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Not all Anti-Muslim’s are created equal
Posted at: May/30/2013 : Posted by: mel
Related Category: People, Religion,
In recent months there have been two significant terror attacks by Islamic extremists in two different western democracies. Despite the similarities in extremist hatred with both attacks, that’s where their commonality ends. The public response to the bombings in Boston at its namesake marathon on April 15 and the attack on a British soldier on a London street on May 22 exemplify the differences between the two countries and their cultures.
On April 15 2013, two homemade explosive devices went off near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. As a result of the explosions 3 people died and more than 250 others were injured. Within a few days one of the perpetrators was dead and the other was in a hospital under close police guard. Despite the arbitrary and horrific nature of the attack, the reported backlash in America was extremely muted. The most notable: A Bangladeshi man in New York City was allegedly beaten and a Muslim woman in Boston was struck in the shoulder and called a terrorist. Yes, television news, talk radio and the internet were sharing the isolationist views from a few professional Islamophobes, but this did not seem to increase as a result of the bombing. Despite the short-term fear for public safety and a temporary spike in distrust of Muslims, Americans weren’t buying any of it.
On the afternoon of May 22 2013, a British soldier, Lee Rigby was walking to a military barracks in southeast London when he was struck by a car. After driving up on the sidewalk to strike the soldier, two men got out of the car attacking and killing the soldier by striking him numerous times with knives and a meat cleaver. Both men were shot and wounded, then arrested by police officers who arrived at the scene. In the 7 days since the killing there have been 193 anti-Muslim incidents in England, that's 15 times the average number. These hate crimes ranged from vandalizing mosques to pulling off women's headscarves, to threats of violence against Muslims and minor assaults. One of the most serious incidents happened 4 days after Rigby was killed when three firebombs were thrown at the Grimsby Islamic Cultural Center in Lincolnshire (a community of London), while worshipers were inside in the mosque. Fortunately, despite this violent response, no one was killed at the Cultural Center.
According to British news reports, this increased wave of anti-Muslim fever was not spontaneous. It was an organized campaign of hate led by the right-wing group English Defense League (EDL), which quickly put together protests on the streets of London and Newcastle to share their Islamophobic agenda. At one of its London event, Tommy Robinson of the EDL told supporters: "They've had their Arab spring. This is the time for the English spring." Of course, the terrorists who killed the British soldier were of Nigerian heritage, not Arab. This doesn’t really surprise me since time and again; bigots show that they aren't the brightest lot regardless, whether they're English or American.
Fortunately, the anti-Muslim attacks and rallies orchestrated by the EDL don't represent mainstream British society. In fact, there were a number of anti-racism rallies held in London to counter the EDL events and marches. Actor and comedian Russell Brand wrote a heartfelt column for the UK's popular The Sun tabloid, imploring his fellow Brits to remain tolerant and not blame all Muslims for the sins of two madmen. Another shining moment took place in York during an EDL protest. In proper British fashion, during the York protest some Muslims invited the protesters into their mosque and found some common ground with tea and cookies and an impromptu game of soccer.
Nevertheless, why didn't we see a similar angry anti-Muslim backlash in the United States after the Boston bombing which killed and injured so many more people? I am sure there is no single reason, but I feel that public denouncement was a big contributor. Shortly after the bombing, the American-Muslim community quickly denounced the Boston bombing including the Imam’s of the major mosques in the Boston area. Within hours of the bombing, Jewish and Christian leaders in the Boston Area had also taken to the microphone imploring the people of Boston not to blame the entire Muslim community for the acts of a few.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying all Americans love Muslims. But there's a big difference between not feeling too warmly about a minority group and actually advocating discrimination, hatred and committing violence against them. True enough, America’s history is not lily white. The Japanese internment camps of WWII are not a high point in American history, but there was also no significant violence against Japanese Americans. The stain of slavery in America followed by 100 years of violence against the civil rights movement is nothing to be proud of. Nevertheless, America has shown itself to be bigger than the small group that committed lynching’s and related attacks on African Americans.
The bigger reason we didn't see a backlash like the one in England is likely do to who we are as Americans. Our nation's DNA can be found on the words affixed to the seal of the United States of America: "E Pluribus Unum" which means "Out of many, one." To most Americans, Republicans and Democrats both, these words might seem mostly rhetoric, but the reality is they define American in a very significant way. E Pluribus Unum is the promise our Founding Fathers offered, to welcome people from different backgrounds to become one with us as Americans. Over the last 300 years we have welcomed waves of immigrants from Eastern Europe, Africa, Ireland, Italy, North Africa, Southeast Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. Even in our earliest history, the colonies were a diverse group of religious communities each seeking the right to practice their faith as they deem without persecution while tolerating the adjoining communities that were different.
America was, and still remains, a melting pot. And since its creation, that melting pot has grown; it has become bigger, more colorful and more vibrant. With such a diverse population there is an ongoing debate about the values of Assimilation verses Multiculturalism. With assimilation, each new group of immigrants is expected to strive to lose their legacy identity in favor of “being American.” The social model of multiculturalism allows for each new wave of immigrants to maintain portions of their heritage and identity as long as they obey the common laws our society and respect other people’s right to be different from them.
I am not naïve enough to believe the American implementation of multiculturalism is perfect. I am a descendent of German immigrants, but I don’t think of myself as a German-American, I’m an American of German heritage. We have plenty who are troubled by our increasing diversity. We see it in the angry rhetoric from those on the far right toward those who don't look like, pray like, or act like them. And we regrettably see it in the hate crimes perpetrated against people simply because they are different. New York City is considered one of the most diverse and liberal places in the country, yet there has been a spike in reported hate crimes against gays.
Xenophobia is the “unreasonable fear or hatred of foreigners or strangers.” I don’t want to lie about America; it is unfortunately very natural to fear things that are different. We may never be able to end all hate crimes in a nation of over 300 million people, but that doesn’t mean we should stop trying.
The difference in people's responses is what's key, and exemplifies why America truly is exceptional. Being an American, whether hyphenated or not, is about signing on to our unique compact we call the Constitution. By accepting this obligation we agree to treat our fellow citizens with respect and tolerance. While free speech is a Constitutional right, being vigilant in our efforts to openly counter the voices of intolerance and hatred is part of our greatness. When bad things happen…and they will, we need to not lose our perspective. Most acts of terror are done by a few persons, and not by an entire people.