This is an op-ed I am distributing. We will see if it gets picked up.
For those of you who missed it, a Dayton, Ohio mosque was attacked by a chemical irritant that a was reportedly sprayed into a window during a Ramadan prayer of 300 people, many of which were women and children. It has so far received little media attention. Occurring last Friday, September 26, it came at the end of a week where Dayton saw thousands of copies of the anti-Muslim “documentary” Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West was distributed in major newspapers city-wide. This demands both some critical thought, and a clear response from the those who passionately abhor communal hatred and violence, no matter who’s the victim or perpetrator.
So a little more back story for those of you who didn’t see Obsession. I remember when I first saw the film at New York University, with fellow interfaith activists Imam Khalid Latif and Rabbi Yahuda Sarna. Christians, Muslims, and Jews alike were appalled at the constant abuse of history to lump secular independence movements with religious, Sunni with Shiia, and Political Islam with Terrorists’ Extremism, giving a message that, “They hate you, so you should hate them.”
Us v. Them
This dialectal rhetoric has been used on all parties to demonize “them,” victimize “us,” and create a common enemy by abusing religious language for political gain. Obsession gives light on the domestic example of this, where presidential and senatorial candidates encourage fear-mongering to bolster support. Ignorant Fear breeds ethno-religious hatred, which in turn inspires communal violence.
As an American, I am ashamed. Our American values does in fact have influence from religious traditions, and those traditions were used to inform equality, securing freedoms for minorities, whether religious, political, or ethnic. Many of those victims of the Dayton Mosque attacks were Iraqi refugees, who came to the US to escape a regime that used chemical gases their own citizens. One mother asked, “If not here, where can I go where my children will be safe?”
Countering this, we need to challenge ourselves, both personally, and as a nation. With some estimates counting over 5 million Muslim Americans, it is time we include this diverse group of South Asian, Arabs, and African Americans into the fold of the American identity, as we have with Irish, Polish, Chinese Americans, and more. Those of us of the Christian faith do not have a monopoly on religious values that promote freedom and equality, but share them with our fellow Muslim Americans, among others. It is time we acknowledge our shared values (including freedom and democracy), respect our differences (like culture), and celebrate our common humanity.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a faith-hero of mine, is the quintessential voice on the matter. His relevance to those times and now is because he did not simply write off on Jim Crowe laws as some morally-ambiguous “wrong,” but addressed the issue by expounding how such laws were unAmerican, and that continued inactivity was unChristian. His letter from Birmingham Jail was written to religious leaders, which inspired even non-Christians, such as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who soon joined the movement.
Taking action in my own life, the post-911 world inspired me to begin filming a documentary while on a 6-nation Middle East tour developing projects for the NGO World Faith. The premise was conversations between me, the white Christian American, and different people from various communities, mostly Muslim and Arab. What ensued are conversations that leave me with a general message from the Middle East:
“We don’t hate you, and we love your democracy, we are just completely frustrated by the American foreign policy, don’t trust you to spread democracy (with US support of such non-democratic regimes such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt), and feel humiliated by the western ignorance of our religious and cultural identities.”
The worldwide Gallop poll, representing the thoughts of a billion Muslims, support these findings.
Eboo Patel, my friend and a leader of interfaith activism, defined the issue of the Faith Line: it’s not a divide between those of different faiths, but between anyone that uses faith to divide and those to heal. As comedian Maz Jabroni says it more simply, “There are haters of all kinds…”
So the question is, are you a hater? Then let’s see some love. Start with your neighbors, and maybe we can replace “us and them” with “now and then,” making Islamophobia a brief chapter in American history.
About the Author
Frankie Fredericks is the Executive Director of World Faith, a youth-led interfaith community service non-profit active in five countries. Frank was featured on Good Morning America with Eboo Patel as a Fellow of the Interfaith Youth Core, and interviewed by Al-Akhbar Magazine in Lebanon, Al-Jadid TV, and Nile FM in Egypt. Residing in New York City, he works as an Online Marketing Consultant, runs the independent label Conar Records, and is an active member of the Grammy Association.
blog: worldfaith.wordpress.com www.worldfaith.org