Chronicle of a Hate Crime Foretold: Muslim-Bashing Has Consequences

The inevitable finally occurred Tuesday
evening: An American Muslim taxi driver was violently
and nearly killed
by a fellow New Yorker who was influenced by the hateful rhetoric and
vicious propaganda that has flourished recently. Ahmed Sharif, who was
born in Bangladesh and has lived in the United States for twenty-five
years, picked up 21-year-old Michael Enright, who, after a few innocuous
comments, established that his driver was Muslim and began taunting
his religion.

    "As the cab inched up Third Avenue
    and reached 39th Street [in Manhattan], Mr. Sharif said in a phone interview,
    Mr. Enright suddenly began cursing at him and shouting 'This is the
    checkpoint' and 'I have to bring you down'," the New York
    reported. "'He was talking like he was a soldier,' Mr.
    Sharif said. He withdrew a Leatherman knife, Mr. Sharif said, and, reaching
    through the opening in the plastic divider, slashed Mr. Sharif's throat.
    When Mr. Sharif turned, he said, Mr. Enright stabbed him in his face,
    on his arm and on his thumbs. Mr. Sharif said he told him: 'I beg
    of you, don't kill me. I worked so hard, I have a family'."

Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, and Fox News
bear considerable responsibility for this attack and for any other hate
crimes committed against Muslims in the immediate future. If you continuously
shout that "Islam equals Nazism" and "all Muslims are responsible
for 9/11," which has been the explicit message of the leaders of the
campaign against the Park51 community center, someone like Mr. Enright
will eventually translate your rhetoric into action.

While Gingrich and Fox lead the charge,
lesser-known local politicians are conveying the anti-Islam message
to their communities. Allen
, who is running for
Congress in Broward County, Florida, "told a group of supporters
that 'Islam is not a religion' but rather 'a vicious enemy'
that was "infiltrating" the United States." Elsewhere in Florida--not
far from the site of a planned Quran-burning on September 11--Congressional
candidate Ron McNeil "told a group of high school and middle school students last
week that Islam's plan 'is to destroy our way of life'."

The recent controversy over the Manhattan
community center has brought to the surface and intensified our society's
deep-seated bigotry toward Muslims. A few myths and facts about the
Park51 Community Center, also known as the Cordoba House or, inaccurately,
as the "ground zero mosque":

Myths 1 and 2 are captured in
the label "ground zero mosque." The proposed building is not a mosque.
"The Community Center will feature recreational programs and services
for all community members regardless of religious affiliation or faith,"
explained the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee in an August 23 statement. It will be, "in fact, an interfaith Center." And
it is located two long city blocks (roughly the length of two football
fields) from the former WTC, and is not even visible from the site of
the 9/11 attacks. As Clyde Haberman wrote in the New York Times this week,
only exaggerating slightly for comic effect, "Two blocks is equivalent
to several miles in other cities or in the suburbs. Your dry cleaner
moves two blocks, and it's so long, pal. He'll never see you again.
He might as well have relocated to Yonkers."

The presence, another block away, of
the "New
York Dolls Gentleman's Club
I suppose should be called "The Ground Zero Strip Club," if we're
going to persist in calling Park51 the "ground zero mosque"--hardly
upholds the sacredness of the site, but has provoked no hysteria.

These facts have been widely reported
over the last week or so, yet this controversy is still described as
the "ground zero mosque" issue in the news media, even by supporters
of Park51's constitutional rights.

Myth #3: "Muslims have not condemned
the attacks": This is quite false. "American Muslims utterly condemn"
the "vicious and cowardly acts," declared the Islamic Society of
North America a few hours after the attacks. "No political cause could
ever be justified by such immoral acts." This was among the first
of a long list of condemnations issued by Muslim organizations and individuals.
The Council on American Islamic Relations has compiled a 68-page collection of Muslim repudiations of terrorism.

Myth #4: "Cordoba House,"
which Park51 was officially called until very recently, invokes the
memory of "Muslim conquerors, who symbolized their victory over the
Christian Spaniards by transforming a church there into the world's
third-largest mosque," announced Newt
. Dr. Gingrich has
a doctorate in History, and should know better. Cordoba is seen by
most knowledgeable people as a symbol not of Muslim conquest and triumphalism,
but of the relative tolerance, inter-religious harmony, and profound
cultural achievements of Islamic Spain. As Carl Pyrdum wrote in an astute
commentary for the History News Network, the Cordoba mosque (or Mezquita), a marvelous
and inspiring work of architecture, "far from 'symboliz[ing] their
victory' ... was held up by Muslim historians a symbol of peaceful
coexistence with the Christians." It was Christian conquerors in the
13th century, not the earlier Umayyad dynasty, who appropriated
the building "in an aggressive
erasure of history
and statement
of faith," as Edward Said noted.

Myth #5: The big, unstated myth
that underlies the hysteria: "Muslims are collectively guilty for
9/11, and Islam is a violent, un-American religion." Some commentators,
such as Mark Williams, until recently a prominent Tea Party leader,
are explicit in their bigotry (Williams stated that the Cordoba House
would be a "temple to terrorists" where Muslims would "worship their monkey god"). Others are more subtle, but there is no
escaping the implication, in all this hysteria over Park51, that
Muslims are responsible for 9/11. Why else would an Islamic
center (in reality, a multi-faith center run by Muslims) provoke such
a furor? The fact is that twenty Islamist zealots, with the assistance
of a few others, were responsible for September 11. The rest of the
world's 1.5 billion Muslims, and the Islamic faith itself, had nothing
to do with it.

Citizens of the United States have congratulated
themselves far too much for transcending racism. The election of President
Obama, for example, was seized upon by many over-optimistic (or, in
some cases, cynical and calculating) people as proof that we now live
in a "post-racial" society. Thanks to the courageous efforts of
civil-rights campaigners and activists of previous generations, this
society did indeed become a more civilized place over the last fifty
years. But the cancer of racism and ethnic bigotry--this country's
original sin--never vanished, and over the last two years we have slid
dangerously backward. Bigotry against Muslims, and also against African
Americans and Latinos, can now be expressed more openly and loudly than
in many years.

Professor Gingrich, Glenn Beck, and Bill
O'Reilly--who are only the most persistent within the deafening chorus
of anti-Muslim hate speech--owe an answer to Talat Hamdani, whose son was one of several dozen Muslims
killed in 9/11. "Why are we paying the price? Why are we being ostracized?"
asked Hamdani of an Associated Press reporter. "America was founded
on the grounds of religious freedom," and opposition to the cultural
center "is un-American. It's unethical. And it is wrong."

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