From the Trenches: Undoing Islamophobia

“From the Trenches” is a battle cry. In a globalized world that criminalizes the rebellious in spirit, it’s easy to forget that change-minded activists and organizers are tallying up tiny victories against sociocultural and economic oppression on the regular. The column will serve as a weekly reminder that we not only can win, but we do, often. So hasta la victoria siempre and all that.

It’s been a week since the Paris attacks. And in that week—like the days that followed the attacks on the Twin Towers—US politicians are drooling, ready to shift their war machine from cruise control into full gear, to curtail what’s left of our freedoms in the name of “security,” to begin their war (literally and figuratively) of retribution. France is attempting to enact a three-month state of emergency, which give authorities the right to stop and frisk and, among other things, to prohibit large public assemblies, a provision that’s already come in handy to cancel a pair of climate marches meant to coincide with the UN conference on climate change, set to take place in Paris at the end of the month. The marches were expected to draw over 200,000 protestors.

Not to be outdone, more than half of US governors are refusing to take in Syrian refugees. The Tweedledee and Tweedledum of the Great Lakes region—Illinois’ Bruce Rauner and Indiana’s Mike Pence—are joined by Wisconsin’s goober-in-chief Scott Walker, as well as the governors of Ohio, Michigan and Iowa, to form a roundly xenophobic Midwestern bloc. (The House o’ Reps is considering action to give these refusals force of law.) The mayor of Roanoke, Virgina, wants to lock up Syrian refugees (Or maybe just Muslims? He’s not specific on this point.), à la the 1940s internment of Japanese Americas. Donald Trump says he’s open to the idea of Muslims wearing armbands…er, I mean, carrying “special IDs.” And then there are the bigots attacking Muslims on the streets of Toronto and London. A Muslim community center was literally firebombed in Glasgow, as was a mosque in Ontario. In the US, hate crimes are down across the board—except for those directed at Muslims, which seem to be spike after major fundamentalist attacks. International Business Times reports:

[I]ncidents so far have included vandalism at a Texas mosque where its door and a Quran were smeared with feces, terror threats sent to two Florida mosques, shots fired at a Muslim family’s home in Orlando, Florida, hateful graffiti in Connecticut targeted at a Muslim student and “innumerable hate messages sent online and by phone.”

We live in a vile reality, folks. And there’s a possibility all of this violence and hate is going to spiral into some policymaking that would put 1984 to shame.

But it’s not all bad. Because for every Islamophobe among us trying to wreck people’s lives by sowing terror, hatred and violence (hey, I guess those bigots have more in common with the Islamic State than they thought!), there is another person on the right side of history, people who realize that regardless of what ISIS is up to, anti-Muslim fear-mongering shouldn’t distract us from an epic refugee crisis that needs attention.

Like the Muslim man who stood blindfolded in a Paris street, with a sign reading: “I trust you, do you trust me? If yes, hug me.” A video of his action has gone viral on social media, and has been viewed over 1.1 million times on Youtube:

Thousands of people have shared a Facebook post by a man who intervened when a Muslim girl was being harassed on a London train. That one viral video of Reza Aslan (you know, the one that explains to a pair of CNN anchors why Muslims do not = terrorists) is making the rounds yet again. Social media brought attention to the ISIS attacks in Beirut and Baghdad that Western media ignored.

In our own blustery Chicago, advocates have teamed up with the City Council to urge Gov. Rauner to allow refugees into Illinois. That mosque in Ontario that was attacked by arsonists? A nearby synagogue (which shares its space with a Unitarian congregation) has opened its doors to local Muslims looking for a place to pray. Muslims and Christians in Memphis of all places are pre-Thanksgiving feasting together. Hell, France has even pledged to take in 30,000 refugees. Despite the worst intentions of the Islamic State and the religious Right in the US, so, so many people are going out of their way to express solidarity with Muslims, and with refugees in particular.

Humans standing in solidarity with other humans? Smells like victory to me.

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