How to support Muslims.

UPDATE: The “Today I Am a Muslim Too” rally (see #6) is now behind us (read about it here) but all of the rest of the following suggestions are still a go!

UPDATE #2: Make sure you read this post, too — it’s essentially a guestpost, someone else’s most-excellent letter to his Congressman.

In recent weeks, I’ve produced a couple of  posts in which I call on folks to respond to the decision of Rep. Pete King (R-NY) to hold hearings into the “radicalization” of American Muslims, but as we saw yesterday, King’s hearings are not the result of a single, narrow mind, but are rather reflective of a broader wave of anti-Muslim bigotry and hysteria that gripped the nation on September 12, 2001 and has been roiling our society ever since.

I firmly, genuinely believe that the fight for the full inclusion of Muslim Americans into mainstream American society is one of the two defining civil rights struggles of our era (the other being the fight for LGBTQ rights), and I further believe that it is incumbent upon all Americans of good will to stand by their fellow citizens. So today, I’m going to make that a little easier for you. Following is a list of a variety of steps you can take not only in protest of King’s hearings, but to more generally show your support for Muslim Americans (and this time, I’ve included sample letters/scripts).

As was true in the Civil Rights era of the 1960s, it is absolutely crucial that those not directly affected by the bigotry stand by Muslims today. Not only is such action a central piece of our individual civic responsibility — the only way to build a more perfect union is to do so together — but it sends a sorely needed message to those who find themselves under attack. As someone who has on occasion been threatened for her political opinions, I can tell you that the kind words of strangers is a powerfully healing balm — and it must be noted that I have never, ever gone through anything like what we saw in yesterday’s video out of Yorba Linda. I can only imagine that for Muslim Americans today, seeing non-Muslim compatriots come to their aid is like water in dry, dry land.

Thus, while all of the following are ideas that Muslim Americans certainly might find useful, I’m thinking in particular of actions by non-Muslims.

  1. Get educated. The best way to overcome bigotry is with knowledge. If you have time for books, here’s a short list of good books on Islam and Muslims. If you need something quicker, the BBC has a nice series of brief articles on a good list of topics (easily digested in small bites, over however many coffee breaks you want to dedicate to it) — you might particularly note the entries on Jihad and Charity (Zakat); the elegant “Misunderstanding Islam” by retired College of William & Mary Professor of Religion John Alden Williams quickly unpacks a series of broadly peddled untruths about Islam; and here’s an excellent Pew Research report: “Muslim Americans: Middle Class and Mostly Mainstream”. If you need a primer on Islamic responses to terrorism, you can read my own post on the topic: “Muslims responses to extremism,” and I have a very soft spot for this video, featuring an American Muslim 9/11 first-responder….
  2. Get educated II. It’s also important to get a full grasp on just how wide-spread the anti-Muslim vitriol is. Glenn Greenwald wrote a very good post rounding up several of the more egregious cases yesterday, so that’s certainly a great place to start — even if you don’t click through to all of his links, you’ll get an excellent picture of the enormity of the problem. It’s also worth learning how the fear and anger surrounding the Corodoba Initiative/ “Ground Zero Mosque” was ginned up back in August, and reminding yourself of the fact that Marty Peretz felt free to announce in the fall that “Muslim life is cheap” — and even more worthwhile to read about the fear that American Muslims now feel.
  3. Contact to your elected representatives. I know I say this all the time, about everything, but that’s only because it’s always a good idea! We need to tell our Congressmembers and Senators, and often our state and local authorities as well, that we reject religious and ethnic bigotry. I’ve included a sample phone script and email/letters below; here’s how to find your US Representative and here’s how to find your Senators. State and local governments also have websites on which contact information is readily available. This step is particularly important if your area has seen any anti-Islam protests. Write to your people, people! You are their bosses!
  4. Write to your local paper, your student paper, the New York Times/ Wall Street Journal/Christian Science Monitor/USA Today, leave comments on blogs, express yourself on Facebook and Twitter. Again, I’ll provide sample letters/comments below, but the point is this: Tell everyone in your community, including but surely not limited to its Muslim members, that this is a country that rejects bigotry. Don’t engage in a war of words — a very difficult thing to avoid on the internet, I’ll grant you — but say your piece, and if goaded, bow out gracefully. If nothing else, leave links that will lead other readers to more information (such as any of those included above!).
  5. Participate in cross-cultural/interfaith activities (even if you don’t believe in God). Someone I follow on Twitter is an atheist interfaith activist, believe it or not, and he has really sharpened this point for me: It matters not what you believe or whether or not you hold religious notions about a Divine Creator, as long as you believe in the dignity and worth of your fellow humans. If you have a regular faith community, they might very well already be taking part in activities in which you can participate (I recently talked to my new rabbi about her own desire to start some outreach to the local Muslim community). Here’s the aforementioned “someone I follow on Twitter,” Chris Stedman (@ChrisDStedman), here’s Chicago’s own Interfaith Youth Core (headed by the wise and visionary Eboo Patel and a Clinton Global Initiative fundee), here’s the interfaith-heavy Jewish Council on Urban Affairs (also in Chicago), here’s USC’s Center for Muslim-Jewish Engagement, and here’s the “inter-religious dialogue and cooperation” page on the World Council of Churches site. If none of these work for you, do a little googling with the word “interfaith” and the name of your town, and you’re sure to find something!
  6. Go to the “Today I Am a Muslim Too” Rally in NYC on Sunday. It’s being held in Times Square, at 42nd St and 7th Ave, from 2:30-5:30, and is being sponsored by some huge number interfaith organizations (I want to say 39 but I can’t find that article again, for some reason!). Hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons is one of the folks who’s behind the whole shebang, and he was also all up in the grill of the “Ground Zero Mosque” hatefest back in the summer. (He, too can be followed on Twitter! @UncleRUSH). If you go to the protest and are not, in fact, Muslim, make sure you identify yourself. Make a sign that says “Usually I’m a Jew, but today I’m a Muslim!” or “Rep. King should learn from Dr. King: This Christian loves all Americans!” or wear a big ol’ stinkin’ yarmulke (even if you don’t usually) or whatever. UPDATE: The rally is now behind us, but all of these other suggestions are still a go! (Read about the rally here).
  7. After the rally, write letters/comments/blog posts about your experience there. The event itself is important — follow up is almost more important.
  8. Don’t stop doing these things once the King hearings and/or rally are behind us. This won’t be an easy battle, nor one that it quickly won. You don’t have to be on the barricades 24/7, but every now and then, read a little something, pass it on, write a note, make a call. Keep the ball rolling. We are the only people who can perfect this union — if we don’t do it, it won’t get done.
  9. UPDATE: Organize counter-demonstrations if the ugliness plays out in your own area. I just learned at Ta-Nehisi Coate’s place that someone is doing so on Reddit as we speak, in order to be prepared ahead of time — after all, nothing says “We’re by your side in this struggle” quite like physically being at someone’s side!

