Is This America?

Yesterday, referring to the hate speech run amok against Muslims in this country, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof asked the question, “Is this America?”  Citing the recent words of bigot de l’année Marty Peretz of The New Republic, Kristof wonders aloud where all of the lessons learned in the past say, sixty years, have gone.

I’ve certainly done enough railing against my fellow–yes, white–Americans for what appears to be a resurgence in say-it-loud-and-clear racism, this time toward Muslims (and don’t give me that “Muslims aren’t a race” crap).  But at a point, it feels disingenuous to do only that.  I’m American, I live in the U.S. currently.  I spend my time around other Americans, none of whom have said a single harsh word against Muslims (or Park51), and most of whom have outright supported them.  I also don’t blame my friends in other countries for feeling anger toward my country right now; it’s all too easy to find examples of how things have gone wrong.

But one of the first lessons I learned living abroad was that anger toward one’s country or government does not necessarily–or even usually–imply anger toward one’s people.  And though there are individuals I wouldn’t blame a soul for feeling anger toward (Pamela Geller, Pastor Terry Jones…), I think most people are capable of seeing the good as well.

Kristof, in his column, points to Rachel Barenblat, the Velveteen Rabbi, as an example: Angered by the New York man who entered a mosque and urinated on its prayer rugs, Barenblat took to her blog to raise funds to send to the mosque.  The final check was for $1,100.

And what about the New Yorkers who rallied to raise $30,000 to support Ahmed Sharif, the cab driver stabbed in his own taxi last month?

And then there are the tweets: counterwording, an ingenious Twitter bot set up by some good friends of mine, has been tweeting to anyone that mentions “Ground Zero” and “mosque” in the same sentence.  Though many of the responses to the bot have played along the lines of conspiracy theory and bigotry (“I’m well aware it’s a Muslim cultural center & will recruit Muslims in the shadow of Ground Zero” – aurich109), there have been lots of pleasant surprises as well from Americans ready to defend the rights of their fellow Americans.  The following are some of the positive responses to the question “Did you know that Park51 is not a mosque and is not at Ground Zero?”

  • “yeah, i know its actuaLLy a community center 4 bLocks away. wouLdnt bother me if it was onLy a mosque on Ground Zero”
  • “It’s a mosque AND an Islamic cultural-outreach center, to my knowledge. And antis to it are mostly racists from outside NYC.”
  • “Yes I do know & I support them building it, they own the property and they should be able to do as they please.”
  • “Yes. That’s why I put Ground Zero in speech marks, to denote it is a baseless opinion. I support the community centre.”

And the list goes on. Of course these outpourings of support are all isolated examples, but in my experience, so are the outpourings of bigotry, at least where I’m from.

And in New York, where I’m not from but which I know to be one of this country’s most tolerant, most diverse places, an Egyptian New Yorker has been standing outside of Park51 for a couple of weeks, and tells us that most of her companions in solidarity are not Muslim.  They’re just New Yorkers, standing up for what they believe in as New Yorkers are wont to do.

No matter how convinced I remain that I don’t like the direction this country is headed in, politically, militarily and otherwise, I remain convinced also that there are loads of amazing people out there who agree with that point, and who are out there fighting as best they can, or standing up for their fellow countrymen and women, or helping someone in need.

And just as there is bad everywhere, so is there good.

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