant amount of money on the fact that several Muslims were also killed on 9/11.

    Americans can be amazing people, and can be extremely ugly.

  4. chauffeur

    There is one good thing about the debate over a Muslim community center 2 long blocks form the site of the world trade centers or as some call it”a mosque at ground zero”. It has distracted us temporarily. Who has had the time to hate Mexicans and immigrants, and who has time to rewrite the 14th amendment when we have to hate Muslims and tweak the 1st amendment?
    I have a friend Atilla, (I know, his Mom must have thought naming him Adolf was a bad idea) He is a Muslim Turkish-American who looks like a Mexican, He told me “People hate me before they even get to know me.” If only he were gay too, a perfect storm for bigots.
    But seriously, only xenophobes and the ill informed can claim the developers have no right to build a community center that they are proposing in Lower Manhattan. Freedom of religion and property rights dictate that right. But what I find troubling is the number of people that know better, stating it is insensitive to do so. NY’s gov. NY’s archbishop and worst of all NY’s past mayor Rudy G. He sees one more chance to bring up 9-11, remember Joe Biden said, “the only thing Rudy Giuliani needs to make a sentence… a noun, a verb, and 9-11”. The Mayor says they have a right to build it, but that does not make it right. That statement should be very troublesome to us all. We would water down one of our founding principles, perhaps the most important of them, because it may make someone uncomfortable? How far away should the center be built where is it no longer “insensitive”? 4 blocks away?, 10? not on lower Manhattan? not in NY at all?, where do we draw the line this time? This is a very slippery slope indeed. Our civil rights, our freedom of and from religion, our respect for individuals and the rights of the minority are things that set the United States apart from much of the world. If you think that they “have a right to build it, but not so close to the world trade center site” ask your self where would you draw that line– and how may of our freedoms would you be willing to give away– to avoid the risk of being “insensitive”.

  5. Casey

    I’ve been on my soapbox here at home for a while now, pointing out that there’s already a mosque near Ground Zero and it’s officially a community center, not actually a mosque. There’s also a strip club not far at all from the same site on this “sacred ground.”

    It’s sad to go so many places online and see people spew hatred. I don’t say that everyone who opposes it is a bigot, but I’ve seen a lot of bigotry.

    As an African-American, I often wonder why no one stages rallies questioning where people’s sensitivity is when confederate flags are worn and waved with pride in the Deep South. Yet if I were to tell them, “Use some other flag. This one reminds me of the deaths of my people,” they’d be the first to bring up their constitutional right. Some of these are the same people who oppose the mosque.

    Just makes me wonder.

    • Landlord

      Actually they (“no one”) have staged them…South Carolina comes to mind…just google South Carolina and confederate flag and you will see what I mean. Unfortunately, there are not enough passionate folk out there. We need more people to physically join us in these issues and be part of the solution. We also need places where we can discuss people’s fear without shouting and smear tactics, actually speak to their ignorance with facts and human compassion…sigh…not gonna happen any time soon though–hopefully your generation will step up and continue the work.


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