Don’t target Muslims

A town in Tennessee has moved their bigotry from blacks to Muslims.

Muslims pray in mosque 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Andrew Biraj)
Muslims pray in mosque 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Andrew Biraj)
In Murfreesboro, Tennessee, there is an ugly fight over a mosque that the Muslim members of the community built on a large plot they purchased at the edge of town. Some of the citizens banded together to sue in court, claiming that Islam is not a bona fide religion because of the excesses of shari’a law. The town has all variety of churches and no one interviewed on CNN about the mosque said anything about Judaism being a false religion.
Nevertheless, I was uneasy. I fully expected to hear one of the good citizens, who fears terrorists will gather in the mosque like bees in a hive, announce on camera that Jews have horns and are moneylenders in the temple.
The fact that these nice law-abiding church-going Christian Americans have some other stranger to fear could be considered good news. But I don’t think so.
It is the result of a hysterical confusion between shari’a as practiced in the mountain villages of Afghanistan and Muslim congregations worldwide. It reveals a dangerous ignorance of cultural differences that exist within all religions. Some few adhere to a primitive text as if it were a blazing sword protecting God from man’s erratic ways. Others interpret the same passages with an emphasis on justice for all. It is true that the attackers on 9/11 were Muslim fanatics.
But the responsibility for their acts rests with those dangerous but numerically few souls, who follow the vile teachings of the imams of violence.
All groups have their madmen. I don’t want to be judged as a coreligionist with Baruch Goldstein, the Jewish settler who mowed down Muslim worshipers in 1994. I don’t want to be prevented from going to the gym at my local JCC in New York City, because some Jews read texts in a way that incites violence. Some Christians are skinheads and Nazi sympathizers and some “good Christians” worked in concentration camps and pushed little children into sealed trucks where they would be gassed to death. Followers of the pope lit candles on Sunday and moved into empty Jewish apartments on Monday.
What we know is that religion can lead you to help the poor and nurture the sick or to throw stones at women whose skirts seem too short or hair too visible.
What is certainly sacred in America is freedom of religion and separation of Church and State. And as long as that holds, Jews can breathe easy, write, talk, grow prosperous, protect what they see as Israel’s best interests, and disagree with one another as they always have, unafraid of their neighbors.
If we are not the target at the moment of small town prejudice, that doesn’t mean we might not be excluded or mocked at another time. It is not only our historical duty to fight the ignorance seen in this Tennessee community and spreading across America; it is also a Jewish act of self-protection. We remember an America where signs in front of hotels said, “Jewish patronage is not solicited.” Our Jewish organizations should speak out whenever Muslims are attacked simply for being members of another faith.
And what do we do about the insidious whispering and campaigning against persons of Muslim birth and belief? I think we should let all America know that Jews do not welcome this change of scapegoat. We will not be silent when another group is excluded or feared or pushed outside a community they have not harmed and would only enrich, if given the chance.
Yes, I know we have disagreements on Israel with the Muslim community. We can talk about this together. We do not have a disagreement about America’s purpose as a land of welcome, regardless of religion or race or personal wealth.
This town in Tennessee has moved their bigotry from blacks, who sponged up all the local hatred for so long, to a place where they are now jeopardizing the very land they claim to love. If it weren’t so comic, it would be tragic. •
Contributing editor Anne Roiphe is a novelist and journalist living in New York.