Sample phone script

If you decide to call an elected official to express your dismay over the wave of Islamophobia generally, or the King hearings specifically, here’s a suggestion for what you might say — but always remember that your own words are best. The following is just an aid to get your words flowing. (You’ll note that it’s short — short and to-the-point is always best on these things).

“Hello, my name is XXXXX and I live in XXXXX. I’m a Christian/Jew/atheist, and I wanted to tell the Senator/mayor/councilwoman that I’ve been really disturbed by the level of anger and hate that we’ve seen directed toward Muslim Americans lately [or: mention a specific incident that the person you’re calling will know about]. To me, these protests and attacks go against the best of America’s traditions, and the only truly American response is to denounce them whole-heartedly.”

Sample email/letter to an elected representative

Slightly longer and slightly more formal in tone than the phone script, but always remember that your own words are best. The following is just an aid to get your words flowing.

“My name is XXXXX and I live in XXXXX. I’m a Christian/Jew/atheist, and I wanted to let you know how disturbed I’ve been by the level of anger and hate that we’ve seen directed toward Muslim Americans lately[or: mention a specific incident that the person you’re writing to will know about]. Between the various anti-Muslim attacks, and the hearings planned/just held by Rep. Pete King, I’m not surprised to learn that American Muslims are frightened for their and their children’s future. It’s my opinion that such attacks on fellow citizens run entirely contrary to our best values and traditions, and the only truly American response is to denounce them whole-heartedly. Our nation has a history of  gradually becoming more and more inclusive, and I feel it’s past time that we recognize the equal rights and dignity of our Muslim citizens.”

Sample blog comment

Obviously, this depends very strongly on what was said in the post or comment to which you’re responding! With this sample, I’m shooting more to give you a sense of a useful tone/structure — but always remember that your own words are best. The following is just an aid to get your words flowing. (And though it’s tempting, don’t get into a flame war over this. It’s very hard to further the struggle for mutual tolerance with angry words, and those who would engage you in a flame war aren’t interested in dialogue, anyway. They want the fight. Don’t give it to them).

“I understand that a lot of non-Muslim Americans remain very frightened that Islam is somehow a religion of hate or terrorism, but I have to step in to say that it’s just not true. I’m a Christian/Jew/atheist and it’s really important to me that this is a country where all of us are meant to be welcome an able to live according to our conscience. If you want to learn more about what Islam is really like, here’s a good place to start [link] — and by the way, countless Muslims around the world have rejected terrorism innumerable times. It’s just that the media doesn’t tend to cover them. Here’s a small list of a few of those statements: [link].”

