Jamaicans have a saying: tideh fi yu, tomorrow fi mi. We all eventually have the same experiences. The Muslim community in America is having their just-short-of strange-fruit 'tideh' right now.
The on-air conversation between Juan Williams and Bill O'Reilly that got Williams fired from National Public Radio would have been unfortunate even in the privacy of their own homes. It was absolutely unacceptable on national television. Unfortunately, such hate speech is not uncommon on The O'Reilly Factor. Bill O'Reilly has built his success at Fox News largely on racial provocation. He has over the years prostituted his own bigotry to great success. He has bemoaned immigration and its 'browning' of America, said lives were lost in Hurricane Katrina because New Orleans were largely junkies, and once expressed surprise that eating at a restaurant in Harlem was a similarly pleasant experience as eating in a white suburban restaurant of New York. These days Muslims are his favorite target - after Democrats. After he blamed Muslims for the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 on the ABC talk show The View, upsetting two of the hosts enough for them to walk off camera, O'Reilly says people on the street supported him. Sadly, I have no doubt many people do.
Juan Williams says he was only being honest on the show when he said he feels nervous about flying on a plane with people who identify as Muslims in their dress. Mr. Williams, who is Black and who has written about the civil rights movement, would be understanding I guess if someone on national television said they were nervous around African-Americans. I am willing to bet, though, that most viewers would not be.
Anti-immigrant sentiment in this country has ballooned in ferocity and scope in recent years. It is more accurately, anti-different. Blacks, Jews, homosexuals, and other groups, however, have been brought in under the umbrella of hate protection over the years. Muslims are still standing out in the hail storm of intolerance. Practicing Muslims become easy targets for their dress, for their unfamiliar religious practices and for their perceived alien status,l and extremists in their midst give prejudice a ready excuse.
It has, in fact, become acceptable to vilify Muslims. No one bothers to make the distinction between the fanatical elements of Islam and the Muslim faith. Recently, amidst the dust-up about the plans for an Islamic center blocks from the 9-11 site in New York, a friend of mine (Someone in whom I have never before seen an ounce of racism) posted to her Facebook page "let them build it...but across the street put a topless bar named You Mecca Me Hot..." One of the comments she got was a suggestion to let the building go up and then bomb it. When I asked who is 'they/them', she responded, "The Muslims who were part of the terrorists attack." That the New York Muslims trying to build a community center had nothing to do with the terrorist attacks does not seem to enter her, or her commenting friends' minds. Is there any other group who is so maligned and assailed upon for the actions of a few? Americans for the near-eradication of the Native Americans? Europeans for slavery? Germans for the Holocaust? Christians for the Oklahoma City bombing?
Before we dismiss anti-Muslim sentiments as not our problem, before we choose to be quiet for fear of castigation from our neighbors, before we place the responsibility for change on the victims, ask yourself: Today for them, tomorrow for who?