Since the devastating terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, an ugly tide of racism has been rising in America, directed at people of Muslim faith and Middle Eastern descent. Some indications of racism surfaced in the immediate aftermath, while others have taken longer to bubble to the surface of American culture, society and politics.
Amid high airport security after 9/11, racial profiling was encouraged as a way of identifying potential terrorists, with Middle Eastern people particularly targeted for searches. Several years later, the “Shoe Bomber” attempted to blow up a flight over the city of Chicago with explosives hidden in his shoes. Though he was of Middle Eastern descent, the practice of racial profiling failed to detect him or prevent his easy access to air travel.
“Ground Zero Mosque”
Nine years after 9/11, construction and excavation of Ground Zero in New York slowly continues. In 2010, a Muslim group sought to build a mosque and community center in an abandoned building, several blocks away. A radical right-wing blogger named Pamela Geller dubbed it “The Ground Zero Mosque,” implying that it would be built on the actual footprint of the World Trade Center. Another internet source claimed the mosque would open on September 11, 2010. It took weeks of intense news coverage to stem the tide of hate speech that followed and debunk the lies. The community center remains unbuilt.
The Tea Party
Loosely formed as a grass-roots movement aiming to de-legitimize the presidency of Barack Hussein Obama, the Tea Party has become a well-funded, Republican-backed political force that “doesn’t trust” anyone with the name “Hussein.” Tea Party politicians like Michele Bachmann have shown remarkable ignorance of U.S. history, particularly in regard to racism and slavery, while Arizona Tea Party candidate Sharron Angle’s inability to differentiate one culture from another resulted in a stupefying television appearance in front of schoolchildren.
In 2010, a radical pastor of an evangelical church named Terry Jones threatened to burn copies of the Quran at his church in Gainesville, Florida, in perhaps the most blatant case of racism to that point. Again, news coverage was intense, and he backed down in the face of negative publicity. Unfortunately, he followed through in the early spring of 2011, burning the holy book. The result was a massacre of Christians in Afghanistan in retaliation.
Racism has its roots in misinformation about and fear of cultures different than one’s own. That a country long cherished for its freedom and for being welcoming to all races and religions should fall prey to this continuing trend is discouraging. From racial profiling to burning books — can violence be averted?
Steven Farrell is the administrator of ReversePhoneLookup.org