As widely reported around the world, the tragic shooting at a Wisconsin Sikh temple bares evidence of the devastating impact of hate and bigotry. In an effort to counter increasingly xenophobic and Islamophobic rhetoric, a range of justice-oriented organizations called upon Congress to hold hearings on hate crimes and the growth of hate groups in this country.
As the 2012 presidential race cruises into the “60 days out” mark, it is certain that reprehensible attacks on religious groups, immigrants, the working poor, and others will continue. Last month, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), “informed” the public of a plot to infiltrate the government by terrorists, falsely claimed that fellow Minnesotan and Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN) had ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. Congressman Ellison, who is Muslim, has responded with a report disputing Bachmann’s claims.
Despite this vitriolic rhetoric, there are interesting glimmers of hope. Of native born U.S. Muslims, African Americans comprise 60 percent of that population. African American Muslims, uniquely positioned between the unalienable rights of every citizen in this country and guided by religious values that condemn intolerance, retaliation, and covetousness, can play a key role in stemming the Islamophobic tidal wave. African American Muslims are, and have been, involved in efforts to counter negative perceptions of Muslims. Communities of color are establishing new relationships with the Muslim community and African Americans continue to revisit historical religious connections to Islam. Whether the proliferation of Islamophobia will increase or begin to dissipate could hinge on the response of the Black community.
This is not an easy journey and it will wind along several pathways, including the acknowledgement of ethnic and racial diversity within the Muslim community. Those differences are evidenced by the diverse Muslim communities occupying nearly every region of this country, and stand as a testament to the need for greater understanding and support of the Islamic faith.
The roots of these decades old fears must be unpacked and addressed through a process of civil discourse and action that seeks practical, inclusive solutions and brings communities together for a common good. But, then again, there are those in positions of power who will continue to, by any means necessary, intentionally drive a wedge of divisiveness among communities of color in order to maintain the status quo of their power base.