Sample letter to the editor

Local and student papers are genuinely important outlets, and it’s also worth remembering that the NYT, WSJ, USA Today and the CS Monitor are essentially our national papers right now. Wherever you’re writing from, they’re interested — but always remember that your own words are best. The following is just an aid to get your words flowing.

“To the editor: I write today to express my concern over the recent rash of anti-Muslim sentiment in our country/our town/this school’s campus [or: mention a specific incident that the paper’s readers will know about]. I’m not Muslim, but I’m not so foolish as to believe that attacks against the members of a different tradition than mine don’t redound against everyone in the country. America is meant to be a nation in which the dignity and freedom of all are respected and protected — it’s time we start denouncing the hate-mongers, and start standing with our fellow citizens, regardless of their religious or ethnic heritage.”

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Any other ideas, suggestions, thoughts or follow up are welcome! Leave them in the comments, or shoot me an email. Contact info in the About Page, to your upper right .

12 Comments

  1. Darth Thulhu

     /  March 4, 2011

    Thank you for the many helpful tools, and for your contagious enthusiasm for fighting the good fight.

  2. schorrmore

     /  March 4, 2011

    Thanks for laying out such a clear list with lots of links- this is a crucial cause.
    In Portland, Oregon in 2010, a Somali- American OSU student who attempted to bomb a large public gathering got a lot of press. The mayor and others worried about Portlanders “seeking retribution” on the Somali/Muslim community, but only one crime against the Somalis happened (a fire was set in the night- unacceptable of course). Hundreds of Christian/Jew/etc Portlanders marched in solidarity with Muslims. As far as I was aware, the majority of people’s responses were not of bigotry but of understanding. Makes me proud of my home town!
    However, the tip to the FBI about the student came from the student’s father- a fact that major news organizations like MSNBC conveniently ignored.

    • This is a great story, and a real corrective to the ideas informing the Pete King hearings.

      It would be great if you have a couple of moments to send an email to your local paper, your Representative and your Senators in advance of the hearings (they start on Thursday 3/10) reminding them of the facts. The hearings are technically all about how Muslims aren’t cooperating with law enforcement — but they are!

  3. Fax Paladin

     /  March 4, 2011

    And the ad ever-helpful Google tacks onto this page: “America At Risk New Movie — We are losing the war against radical Islamists. View the trailer.”

    Sigh…

  4. Mahmoud El-Yousseph

     /  March 4, 2011

    Emily, brilliant work. Thanks for caring.

    I should add, I am also grateful for the proud Portlander
    who shared the story of the OSU student and who truly tipped of
    the FBI about his alleged activities. What a shame that Muslim were denied a moment of pride.

    I could not find your email contact, so I am posting my comment on your message board.
    Rep. King claims against Muslims is dishonest and disingenuous. Keep up the good work

    Rep. Peter King – Islamophobe and Phony : Veterans Today

    Guest Column:
    Rep. Peter King – Islamophobe and Phony

    By Mahmoud El-Yousseph
    March 3, 2011

    US Rep. Peter King owes his rise for his political career to his own support for a foreign terrorist group. He accuses Muslims in America of supporting terrorism, not loyal or patriotic citizens and implied in a recent interview that Muslims are not truly Americans.

    This coming from a former cheerleader, confidant and friend to the leaders of one of Europe’s bloodiest and most violent terrorist groups, namely the Irish Republican Army better know as the[IRA]. He is the last person who should be trying to paint Muslims , or anyone else, with a terrorist brush

    To create ill will for Americas’ Muslims and divert the public’s attention from his long history of supporting terrorism abroad, the new Chairman of Home Land Security Committee in Congress, Rep. Peter King [R-N.Y.] is holding a hearing on alleged ” radicalization of Muslims” on March 9th.

    Tracking down Peter King’s Mickey Mouse Hearing for the last two month, I have learned pretty interesting and amazing stuff. First of all the so called “alleged Muslim radicalization” is bogus and only intended to feed the hungry Muslim-bashers. Had Mr. King been genuine about our home front, he should have engaged and reached out to Muslim leaders, instead of referring to them recklessly as, “the enemy amongst us.”

    So, why isn’t Mr.King inviting law enforcement officials and anti terrorism task force to testify? He claimed in a recent Fox News interview that, “they are too busy or scared.” I say, that is pure poppycock Mr.Chairman! Fact is, FBI Director Robert Mueller who is the Chief law enforcement official in the US has told the Senate Judiciary Committee two years ago that “Muslim and Arab communities have been tremendously supportive and worked very closely with [the FBI] in a number of instance around the country.”

