By Alec Rooney
A recent story from The Houston Chronicle goes into great detail about how Muslims in that Texas city are “on edge” after bloody, high-profile terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif.
They’re afraid someone might attack or hurt them, for crimes they didn’t commit. They worry that angry people will target them for things they didn’t do.
My initial reaction? WELCOME TO THE CLUB. Excuse the caps, but it needs to be said loudly.
Welcome to the legions of peaceful people in the world who are feeling exactly the same way you do, today, at the start of 2016.
You cannot sit in a movie theater, in church or at a sporting event without envisioning at least once where you’ll flee if someone starts shooting. You can’t take a domestic flight without being eyed, probed, felt up, treated like a criminal. You imagine what could happen at your children’s school, on a cruise, at the store, at a party, at work. Ghastly atrocities committed on the other side of the world are producing bloody echoes in Europe, and in even closer places like Manhattan, Boston, Texas, Chattanooga … San Bernardino.
Last weekend, when I had the privilege of visiting St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, a heavily armed SWAT team was lounging around their van out front. You never used to see those guys unless something big was already in progress.
If you see a man or woman in Islamic dress about to board the plane or bus or train with you, suspicion just wells up automatically. It’s just the way our brains work. When you hear of enough people getting attacked by rogue German shepherds, or even Dachshunds, every dog fitting that description starts looking like a threat.
To be fair, the Houston Muslims in the Chronicle story had just experienced a fire at their mosque. It’s under investigation, and has already been determined to have been intentionally set. No suspects yet, though, and the fire curiously broke out in the early afternoon on Christmas day.
The other things that have them “on edge,” according to Chronicle writer Leah Binkovitz’s story, are harder to pin down. Vague “threats” on social media. A mysterious man on the street questioning a child. An insult from an unnamed neighbor. Secondhand accounts of more social media threats. A Muslim child wondering if his family will have to leave the country (no mention of what gave him this fear):
Sara Sheikh was getting pizza with her family in Katy when a man approached her 7-year-old son and started asking him how he felt about ISIS.
Waqar Mehmood was browsing his Sugar Land neighborhood's social media page when he saw posts from a neighbor calling for the community to cleanse itself of Muslims using pig's blood.
Afshan Jilani, active in interfaith groups in Spring, said she has been reassuring her grandson that they will not have to leave the U.S.
"It's just unsettling," Mehmood said before the mosque fire.
Samina Bandukia, a Sugar Land resident who grew up in New York, agreed. "It's painful. You're living in fear day in and day out."
“Unsettling”? “Living in fear day in and day out”? Once again, WELCOME TO THE CLUB.
Why is the fear of Muslims in the United States more important than the fear Islam is currently sowing worldwide? People are watching what they say and write, the cartoons they draw, whether there is bacon on the free breakfast buffet, whether their daughter’s dress might enrage or inflame Muslim men (many of whom seem oddly lacking in self-control), whether they can wear a cross around their neck or put a Christmas tree in the lobby. In an ecstasy of self-blame, the lesbian bishop of Sweden is removing potentially offensive Christian crosses — from churches.
In Iraq and Syria, Christians are literally fleeing for their lives. They're often, tragically, not succeeding.
Another priceless line from the Chronicle story: “Mosques have hired extra security. Women have stopped wearing their hijabs, or head coverings, in public.”
WELCOME TO THE CLUB. The rest of us are finding our freedom a bit threatened as well.
“Imam Taureq Shah said he worries more than he used to about keeping his community safe.”
So do we all, Imam Shah. And as for your concerns about “seeing fewer people attending prayers,” well, dittoes.
“’We feel like we're being stereotyped,’ [Muzamil] Pirzada said, expressing a frustration shared by many.”
One last time: WELCOME TO THE CLUB. Turn on any national news show, or even listen to our president speak, and feel what it’s like to realize you’re a gun-owning white Christian who likes listening to talk radio, and that nothing else you say, believe, do or are matters. Spare us your pain at being stereotyped.
So it is looking more and more like we are all in the same boat, these worried Muslims and this worried rest-of-humanity. Perhaps we have some common ground here.
Now who is better equipped to have a word with the Jihad-oriented? Who has the most common ground with them?
Alec Rooney serves as communications director for the Christian Action Network. He is a longtime journalist, with experience as a writer and editor at five daily newspapers over 25 years. An award-winning print copy editor and copy desk chief, he also works as a freelance academic book editor. He is a 1986 graduate of the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn., and holds an M.A. in English from the University of Kentucky.