Imagine this scenario:
A pastor and his colleague are shot to death in broad daylight shortly after leaving their church. What immediately comes to mind? Many people would assume this was a hate crime, and some would even jump to the conclusion that Islamic terrorism was behind the shootings. The incident would figure prominently in newspapers across the country.
Such an incident did occur in New York this past weekend. But it was an imam and his associate who were fatally shot just after leaving their mosque. I read about this event in a tiny story tucked away on page 29 of Sunday’s Chicago Tribune. Did the idea of a hate crime spring immediately to mind? Well, not to the police. They indicated that “there is no reason at present to believe the men were shot because they were Muslim.”
In the absence of suspects or hate-filled graffiti, such a police response is reasonable and prudent. The fact that the death was not sensationalized by the press is also wise. The problem is that we don’t use the same standards in every case. Amid the current anti-Muslim climate in this country, any time a person of Muslim faith commits a crime, we immediately assume it is terrorism. Yet the story of the New York Muslim clerics shows that Muslims are often victims too.
Muslims are as diverse a group of people as any other in America. Yet we insist on painting them all with the same brush. A recent article about acting parts for Middle Eastern actors, for instance, revealed that they have a difficult time being cast as anything other than a sinister terrorist. Just as blacks were relegated to the roles of criminal or fool in recent cinematic history, Muslims are also stereotyped as evil.
It’s time to start painting a more fair picture of the many Muslims who call America home. Just yesterday, Ibtihaj Muhammad made history by becoming the first Olympic medalist to wear a hijab. The dedication and excellence that earned her a bronze medal in fencing give us a different image of Muslims. Muhammad was a three-time all-American at Duke University.
Muhammad’s stature is unusual, but her place in America is not. On average, Americans Muslims are as educated and prosperous as other Americans. They work as hard and care as much about the values that make America great. It’s time to refashion the image we have of Muslims in America and realize that they are part of the enormous melting pot that gives our nation vibrance and strength.