An elementary school full of American children, daily locked into their building from the outside because of threats from terrorists to "burn the school down with all the children inside it": a terrifying scenario -- every parent's nightmare -- and one that is frighteningly real for a Minnesota school. The catch? The school, Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy, is a public charter school with a Muslim majority and the terrorists (yes, plural) making the threats are homegrown.
Although this particular incident happened in 2008, the fears of the Muslim community have only intensified since then, culminating in a very eye-opening and disturbing discussion moderated by NPR on Sep. 10 to mark the Eid holiday. As a non-Muslim, I will admit a great deal of ignorance on this topic. While I realized that some of my Muslim friends occasionally feel discriminated against, I was surprised to hear the level of fear professed both by American Muslims on the NPR program and my own friends in real life. Surely, I asked one of my best friends who is Muslim, our Muslim neighbors know that for every obnoxiously vocal psycho like Terry Jones there are thousands of us who love, respect and care for them? According to the zeitgeist at her mosque during Eid celebrations, they don't. Another Muslim friend indicated a sincere desire to move back to Lebanon, saying she felt her children would be safer in a developing country with a shaky national government than here in America.
I hate that they feel scared here. I hate that any law-abiding citizen would feel scared here.
With tensions between Muslim and non-Muslim groups heightened because of the anniversary of September 11, the New York City mosque controversy and even the inane debate about President Obama's personal faith, it seems like every day the rhetoric is getting more extreme and more offensive on both sides. The big losers? Our friends, coworkers, neighbors and community members who also happen to be Muslim, which in turn weakens our communities at large. We're not talking about some faceless, shadowy group or cartoon convenience-store owners; we're talking about real people with homes just around the corner, memberships to our gyms and kids in our schools.
So how do we help our Muslim neighbors feel safer?
Okay, maybe not in the case of Paris. I don't think anyone understands mistaking cocaine for chewing gum.
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