“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.
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.