Almost without fail, whenever a terrorist strikes – especially one of the Muslim flavor – a backlash against innocent Arab and Muslim citizens follows. It happened after the Oklahoma City bombing, and it resulted in the miscarriage of a pregnant Muslim woman whose home was attacked. It happened after September 11, and it included a Sikh American (who wears a turban but is not Muslim) being shot to death in Arizona. It happened in Britain after the July 7 train bombings, and Muslims in Britain have reported a more than 500% increase in hate-related incidents since those attacks. The backlash has even reached American shores: the Council on American-Islamic Relations has reported that a Muslim woman in Virginia – eight months pregnant – was physically and verbally attacked by three men, calling her a “terrorist b*tch.”
It is truly sad and unfortunate. The overwhelming majority of Muslims are non-violent. The overwhelming majority of Muslims reject the sort of violence and terror that is being committed in their name. The overwhelming majority of Muslims do not espouse the hateful and violent views of Al Qaida and similar extremist groups. Why, then, are they victimized and terrorized long after the deafening blast of the bomb and the choking haze of the smoke has gone away? The only explanation I can muster is ignorance, plain and simple ignorance.
And it truly is ignorant: to physically and verbally attack a pregnant Muslim woman in Virginia taking a morning walk, who has nothing to do with any act of terror, makes no rational sense. It is a stain on our national fabric, and those who perpetrate hate crimes against their fellow citizens of any race, creed, or faith should be punished. Yet, the best way to rid our country of this scourge is to identify and address its root causes.
When we all hear of a terrorist attack against innocent civilians overseas, our initial reaction is one of shock and sadness. Quite rapidly, however, that shock transforms into anger. Why? First of all, there is anger at the senseless loss of life at the hands of vicious murderers. Yet, more fundamentally, the aftermath of a terrorist attack brings fear and a sense of loss of control and security. No one likes to feel afraid every day of their life; no one likes to lose control. The tremendous anxiety this brings leads many to become angry, and for a tiny minority of us, a way to discharge this anger – and perhaps gain some semblance of control – is to attack the symbol of their source of anger.
That symbol comes in the form of a community mosque, or Muslim woman wearing a headscarf, or a Muslim man wearing a skull cap. Yet, what does assaulting an innocent Muslim fellow citizen or vandalizing the neighborhood mosque accomplish? Does calling a Muslim woman a “terrorist b*tch” make us any safer from subsequent terrorist attacks? Does throwing a rock into the window of a mosque deter a would-be terrorist from carrying out his next attack? Does beating a Muslim American enhance our national security? Absolutely not. All it accomplishes is to tear at the fabric of the unity of our country, and if the unity of our people is destroyed, then haven’t the terrorists already won?
It is an unholy logic, and it must be defeated. And the best way to do this is to increase the dialogue between Muslim and non-Muslim America. This dialogue must be done face-to-face, over coffee and cake, or hot dogs and hamburgers, or pizza and ice cream. The dialogue must occur at cookouts and picnics, block parties and barbecues, golf outings and baseball games. When this dialogue occurs, non-Muslim Americans will realize that their Muslim neighbors are not much different than they are, and ignorance will decrease as a result. When that happens, not only will we become better as a people, but our country will become better as well, because the logic of backlash will become as unholy as the act of terror that spawned it in the first place.
(c) 2005 Religion News Service