Recently I addressed the fear that many Americans face that Muslim jihadists may infiltrate our nation posing as refugees and conduct terrorist attacks against us. I argued that although this is possible, living in fear of such an event makes no more sense than living in fear of lightning strikes or of dying from falling out of bed—both of which caused more deaths in America last year than Muslim terrorists did.
But have you ever paused to wonder how your fellow American citizens feel, who happen to be Muslims? Do you think they might also struggle with fear that anti-Muslim vigilantes in America might attack them?
The Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism reported an estimated 260 violent attacks against Muslims in America during 2015, the highest total since the months immediately following 9/11. They hypothesized that anti-Muslim political rhetoric was the primary cause in the increase.
CNN writer Daniel Burke summarizes the vicious variety in these attacks in his article, ”The Secret Costs of Islamophobia.” (http://edition.cnn.com/2016/09/23/us/islamerica-secret-costs-islamophobia/index.html)
Muslims have been shot and killed, execution-style, in their living rooms and outside of their mosques. They have been fatally stabbed on their way home. They have been beaten in their stores, in their schools and on the streets. They have been kicked off airplanes, egged outside Walmart, scorched with hot coffee in a park, shot in cabs and punched while pushing their children in strollers. Their clothes have been set on fire and their children have been bullied. Men have come to their door and told them that they would burn down their house if they did not move away. They have been fired for wearing hijabs and for praying. They have seen their cemeteries vandalized and their Quran desecrated. A Muslim congressman has received death threats, and business owners have posted signs advertising “Muslim-free zones.“
People have covered the doors of a mosque with feces and torn pages of the Quran, left a severed pig’s head outside a mosque, firebombed mosques, urinated on mosques, spray-painted the Star of David and satanic symbols on mosques, carved swastikas and crude drawings of penises into signs at mosques, set fire to mosques, threatened to blow up mosques and kill “you Muslim f****,” fired rounds from high-powered rifles into mosques, wrapped bacon around the door handles of mosques, left hoax bombs and fake grenades at mosques, threatened to decapitate congregants at mosques, sent suspicious substances to mosques, written notes saying, “We hate you,” “We will burn all of you” and “Leave our country” to mosques, rammed a tractor-trailer into a mosque, thrown bricks and stones through the windows of mosques, pelted Muslims with rocks as they left mosques and stood outside mosques shouting, “How many of you Muslims are terrorists?”
This type of behavior breaks my heart! Does it break yours? Every one of those events happened to real people—nurturing fathers, gentle mothers, children wide-eyed with innocence—people just like you and me.
If you think you have something to be afraid of because one Muslim family moved into your neighborhood, how do you think they feel, surrounded by non-Muslims, with no idea who might be a violent, gun-carrying Muslim-hater that might attack them while they’re pushing their baby in a stroller down the sidewalk?
Fear goes both ways. And in 99.999% of the cases, that fear of the unknown can be shattered by walking up and introducing yourself, getting to know your neighbor, and starting a friendship. Every Muslim American needs non-Muslim friends to feel safe. And every Muslim you reach out to in love means one less fear you’ll have to worry about on your checklist.
I challenge you—the next Muslim you see, determine in your heart to approach him or her with a smile and introduce yourself. Ask about their family, work and dreams. Then write me and tell me what happened.
And try to do this before Christmas comes and finds you singing, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me…”