In recent weeks, I have sounded like I am descending into paranoid madness. I hope I am paranoid, and I hope I am wrong, but I would rather take that risk than not sound the alarm.
I don’t know how to make this any clearer:
Almost no one — certainly not the well-assimilated German Jews — thought the Nazi Holocaust could happen. People urged moderate responses, dismissed more open calls for racist violence as fringe, and assumed their neighbors and institutions would right things. I cannot emphasize this enough. If you think that people knew what would happen and just didn’t react, or that good people had easy options for reacting but failed to, you are wrong. Learn your history. Now.
Islamophobic hysteria is not just fringe. It’s been cultivating for at least 14 years. Every time President Obama denied being a Muslim without saying “but if I were so what?” Every time someone makes a dismissive remark about hijab but fails to comment on other religious attire. Every time Zionism is defended because of the irrational death wish ideology projected onto Palestinian Muslims. Every time the white murderers are mentally ill and the Muslim murderers are terrorists. Every time someone talks about how “moderate Muslims” are ok but fails to talk about moderate anyone-elses. Every time Southwest Airlines pulls an Arabic-speaker off the plane because they “have to take all security concerns seriously.” Every time Sikhs, Arab Christians, Hindus stress their non-Muslim-ness. Every time a poll can even be conducted on whether Islam should be legal in the U.S. (and nearly half of Iowan Republicans say “no”).
Islamophobic ideologies are no longer just held by grassroots good ole’ boys. When 31 Governors — well over half of our states — call for excluding all Syrian refugees, their sheer ignorance and inhumanity only flies because they’re talking about Muslims (they think — and some have stated exemptions for Syrian Christians). When leading Presidential candidates can openly state that Muslims should not be President (bye bye, 1st Amendment) or enter the country, and their poll numbers rise, we’re not witnessing David Duke’s short-lived and much-condemned Presidential run anymore. We’re witnessing the mainstreaming of racial hatred.
Islamophobic violence is now acceptable by law. It is legal for heavily armed white men to surround mosques. America’s gun-insanity aside, it is not legal for Black children to play with toy guns — the fact that this particular law is unwritten doesn’t give it any less force, since we all know this crime carries the death penalty. We all know that no one but white people can openly carry arms, and we all know that no religious institution but a mosque can be legally surrounded by armed “civilians.” Creepy internet trolls can tell Muslim activist Linda Sarsour that they are going to behead her — yes, behead — and oh well, that’s just crazy internet trolls exercising their freedom of speech (that same 1st Amendment that no longer applies to Muslims).
This country has been so hell-bent on racist violence and insanity over the past few years that it’s been hard to tease out the particularly virulent strain of Islamophobia. Police and vigilantes are openly murdering black youth and getting away with it, not only in courts of law, but even more disturbingly in courts of public opinion. Anti-immigrant sentiment is rounding up and cracking down on desperate Latin Americans, enabling us to place checkpoints in interior U.S. communities and have people accept racial profiling as the cost of security. This is all part and parcel of the rise of white supremacy, and it’s all terrifying. I am not minimizing the violence against any of these communities, but I think it’s critical that we draw particular attention to the crusade against Muslims lest we miss what we’re marching up to: a call for internment, maybe a call for genocide.
There. I said it.
I’ve been reluctant to share the level of my fear on this because I have so many close Muslim friends, and I want you all to be able to sleep at night, and I want to be wrong, and I want to be able to stop this, and I don’t want you to be angry with me for suggesting that I think you are in grave danger. With only one of you have I even uttered this out loud, and sadly, you didn’t correct me. We both pledged our determination to stay here and fight, and I told you I wouldn’t let anything happen to you, and I am terrified for you every day.
Maybe I am crazy. But I have been raised to be crazy on this matter. I have been raised by paranoid children of Holocaust survivors and we’ve always kinda known that they could come for us, or someone else, again — even when we’ve convinced ourselves that’s in the past. My grandmother is still alive. I hope that her dementia is so advanced that she cannot see this march of fascism and racism gripping her new country.
Most of all, I hope I’m wrong.