What we say affects what we do

On Saturday, a man in the Ozone Park neighborhood of Queens ambushed an imam from a nearby mosque, who was walking with a companion, and executed both of them with gunshots to the back of the head. Police have arrested a suspect, but his motive remains unknown as yet.

But we can hazard a guess.

On Friday, a Lebanese-American man in Tulsa, Oklahoma, was shot and killed by his neighbor, a man known to frequently use anti-Arab and anti-Muslim slurs, a man of whom the victim’s family said they “lived in fear.” The motive here also remains unknown.

But, I mean, come on.

Meanwhile, in stories that are undoubtedly related, New York’s JFK airport was gripped by panic Sunday night over a “terrorist attack” that turned out to be…people loudly celebrating Usain Bolt’s victory in the 100 meter dash in Rio. That same night, in the French town of Juan-les-Pins, 41 people were injured when a crowd panicked and rushed to escape what turned out to be…firecrackers.

In fear of being killed in a terrorist attack, an outcome the odds of which are infinitesimal, people are beginning to come unglued. Nobody, of course, has come more unglued than the Republican nominee for President of the United States, Donald Trump, whose adoption of pure Islamophobia as one of the core principles of his candidacy is both feeding off of and feeding in to the fears of the people who support him. if you think his anti-Muslim rhetoric isn’t helping to fuel attacks against Muslims in the United States, you’re fooling yourself:

About three months ago, Sarah Ibrahim’s son came home from his fourth-grade class at a Maryland school with a disturbing question.

“Will I have time to say goodbye to you before you’re deported?” he said, according to Ibrahim, a Muslim Arab American who works at a federal government agency in Maryland.

“The kids in his classroom were saying: ‘Who’s going to leave when Trump becomes president?'” said the 35-year-old mother.

The incident happened a few months after Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump — now the presumptive nominee — first called for a ban on Muslim immigrants and for more scrutiny at mosques after 14 people were killed in San Bernardino by a Muslim couple whom the FBI said had been radicalized.

A report by the Council on American-Islamic Relations and University of California, Berkeley released on Monday said the number of recorded incidents in which mosques were targeted jumped to 78 in 2015, the most since the body began tracking them in 2009. There were 20 and 22 such incidents in the previous two years, respectively. The incidents include verbal threats and physical attacks.

As Trump’s campaign flounders and his words become more untethered from reality, there’s really no telling how much more of this sort of thing Trump will inspire. And when he loses in November, this sick, xenophobic, white nationalist movement he’s rallied around him isn’t going to just slink off back into the sewer from whence it came. And the problem isn’t just American–other Western countries have their own Donald Trumps and their own frightened populaces who are susceptible to their message of hate.

I can’t blame people for being scared–we’re all scared of something, and the way Western media hypes terror threats against Westerners makes it inevitable that people will fear terrorism disproportionately to the actual risk it poses. But we now have national political leaders sharing and exploiting that fear, weaponizing it in ways that have now gone beyond the political and metaphorical and are actually getting people killed. We could stop here and note that this is exactly the kind of thing ISIS and groups like it want, because it is, but the truth is it doesn’t matter what they want. What matters is whether or not we as a community choose to treat people with basic decency, or to start lashing out at fellow human beings living among us who happen to look like, sound like, or practice–at least nominally–the same religion as a very small group of people who have been able to terrify us far beyond their actual ability to hurt us. If we can’t manage to rise above our fear and our prejudice and find a way to live peacefully with other people who wish us no harm whatsoever, then we’re not worthy of the society of which we claim to be so proud.



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