Like a clear majority of Americans, I too oppose the building of the proposed Cordoba Mosque near the former World Trade Center in New York City.
But for me this is not an issue of religious tolerance as much as it is one of compassion, community, and respect for the 3,000 Americans who lost their lives that day at the hands of Muslim extremists. And let’s not forget thousands more were injured physically and emotionally on that dark day of September 11, 2001.
Intellectually, we all know that all Muslims are not terrorists bent on killing Americans, Christians, and Jews. Intellectually, we all know that Muslims go to work, pay their taxes, love their families, and embrace the notion of being an American. The problem, however, as I see it, is much bigger than this—the problem is that the word “Muslim” has become synonymous with all that is wrong in the world — right or wrong — deserved or not.
Muslim for all intents and purposes is synonymous with the “n-word”. And we all know that once a race or group of people is branded as something so ugly and insidious that it is hard for that group to rise beyond the stereotyping that comes with such definition.
WATCH GRIO CONTRIBUTOR MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL DISCUSS ISLAMOPHOBIA ON MSNBC’S ‘COUNTDOWN’:
[MSNBCMSN video=”http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/32545640″ w=”592″ h=”346″ launch_id=”38824005^7470^573170″ id=”msnbc36776f”]
I recall hearing during the first Persian Gulf War Muslims and Arabs were routinely referred to as “sand ni**ers”, a derogatory term used to equate Arabs living in desert regions with American blacks. Although I have not heard that term for some time, it comes to mind again as I have listened to the debate that now rages over the proposed mosque and the palpable fear that many Americans still have of Muslims.
I think this fear is real, in some cases maybe even justifiable, but the heart of the matter that no one wants to address is that America still struggles with “differences” of any kind, be they racial, cultural gender, or religious. And we love to look for scapegoats for our problems in life. In a bad economy, where people are losing their homes, their wealth, their financial security and jobs; blaming President Obama, calling him a socialist and saying that he is coddling Muslims while kicking Americans, is a dangerous thing to do, folks.
So let’s decode what is really at issue here: The fact of the matter is that American Muslims, particularly the young male Muslims are seen as very similar to young black American males. Think about it: What do we see displayed over and over again on our televisions, via the web or in our culture?
We will recall forever the images emblazoned in our minds of the 9/11 hijackers. We see images of Muslim male rage in the streets of Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, and even here in New York at times when Muslims were angered over the depiction of Muhammad on South Park or on cable news as Muslim men openly expressed that their religion does teach them to “kill the infidels.” We gasped in a collective national horror as a Muslim Army Medical Officer killed 13 of his fellow soldiers in an apparent jihadist rage. We see video images of Muslim school children being taught to hate the zionist Jews and Americans, and pledge to kill them. We see people in angry Muslim mobs saying they hate America. This is what we see of Muslims daily and it sticks.
Now flip to what images we see of American black men.We read about gang shootings and violence that inspired movies like Boyz in the Hood. We see images of black males with their pants hung low, gold chains and head rags on, chanting angry foul-mouthed lyrics that degrade and over-sexualize black women. We read reports daily about the overwhelming black male prison population that is leaving black women without husbands and babies without fathers. We see images of black male drug dealers, rapists, killers, and drop-outs all around us. We are afraid of black men. We clutch our purses, we walk on the other side of the street, we fear black men in America—even successful ones like President Obama.
Like it or not, this is what we see folks and this is the image that we have of Muslim men and black men here in America whether right or wrong this is what we know of these two “groups” as Americans
My point is this: Without getting into a long and lengthy history lesson about the struggle of black people in America—I need only point to a recent book by media expert Tom Burrell titled, Brainwashed. In this book Burrell deals with the fact that images are very important in how people are perceived and treated in our American society. Sustained media distortions, stereotyping, and generations of racism have no doubt shaped the very image of black people in this country.
Is it any wonder people look at the Obama family as some kind of anomaly? In reality, we as black people have known families like the Obamas have existed forever. Many of us come from similar two parent families, with fathers in the home, and mothers who were also career women. The same is true of American Muslims now.
The images we have been fed of Muslims for decades are not positive. In fact, they are ugly, frightening and off-putting. It is these very images that threaten the successful assimilation of Muslims into American culture, and it is this fact, not religious intolerance, that is behind the opposition that have of a mosque being built near Ground Zero.