I really like this video, which helps remind us as the anniversary of 9/11 approaches, that there are Muslims in America who look a lot like the people who live next to you, work at the corner store or sit next to you at work or school. We’re talking about neighbors, school friends, co-workers, community members. These folks want the same American dream the rest of us want.

The people who flew planes into the World Trade Center or try to blow up planes with their shoes or underwear want something very different and in fact, none of those folks were American citizens. It’s really important to be clear on this. 9/11 is around the corner as is a big election in November. It’s the silly season with a lot of posturing that is unhelpful to world peace.

The video above is an upbeat plea for tolerance and lack of discrimination — something black folks should be able to grasp. And I think we do — about 25% of American Muslims are African-American and another significant percentage is of African descent. Notice the actual black people in this video as an example! My one beef with the video is that it doesn’t show many Muslim women who don’t wear a headscarf. I’ve known many Muslim women of various ethnicities over the years – friends from school, friends of friends, co-workers, one of my former employees, etc – and here in America, the majority of Muslim women I’ve met haven’t worn headscarves. Just sayin’.

Islamophobia is not new to America nor did it start with 9/11 nor the so-called  Ground Zero Mosque. TheRoot.com has an amazing historical smackdown that I recommend reading. Here’s a slice:

While most examinations of Islamophobia suggest that it is only the most recent expression of American nativism — made manifest after the 9/11 terror attacks — the history of using the fear of Islam as a tactic actually extends much further back. The first attacks on Islam in the Western Hemisphere had little to do with religion and more to do with suppressing Africans during slavery.

As early as the 1500s, European colonial powers began passing anti-Muslim legislation as a way to prevent the importation of African Muslims, who were often involved in slave rebellions in the New World. African Muslims led some of the earliest slave revolts in the Spanish colonies, played a role in the Haitian Revolution against France and led several major revolts against the Portuguese in Bahia, Brazil. From these early encounters, Islam came to signify a challenge to the authority of white slave owners and the state-sanctioned subjugation of African people.


These anxieties and fears received their airing in a 1959 television news broadcast anchored by a young Mike Wallace, entitled “The Hate That Hate Produced” — arguably the first major example of Islamophobia in the mainstream U.S. media. The program introduced the Nation of Islam, its leader Elijah Muhammad and spokesperson Malcolm X to the American public in the most sensationalized way possible, hoping to scare whites into supporting more moderate African Americans in the civil rights movement.

At the beginning of the broadcast, Wallace issued disclaimers distinguishing the Nation of Islam from “orthodox” Muslims; but throughout the program, he loosely used “Muslim” interchangeably or in combination with “Negro” to emphasize the threat posed by Islam in the African-American community:

Negro American Muslims are the most powerful of the black supremacist group. They claim a membership of a quarter of a million Negroes. … Their doctrine is being taught in 50 cities across the nation. Let no one underestimate the Muslims [emphasis added]. They have their own parochial schools like this one in Chicago, where Muslim children are taught to hate the white man. Even the clothes they wear are anti-white man, anti-American, like these two Negro children going to school. Wherever they go, the Muslims withdraw from the life of the community. They have their own stores, supermarkets, barber shops, restaurants. Here you see a progressive, modern, air-conditioned Muslim department store on Chicago’s South Side …

“Let no one underestimate the Muslims.” Here was Islamophobia front and center, used as a proxy for white fears of black self-determination and economic independence: Forget the furor over mosques; let’s talk about the threat posed by modern, air-conditioned Muslim department stores!

More than 50 years later, the specter of “Negro American Muslims” — or even the mere suggestion of them — still causes anxiety and panic among some in white America. Witness the recent incident when anti-mosque demonstrators gathered at the site of the proposed Park51 Community Center and attacked a black man they mistakenly thought was Muslim, simply because he wore a skullcap. Or the black Broward County, Fla., judge up for re-election who found himself having to fend off accusations that he was a secret Muslim, simply because his first name was Elijah — the name of a Hebrew prophet in the Old Testament that was, more important for purposes of Islamophobia, also the first name of Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad.

Of course the most prominent target of being black while being remotely, possibly connected to Islam would have to be President Barack Obama. A recent Pew Research study indicates that nearly one-fifth of Americans believe that Obama is Muslim, a view held disproportionately by whites over blacks (by a three-to-one margin).

Yeah — so you see, hating The Other only means hating ourselves. In general, hate breeds hate and Jesus taught us that love, even for one’s own enemies, leads to greater peace and love. This simple formula — remains the secret sauce that underpinned the work of Gandhi and Martin Luther King.

So this 9/11, I will be meditating on Jesus’ gospel that challenges us to look to the best and highest in ourselves — and love all whom we encounter. I hope that you too will meditate on peace such that, together, we can reduce the prospect of another 9/11 and another invasion of Afghanistan and another invasion of Iraq darkening the eyes and hearts of our children again.

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