05.12.2013 _____________________

“I am an Islamophobe,” a letter writer to the Portsmouth Herald confessed.

He continued, “First of all, let me assure you that I have many Islamic (sic) friends in this country and in Bosnia. I very much like and respect these friends.”

Right: Some of my best friends are black.

Islamophobia, is a concept that first appeared in the early 20th century, in a French text and in a slightly different context. It appeared in 1985 in its current meaning in the work of Columbia University scholar and critic Edward Said and has been used, since that time, to mean a “dread or hatred of Islam and therefore, (the) fear and dislike of all Muslims,” a definition posited by the British Runnymede Trust, which in 1997 published “Islamophobia: A Challenge For Us All.”

The report identified eight components that its authors believe define Islamophobia, including attempting to exclude Muslims from a country’s political, economic and social life. Islamophobes try to define Islam as a “violent political ideology” rather than as a religion and believe that Islam shares no values with the West.

In 1993, when Christian militias were slaughtering Bosnian Muslims, I created a program, with the generous help and support of local families and institutions, to bring Bosnian Muslim students to America to study. Twelve came to Exeter and I placed them with local families. One girl was placed with the above-mentioned Islamophobe’s family.

Supported by love and generosity, she thrived in New Hampshire, completed her education and now holds a prestigious university position in Sarajevo.

During that war more than 200,000 were killed, over 50,000 women raped and over 2 million displaced from homes and villages — primarily because they were Muslim.

In Srebrenica, more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslims, mostly men and boys, were slaughtered and buried in mass graves by Serbian forces — the worst crime on European soil since the World War II.

That’s what happens when Islamophobia remains unchallenged.

Several months ago, a Portsmouth resident complained in an online forum, “… You can’t believe how hard it is trying … to debunk his (Azzi’s) writings. It has come to my canceling, just today, my online subscription of the Herald. We have Islamist (sic) in New England who are flying well under the radar beam. Got to now figure out some way to continue disagreeing with Mr. Azzi’s writings.”

Today, I thank the Portsmouth Herald for printing letters critical of my columns. I believe that even those that border on hate speech should be exposed to the scrutiny, judgment and goodwill of Seacoast readers.

Sunlight is the best disinfectant.

Another critic, embracing an Islamophobic meme that Muslims celebrated after the Boston bombings wrote, “muslim (sic) community celebrates when four are killed in Boston.”

That lie, an Internet falsehood accompanied by a photograph of Gazans purportedly celebrating the Boston bombing by dancing and passing out sweets, reinforced all the ignorant stereotypes about Muslims embracing violence.

It never happened.

The photo was actually a 2007 image documenting Islamic Jihad supporters celebrating a rocket attack on an Israeli base — it had nothing to do with Boston. Yes, the Boston attack was praised by some Somali Al Shabaab terrorists and by a noted Jordanian Salafi — but they are not the “muslim (sic) community.”

The Muslim community immediately and unequivocally condemned the Boston bombings, as they have condemned other terror attacks.

Two letters came from someone who, in spite of having been in the Seacoast over half a century, had never published a letter in the Herald.

He had never protested racism, xenophobia and homophobia. He never cried out against clerical pedophilia and there is no evidence of outrage against the exploitation, occupation and colonization of a country that borders his ancestral homeland.

But he couldn’t resist attacking Islam.

I can’t imagine what inspired him to write, “if Muslims are unfairly disenfranchised they have only themselves to blame” because, “They reject assimilation, they are controlled entirely by their religion … have no freedom from Islam in their personal lives … do not condemn terrorist acts, i.e. Boston, and they do not overtly express loyalty to the United States and the U.S. Constitution” — all points that are egregiously Islamophobic and demonstrably wrong.

Ask the family of Mohammad Salman Hamdani, who died on 9/11 at the World Trade Center where he had gone to assist survivors, about loyalty.

Ask the family of Cpl. Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, who died in Iraq in 2007, about loyalty.

Ask the families of the more than 1,000 Muslim Americans who have died in the defense of this country — even when sent to countries where they are fighting, and killing, other Muslims — about loyalty.

Ask them for forgiveness for your ignorance and overweening arrogance.

Another critic claimed, as he was canceling his subscription, that I insult both “conservative Americans” and “honest, hardworking Americans.” He complained that, “We have to read Mr. Azzi’s insults against good Americans,” and, in defense of Ann Coulter’s hate speech, revealingly wrote, “Mr. Azzi can always criticize an innocent white, Christian, conservative woman.”

While most Americans are good, hard-working and honest, clinging to a narrow ideal of America as innocent, white, conservative and Christian blinds people from realizing the beauty of what it means to be an American in the 21st century.

Have we forgotten the legacy of America’s slave labor and stolen land, the internment camps for Japanese citizens, the lynchings, the “No Irish need apply” signs, and fundamentalist Christian fears of having Catholic and Mormon presidents?

Have we forgotten the more than 200,000 non-Americans who have died as a result of actions we have taken over the past decade? Should we forget the torture, bombs and drones that have been inflicted on other peoples in our name?

My Bosnian program was a great success. More than 65 Muslim teenagers came to America to study. All smart, some pious, some secular — all grateful that Americans responded so generously when their need was greatest.

The American immigrant experience is one of our great strengths — people from many lands coming together sharing needs, aspirations and visions. But there are no guarantees — people fall between the cracks, sons become alienated and daughters rebel and run off. Some drop out; some turn violent — sometimes bad things happen.

We expect successes but we are judged more rightly on how we respond to failure. Do we abandon the American dream out of fear or do we step up and look to see how we can do better?

If America does not understand the aspirations, motivations and grievances of peoples living both outside its borders and within our communities then our security, welfare and prosperity is compromised.

Sadly, there are Americans, racked by resentment and a warped nostalgia for the good old white Christian days of America, who believe that truth doesn’t matter and that facts are a burden.

Such Americans, in their overweening arrogance, betray America.

Theirs is not the America I love.

Theirs is not my America.

Sunlight is the best disinfectant — please keep publishing those letters.

This column appeared originally in the Portsmouth Herald.