It’s Black Friday, it’s early morning and here in Exeter the skies are black, my cardamom-flavored coffee is black and so is my mood.
Today is Black Friday.
Today, the day after Thanksgiving, a day that’s long been my favorite national holiday because of its fusion of prayer, family, fellowship, feasting and football, I’m out of sorts.
I’m feeling black.
It’s two weeks past Paris’ Black Friday. Two weeks plus one day for Beirut’s.
What’s driving me today, though, is the common black thread that I see ever more frequently streaming through America’s historic marketplace of ideas – our Public Square – a domain increasingly dominated by politicians and oligarchs who’re willing to flaunt their prejudice and ignorance in public with virtually no fear of consequence.
Further, such flaunting of ignorance powered by privilege is both a manifestation of dominance of the Other by the ruling elites and the concomitant validation of the prejudices of many of their followers.
Demonizing the Other, however, could have consequences far beyond next year’s presidential election, both for the health of our nation and for global security.
Recently, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump stood before the nation and deliberately told potential voters racist lies about certain events following Sept. 11, 2001.
Recently, Trump, chief demagogue of American Arabs and Muslims, said he saw “thousands and thousands” of people in New Jersey cheering on 9/11 as the towers fell.
It was a lie.
There are no contemporaneous accounts of such demonstrations happening. No police reports. No reports by any New Jersey or federal authority. No mention in the 9/11 Commission Report. Even Gov. Chris Christie says he knows of no such occurrence.
I read the Washington Post article that Trump quoted in his own defense. The article did not state that such demonstrations took place – it said the reporter “investigated allegations” that such demonstrations had taken place: http://tinyurl.com/pzp5943
The Newark Star-Ledger reported on Sept. 18, 2001: “rumors of rooftop celebrations of the attack by Muslims have proved unfounded.”
It was a lie.
For Trump it’s not truth that matters. It’s whether he, or to a lesser extent other candidates, can garner votes and support by demonizing the Other: Mexican laborers. Muslim workers. Somali students. Interchangeable: the fearful Other.
Another of Trumps false charges, for example, is that the United States wants to bring 250,000 Syrian refugees to America is another lie, but one that reinforces the beliefs on many of his anti-immigration, anti-Muslim, anti-Other supporters – supporters more interested in validation for their own deeply held prejudices and fears.
No Other need apply – and if you’re here you’re going home.
There’ve been three identifiable recent waves of anti-Arab, anti-Muslim prejudice in America:
The first, grounded primarily in fear of a new unknown Other, was after we were attacked on 9/11. Neither the American non-Muslim nor the American Muslim community responded well toward each other after the attack, and it took some time for the hysteria to subside and communication to begin.
To many Americans it was as though Muslims popped out from amidst the unseen – had appeared like Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Topsy; to Muslims, generations of working to fully assimilate into America’s fabric seemed to have been for naught.
The second, grounded primarily in fear of the election of an African-American as president of the United States, was politically and racially motivated. The attempt to paint Obama as foreign born, non-American, Muslim Other was vicious, unrelenting, and un-American and continues to this day as does the parallel marginalization of the Muslim and African-American communities.
The third, grounded primarily in political expediency and taking advantage of a general fear and ignorance of the Other, parallels the rise of Daesh and the coming presidential election. To this day no Republican candidate has seen fit to step up and un-categorically state “We don’t treat fellow Americans this way.”
Nice politicians finish last.
While many Muslims, long assimilated, are beginning to believe targeting and exclusion can happen to any of them the truth is that it can happen to anyone who’s Otherized.
A friend sent me this story: Recently, a man was texting on his phone in New York City’s AMC movie theater lobby at 84th and Broadway and, as he reports, “…this guy came up to me. … and asked assertively, ‘What are you doing here?’ I replied, ‘I’m going to watch the Martian. … ‘I thought maybe he worked there… Then he goes on and gets louder, ‘Is that really what you’re doing? Stop standing there and texting. You know what happened in Paris. Guys like you texting and standing… that’s suspicious.'”
“He takes a step closer, ‘Take off your jacket. Open it up and show me what’s inside.’ And he starts to try and REACH in my jacket. I back up and tell him ‘Do not do that. Get away from me.’ He kept yelling at me and motioning for me to take my jacket off …”
The target of this Islamophobic harassment, a Mount Sinai medical student, is an American from Texas and of Haitian and Mexican descent.
He was guilty of texting while Other.
That confrontation happened across the street from where my family and I once lived on the Upper West Side – on the street where my daughter grew up!
In the Muslim community, whether in Dover, New Hampshire, or Dhaka, Bangladesh, Friday is a day of communal prayer – Salaat al Jum’ah – a day when Muslims go to their local mosques for noon prayer – to hear their Imam deliver the weekly khutbah, sermon, and to be part of their community.
Let Friday – and Saturday, and Sunday – all days be days of worship – the worship of peace, justice and Goodness, not of greed, power, and materialism.
Let no more days be marked by terror, exclusion, marginalization and the demonizing of Other.
That’s not who we are.
That’s not what we do.
This column appeared originally in the Concord Monitor.