    According to FBI statistics, 150,000 Americans were murdered since 9/11. Among those, 33 were killed by Muslims. Statistically speaking. there were 3 people killed/year. Not to diminish this, because one victim is too many. So, why is other act of terror or violence that are not Muslim related is not being investigated by Mr. King ?

    On Jan 27, 2011 in an article titled “Terrorist are not just Muslims” Rep. Bennie Thomspon [D-MI] who is King’s predecessor stated, ” when state law enforcement were asked to identify terror groups in their states, Muslim extremist groups ranked 11th on a list of 18.”
    It is also worth nothing here that recent study reveals that 38 out of 120 attempted terror plot since 9/11 that involved Muslims were foild by either Muslim parents, mosque leaders or simply a friend on face book.

    So, why did Mr. King refused to investigate or conviently ignored other act of terror committed on US soul that was not Muslim related? Aren’t they are equally worthy of investigation? Here is three examples of most recent one:

    *The attempted bombing of Unity March in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King birthday in Spokane, WA. on January 19, 2011.

    * The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum shooting in Washington, D.C. on June 10, 2009.

    *The Arizona Massacre where 6 people were killed in cold blood and 13 others were injured on Jan. 8, 2011.

    It is well know fact that Mr. King is the only law US lawmaker on record to raise fund to a foreign terrorist organization. The money went to straight to now embattled Libyan leader, Qaddafi, Qaddafi in turn provided the IRA with bombs and explosive. Qaddafi’s main reason was to settle a score with Margret Thatcher for allowing US jets to attack Libya in 1985 from US bases in the UK.

    It is fascinating to read a story by Ed Moloney in the February 19, 2011 issue of The Irish Times on King’s hearing. The report reveals who Peter King really is. The story’s first paragraph sums it all up, by stating, ” NOT SO many years ago the BBC banned him from the airwaves for his terrorist sympathies, a judge threw him out of a Belfast court because he was a “collaborator” with the terrorists on trial, and the FBI was opening his mail because of his views. The US secret service once listed him as a threat during a presidential visit to his neighborhood.”

    Finally, if Rep. King have his way, he will introduce a law requiring every
    every Muslim in America to wear a GPS tracking bracelet at all times.” He will even propose that the government bug Muslims in their homes, work and place of worship. May be even opening interment camps.

    That said, this retired Muslim veteran and a father of former US soldier urge every red-blooded American to reject this witch hunt hearing and to say no to Peter King.

    Mahmoud El-Yousseph
    Retired USAF Veteran
    Feedback: elyousseph6@yahoo.com
    Tel: 614.556.2885

    Mahmoud El-Yousseph
    24 Central Ave
    Westerville OH 43081
    614 898 7242

    Mahmoud El-Yousseph
    24 Central Ave
    Westerville OH 43081
    614 898 7242

    “If you think you are too small to be effective, you have never been in bed with a mosquito.” Italian Peot – Dante [1265-1321]

    • Thank you so much for this, and for your efforts. To me, the one truly encouraging thing is the knowledge that in the 40s and 50s, most Americans were entirely complicit in the hounding of their compatriots, whether Japanese-Americans or so-called “Communists” — in 2011, many of us are doing what we can to push back.

      The arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice.

  5. Mahmoud El-Yousseph

     /  March 4, 2011

    Check out the display of Peter King standing in front of my home. This former terrorist supporter has no right to question my loyalty and patriotism as a Muslim. If any one should be investigated in the good ol’USA, for ties to terror, it should that ugly fat bigot.

    king2.jpg
    512 × 384 – By Mahmoud El-Yousseph. February 25, 2011. US Rep. Peter King owes the rise …
    theuglytruth.wordpress.com

  6. Mike Sager

     /  March 5, 2011

    I just stumbled across this post while searching for organizations that support Muslims in the Portland, Oregon area. Thank you for speaking out about this. It is important to use our voices. When we do, it encourages others to do the same.

    I believe cultural attitudes spread in proportion to how open we are about what we believe. People have a tendency to become like each other. Therefore, if the only people talking are the vicious mobs, that is the attitude that will eventually dominate.

  7. dmf

     /  March 6, 2011

    I support/honor the rights of folks to be as outside of the mainstream as they desire and still have all of the protections/rights of citizenship, thanks for encouraging/enabling activism good ee.

  8. Ameroo

     /  March 7, 2011

    I’m planning on purchasing a shirt by Inshallah clothing which says “I love America” in Arabic. I know it’s not a huge thing, but considering my area is so conservative, I’m sure even that little bit will get noticed. Maybe it’ll even be a conversation starter. 🙂

    • I actually love this idea! I bought a “Muslim garb for people who aren’t Muslim but still like garb” tshirt awhile back and kind of wish I could wear it everywhere right now.

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