In view of the Christian gospel followed by most of the established residents, you might assume they’d extend a hand of hospitality. You certainly wouldn’t expect them to resist the newcomers’ worship centers, would you? Or squander an opportunity to enlist potential allies in the fight against the country’s inexorable drift toward coarseness and secularism?
These perfectly logical thoughts might run through your mind until you learned that the newcomers in question often have Middle Eastern-sounding names, wear beards or head scarves, and take their spiritual cues from the Quran. And then you’d know that the situation was bound to play out on a whole different frequency. At flashpoints from Temecula, Calif., to Gainesville, Fla., to New York, N.Y., and all along the low road in between, mongers of fear and haters of the “other” are sounding the alarm about Islam with a new level of intensity. To hear it from conservative spokesman Newt Gingrich and those of a similar persuasion, the Muslims between our shores are bent on taking over the country and imposing their “un-American” values.
This demonizing and demagoguery is beneath us. My plea to those tempted to fall for the beware-of-all-Muslims hype: Get to know someone before you decide to fear and hate him.
Through my own participation in interfaith activities, and as I’ve followed the recent turmoil around Islam in America, I’ve become increasingly struck by a peculiar dynamic: The non-Muslims one finds at interfaith and Muslim community activities, and speaking up for Muslims in politics and the news media, are most often liberals. Juxtaposed with that is the fact that most of the anti-Muslim rhetoric comes from the conservative side of the tracks. It’s enough to trick you into assuming that followers of Islam in this country are in lock step with progressives. But as the pollster John Zogby wrote last month in Forbes, American Muslims trend conservative on social and religious issues, with majorities of U.S. Muslims — much like conservative Protestants — favoring school vouchers, stronger laws against terrorism, and laws making it harder to get an abortion.