This first column of the new year should be about resolutions, regrets or reminiscing.
But I can’t, in good conscience, focus on trivial pursuits, or even self-absorbed reflection of my past follies and foibles. We’re entering a new decade (I’m not entertaining any arguments on whether it starts this year or next), but we need to clean up and work on the past one that threatens everyone’s existence.
While we all will have to work together to deal with the reality of climate change — as if one day of 57 degrees followed by a snow day is normal in any way — we also have to acknowledge what happens when one minority group is systematically being threatened, tortured and killed, and voices remain silent, condone the violence, or simply turn away in complicity.
When did Muslims, and their practice of Islam, become the new black? And by new black, I mean the group considered unworthy of any respect, dignity, or peace. When did one of the world’s oldest religions suddenly become marginalized? And why should we care?
If you believe the myths of our American history, you were told this country was founded by people in search of religious freedom. If you have researched more this century about the real first Thanksgiving, the genocide of the indigenous people, the trail of tears, the horror of colonization and slavery (the Civil War wasn’t about states’ rights nor was it Northern Aggression, it was always about the right to enslave human beings), you may also have picked up that the Puritans left their native land because they didn’t believe their country’s religious practices were harsh enough. Calling it religious freedom puts a prettier bow on it, and feeds into our white-washed narrative about freedom.
But our idea of freedom has been an ever-shifting tide, depending on who is in charge.
And our idea of religious freedom has become harsher and uglier.
The current administration was swept into office on a populist wave of fear, ignorance, religious intolerance, and naked racism. Fear that other people were taking something they believe they’re entitled to by birthright, ignorance of other languages, cultures and/or religious practices, and the naked racism that has taught people of European lineage that they should always get the first seat at the table and everyone else exists to serve them. Some of the feeling isn’t conscious. If this is/has always been your norm, you don’t, and maybe even can’t, see the systems and institutions that not only elevate you, but work to keep others in racial and religious minorities down.
The Muslim ban practiced by the current administration may have triggered the worldwide acceptance of hatred and torture of people who practice Islam. But truthfully, this train has been on the track for many years, although people still point to the tragedy of 9/11 as a justifiable reason for hating millions of other strangers.
They choose to ignore the inconvenient truth that the largest group of people responsible for domestic terrorism in this country is overwhelmingly white and male.
When Barack Obama was running for president, one of the “slurs” was that he was a secret Muslim. This wasn’t like people’s worries about John F. Kennedy being Catholic, this was a way of othering him. People who couldn’t acknowledge their discomfort with an African-American man being the leader of the free world, could cling to the fears about his faith as a reason for their prejudice. This may have fed into Muslim becoming the new black.
When stories started surfacing in the last decade about Muslims being tortured or killed in places such as Myanmar, China, and India, those places seemed to be too far away for us to know about, or even care.
But we’ve been here before. In World War II, Jews were systematically rooted out all across Europe and exterminated as the Nazis sought their “Final Solution.” Today’s anti-Semitism illustrates that hatred hasn’t gone away — it’s grown even stronger.
And we all need to see that people of the Islamic faith are also being systematically rooted out and destroyed — with India denying citizenship to its Muslim citizens, China building concentration camps that are thought to house a million Muslim Uighurs, Myanmar’s “ethnic cleansing” of its Rohingya minority, and the travel ban right here in the good ol’ U.S.A. that has separated American Muslims from their families abroad.
So why do I care? It’s not only because I’m Muslim-adjacent with family and friends who practice the faith. It’s not even because we’re seeing more positive images on television, or that when you live in a diverse community, seeing a woman in a hijab is seeing the neighbor, or classmate, or friend wearing the scarf.
It’s because we are all minorities in one way, shape, or form. You might be heavier than most, skinnier than most, shorter, taller, browner, or paler. Maybe you practice a mainstream religion, or you’re an atheist. Maybe you’re a Buddhist, or Wiccan, or evangelical.
Whatever you believe is right for you. It’s not right for everyone. But if you believe your faith should allow you to either participate, or stand idly by, while others are tortured, killed, driven from their homeland, or denied basic human rights, take a long look at what your faith is teaching you. You should care, because we all live on this sphere together. And if we don’t stand up for each other, no one will be around when the gun slowly turns toward you.