by Alex Wagner
If you were in New York City in the weeks after September 11th, you remember the sudden and conspicuous appearance of American flag decals on taxicab windows and food carts—many of which were driven and owned by Muslim and Hindu merchants. The stickers were described as a sort of “insurance policy”: proof that these were patriots, and not terrorists intent on plotting the next national tragedy.
These were simply people living peacefully in the United States— but in that climate, it was better to put the sticker in the window, or hang a flag on the dashboard.
September 11th gave harbor to something that has long plagued our society: a deep, sinking suspicion of “the other.” In this case, “the other” was Islam.
For all of his gross miscalculations in the months following the attacks, it was President George W. Bush who immediately understood this, and who spoke directly to Muslims throughout the world in the days after, saying, “We respect your faith… Its teachings are good and peaceful. The enemy of America is not our many Muslim friends.”
But in the intervening years, Bush’s words have been forgotten. The fear around Islam and the “Mideast” has become further ingrained, the paranoia more insidious. When President Obama has been called “a secret Muslim,” the charge is no longer criticized for its inherent bigotry (So what if he is, in fact, Muslim?), it’s challenged as a matter of truth (Of course he’s not Muslim!).
On Sunday morning, an Army vet and a member of two racist skinhead bands, is alleged to have opened fire on worshippers at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, killing six and wounding four. While we don’t yet have details on what motivated him, many, including the New York-based Sikh Coalition, say that practitioners of the Indian religion are often confused with Muslims because of their traditional beards and turbans. Since 2001, the Coalition says it has received more than 700 requests from Sikhs needing assistance with hate crimes, discrimination and bullying.