Thanks to Bridget's thoughtful response to my previous post, I decided to expand a little on the topic. Everyone has either seen or been a victim of prejudice. Sometimes, a particular prejudice becomes stronger in a culture because of actual events or threats/fears of future events. Obviously, this country was devastated by September 11, its first communal experience of the terror tactics that had been used to kill and intimidate communities worldwide for eons.
However, it was not its first experience of terror tactics. Although relatively minor (if the number of deaths and injuries determine such things), the original bombing of the World Trade Center showed us that we had very determined enemies. I think that the first real uprising of the kind of bigotry that Mr. Ali experienced was sparked by the Oklahoma City bombing. Do you remember that the first accounts said that the bombing was the work of Middle Easterners? I do. That assumption proved wrong, as we know. The terrorist was a warped, white-bread American whose name I don't even want to mention. Do you remember any widespread national introspection about the original assumption? I don't.
We all know what happened after September 11. We went to war, first against the country that had harbored the Taliban, and then against the country that hadn't. The common denominator? Muslims. Any Muslims. This administration not only did not care which Muslims it targeted (or plans to target, if the mutterings about Iran are true), but it also did not seem to care which Muslims it imprisoned or tortured. Short of protesting, backing anti-war causes, and voting to get the bastards out, there isn't much an individual can do. (I know that some will argue that point. Feel free.)
But we can speak out or act when we see or hear about more local bigotry. We risk being seen as starry-eyed idealists or dangerous radicals when we do. I've had an ongoing argument with some close friends whose values and politics usually are in harmony. Do you remember the incident at a football game when Muslims who had been praying were taken away and questioned by the FBI? I've maintained that this was racial profiling and demeaning. My friends say that the Muslims shouldn't have been praying in a public place, especially a stadium. "Would the FBI have questioned Catholics praying a rosary in a group?" I ask. "Would they have questioned Jews davening?" "They were being provocative," my friends say.
I don't know their hearts. Maybe they were being provocative in the same way as civil rights workers who sat at lunch counters or rode buses or accompanied children to segregated schools. Those provacateurs are now our heroes. Or, maybe they were just praying. I don't care which. I care about people being singled out for no good reason - and praying, my friends, is no good reason, any more than throwing papers into a trash bin.