Bigotry, the gift that keeps on giving
by Sheila Musaji
Joplin, Missouri which was very hard hit by a tornado needs a lot of help. The local Muslim community here in St. Louis has sent two groups out to help with clean up and to offer help with food and other supplies. Many local churches and synagogues have done the same. That is a good thing. When disasters strike we all try to do what we can to help each other.
This week, the United Arab Emirates gave the Joplin public schools a gift of $500,000 to be used to purchase a computer for every high school student, and pledged to match any other donations given to help the schools.
And, this received some very surprising responses. As Randy Turner reports in his article Anti-Muslim Sentiment Clouds $1M gift to Joplin Schools:
At least $500,000 and probably $1.5 million being used for the benefit of students whose lives have been forever changed by the cataclysmic forces of nature.
Who could argue with such an outpouring of humanity? Who could argue with the evidence of the effect Joplin has had on the world?
Sadly, some of those who are arguing come from within Joplin. They lurk on the comment sections of blogs, including mine, and the local newspaper.
Deep torrents of bigotry are unleashed in these comments, almost always by people who hide behind the cloak of anonymity.
The first reaction on my blog, The Turner Report, was what I expected when I printed the school district’s news release on the gift: “The same country that brought us the 9-11 hijackers!”
Another one wrote: “Did Joplin Schools sell their souls?”
Those are the ones that I allowed to remain on my blog. I do not intend to become a surrogate for the type of hatred that runs rampant among certain elements in our society. Other comments, which contained profanity and anti-Muslim slurs were removed immediately.
The Joplin Globe apparently took a different approach. Its story on the gift, on the homepage of its website, has been scrubbed of all comments.
I don’t pretend to speak for the Joplin School District, Joplin High School or this city. As an educator, my job is to make sure that students get past blind hatred and prejudice and learn to reason. There are times when I wonder if I am swimming against an overwhelming tide.
It is difficult to promote reason when our culture is dominated by conversations in which those who can shout the loudest and have the catchiest soundbites are prized more than those with the ability to discuss an issue using the force of reason. Our culture is a recipe designed to pull us apart, not bring us together.
But I have watched over these past two-and-a-half months as the most horrific event in Joplin’s history has brought together not only the people of Joplin, but the people of the world. The basic tenets of love, decency, and generosity are not limited to one country, one religion or one color.
When someone reaches out with a helping hand, we should never respond with slurs and undisguised hatred. The correct response to the gift of the United Arab Emirates, the one which has been overwhelmingly provided by those in Joplin who do not hide their venom behind fake names or “Anonymous” is “thank you.”
I thought I’d check a few other articles about the UAE donation just to see what kind of comments my fellow Americans had about this.
The first comment on the first article I went to was “Why? Seriously. Why? Oh, I know Joplin needs help, but why are the Arabs being all generous and buddy-buddy? Is there oil in MO?”
And, after having to deal with so many incidents of bigotry in the past few weeks, I decided that I would just stop reading any more responses. It is very disheartening to see such bigotry.
The Muslim community here in St. Louis has sent out two teams to help Joplin residents with clean up and to take donations of needed supplies.
Debbie Schlussel has of course infused even more hatred into this simple offer of aid. She posted a truly disgusting article. She sees this generous gift as a Muslim attempt to take over the public schools with “Islamic blood money”. She wonders of the computers will come with “Muslim propaganda already installed”.
On the 4th of July there was an arson attack on the Joplin mosque.
There was another arson attack on the Joplin mosque this morning, and this time it was burned to the ground.
Imam Lahmuddin, who leads the mosque and was in the building until late Sunday, said he was “sad and shocked” about the fire. He had been at the mosque since before dawn Monday, and remained there late in the evening. “Maybe there is something we are supposed to learn from this,” he said.
A Washington-based Muslim civil rights organization meanwhile called for more police protection at mosques and other houses of worship following the Joplin fire and a deadly attack at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. The Council on American-Islamic Relations also offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of whoever started the mosque fire.
About 50 families belong to the Islamic Society of Joplin, which opened in 2007 as a mosque and community center. The FBI led an investigation in 2008 when the mosque’s sign was torched. That crime also remained unsolved.
Lahmuddin, who has lived in Joplin for about four years, said several people were at the center late Sunday. He said despite the attacks, the center’s members have good relationships with residents and other churches. He said many are doctors at area hospitals. The center also served as a shelter and staging area for volunteers who came to help Joplin after the May 22 ripped through the city, killing 161 people.
On Sunday, a gunman killed six people at a Sikh temple in suburban Milwaukee. The imam said it was a cause of great concern that both faiths had seemingly come under attack.
Jill Michel, pastor of the South Joplin Christian Church, said several area churches have offered their churches to members of the Islamic Society if they need a place to gather. She said she and other faith leaders from the community had been at a dinner Saturday at the center, and that the community would rally around the center’s members.
But, she said, the shooting at the Sikh temple in the Milwaukee area was also on her mind.
“I can’t imagine driving up to my church and having it burned to the ground,” Michel said. “I worry about what any of this sort of thing says about humanity.”
The Chicago Daily Herald reports that “Concern about copycats is prompting heightened security at suburban mosques after the weekend shootings at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin in which six people were killed, and Monday’s razing of a mosque in Joplin, Mo.” They also noted that “Homeland Security officials engaged various faith community leaders and governmental agencies on this issue at a teleconference Monday.” Muslim, Sikh, and other minority communities were given information on resources to help them improve their security.
American Muslims respond to Joplin tornado relief http://www.acommonword.net/2011/06/american-muslims-respond-in-joplin-mo.html
Video of Muslim community of St. Louis, Joplin relief team http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VYCij9SAvOU
The terrorist attack on the Sikh Temple Must be a wake up call, Sheila Musaji http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/psyops/0019283
PREJUDICE, RACIST, OR VIOLENT INCIDENTS AT MOSQUES http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/mosques_in_us_that_have_experienced_violent_or_racist_incidents1
originally posted 8/12/2011