A few days ago, the construction site of a Muslim community center in a suburb of Nashville, TN was attacked by arsonists. Construction equipment was damaged and destroyed. Although no person or group has come forward to claim credit for the attack, the message is clear and echoed by members of the local community: No Muslims Allowed.
The fact that such acts constitute terrorism is plainly evident. Terrorism – the use of terror as a means of changing the behavior or beliefs of a population or a segment thereof – is not the sole business of Muslims, despite what some others would have you believe. If you attempt to intimidate others into changing their thoughts, beliefs, or behavior with violence or the threat thereof, you are committing terrorism, period. There is no ‘except Christians’ or ‘except white people’ clause. There is no ‘unless you think they deserve it’ clause. There is no ‘but I’m on the RIGHT SIDE’ clause.
The fact that anti-Muslim sentiment is growing in this country is also plainly evident. Mosques and community centers that had existed peacefully in communities all over the United States are suddenly finding themselves the targets of vandalism, hate crimes, and in too many cases, attacks. Pipe bombs in Florida. Arson in California. Drive-by shootings in Seattle. Graffiti and thrown stones in too many places to name. Protests everywhere. Signs claiming Islam is a religion of hate and terror, that Muslims are not welcome here and should go home.
As the sentiment grows, one is forced to consider its logical continued growth: There are already a disquieting amount of elected officials who have been caught uttering anti-Muslim sentiments, and if the growing hatred of Islam is any indication, that number can only be expected to grow. Add to that the concept that for each elected official or member of government that we know of harboring this hatred, there is likely at least a few more, and it becomes truly worrying. At what point will the assumed minority of Islamophobic members of government become a majority? At what point will they become too great a majority to effectively control?
At what point do the pogroms start?
In 1920’s Germany, anti-Semitic sentiments were growing steadily. Jews were not yet oppressed as a matter of legal policy, but they would find their homes, businesses, and places of worship vandalized on a regular basis unless they stayed in their own neighborhoods – and often even then. Public outcry against the Jews was common. And then one day in January of 1933, a charismatic leader came to power and almost immediately codified the existing cultural hatred of Jews into law. Any student of history knows what happened next.
I want to make clear one point, however: The Holocaust happened not because one evil, charismatic man steered an otherwise innocent populace into evil acts. The Holocaust happened because a culture of hatred and fear grew in Germany, perhaps not even a majority of the German population – and then one charismatic leader stepped up from that culture and steered the nation into evil acts. Hitler didn’t give birth to the idea of anti-Semitism in Germany, the idea of anti-Semitism in Germany (among other things) gave birth to Hitler.
A culture of hatred and fear, as a consequence of its own growth and evolution, will eventually produce an avatar and attempt to gain control of its surroundings.
The sticky part is that there is no quick solution to disarming the hatred and fear. You could round up everyone waving signs with anti-Islam sentiments, but then you’re committing the same horrible acts you’re worried they will commit. You could attack and vandalize the homes, businesses, and places of worship of those who would steer our nation into a new dark age, but then you’re doing the same thing you accuse them of doing. If our nation is going to be saved from the culture of hatred and fear that is growing inside it, the only way to do it is to counter that hatred and fear with knowledge and acceptance. Until and unless it gets to the point where any man or woman of conscience must take up arms to defend their nation from threats foreign or domestic, the only way to protect our nation without destroying it is to use our hearts and minds.
Many of the people who read this have their own fears of Islam or Muslims to address. I urge you, do not indulge those fears and stoop to hatred, even if – especially even if – you harbor that hatred silently and do not act upon it. Do the only right and brave thing and confront your fears. Look inside yourself and seek understanding of what exactly it is you are afraid of. Seek assistance from counselors or religious leaders if it will help. Learn what you are afraid of, and then educate yourself to see if those fears are justified. Learn about Muslims. If there is one near you, and you think you can handle it, tour a Muslim community center. You will find that Muslims are all around us, they exist at all levels of society, they are employees and business-owners and teachers and children and mothers and fathers. In the American melting pot, they are yet another culture to blend with our own. In fact, there is no ‘they’ – they are us.
I noted above that especially those who harbor fear silently should educate themselves – on the surface, this seems foolish. After all, isn’t it more those who actually would commit hate crimes and terrorism who should make the greatest effort to prevent those very crimes? Sure, but consider also this: Most people who graduate to terrorism do not start out with a desire to commit atrocities and needing only a target. Most people who graduate to terrorism start from a place of fear and hatred, and only by allowing those fears to fester do they seek an outlet. Furthermore, those who commit hate crimes and terrorism can be prosecuted and imprisoned – but only if the laws exist to prosecute them under. Laws that must be voted upon and enforced by those who did not commit them – many of which are, you guessed it, people who harbor those fears silently.
Seek out knowledge for yourself. Learn about that which you fear and see that your fears are unfounded. If your friends or family members have those fears, urge them to seek out knowledge and calm their own fears. Above all, think for yourself and encourage others to do the same. Nobody can tell you what to think unless you allow them to. And although those who would tell you what to think may have the best of intentions, those intentions can pave the way to, well, you know.