“Are you Muslim?” “Does it matter?”

This past weekend I was at the 2015 Hunger Walk benefiting the Atlanta Community Food Bank. I’m there through my internship, a non-profit that works with the Hizmet Movement (AKA the Gulen movement)–a peaceful civic interpretation of Islam that fosters understanding and dialogue between all faiths, based on the ideas of Turkish scholar Fetullah Gulen.

In such an environment I wasn’t expecting to have the conversation that I did. Before the walk begins, I was speaking with a middle aged woman who, upon learning I’m at the walk through my internship, asked: “Are you Muslim?”

I told her, “No.” I’m not Muslim. I din’t tell her I’m Jewish because I distrusted her.

She attempted to backtrack but didn’t apologize because she didn’t realize she had done something wrong. She then told me, “I know not all Muslim girls wear a headscarf.”

This is true, but it doesn’t justify her question. If she had to ask if I was Muslim it meant she would view me differently based on my answer. She needed to know to satisfy her own curiosity and prove her own goodness and accepting diversity. It’s the same way that by telling me she knew not all Muslim women wear hijabs, she was really telling me was: I’m a good liberal woman, I swear. I’d accept you even if you were Muslim.

And I’m sure she’s a good person, but she didn’t need to prove how liberal she was to me. I talked with her throughout the walk and found out she routinely does walks for Breast Cancer, that she supports gay marriage and that she’s aware of issues of race. These conversations came up naturally and we were having a discussion. I felt more at ease because she wasn’t trying to prove anything.

I’ve been having a lot of conversations with one my friends lately about the “good liberal on the street” who thinks that listening to NPR, voting for the democrats and supporting gay marriage or having a gay friend makes them radical and leftist and somehow helping the world. But if this is all a person is doing, if this is all a person sees as making a difference, and if a person is willing to stop there and congratulate themselves on their good liberal lifestyle they’re still part of the problem.

NPR is tame. Gay marriage is the tip of the iceberg.

As long as liberal people feel the need to prove how liberal they are with questions like “Are you Muslim?” then we’re stuck in an unfortunate definition of liberality. We’re stuck with liberals but not activists.  I’m not saying these “good liberals on the street” are bad people, or that being radical somehow makes someone more moral, but we need more than surface level change. We need to arrive at a day where the answer to the question “Are you Muslim?” is “Does it matter?”

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Gun Culture and the NRA

I’m from Connecticut, but was out of state in college when the Newtown shooting happened. When I thought about starting this post, I was concerned that the moment had somehow passed and that there was a taboo on bringing up the shooting months later because it is officially a thing “of the past.” Really, I was just afraid to comment on the gun culture of America.

I never paid attention to the NRA. I knew the organization was a lobbyist, but I knew it in the vague sense of knowing, the way you know you’d get arrested if you yelled”fire!” in a movie theatre. You don’t want to test out the theory precisely because you believe it’s true.

But even knowing the NRA is a major lobbyist, I never made the connection between the NRA, racism and gun control. I don’t claim to be an expert on any of the recent shootings, but I do see a pattern. The media focus after the attacks are never directly addressing the issue of gun violence. Everything else is blamed and questioned, but not the reason for why the American people are so adamant about owning guns.

The media blames video game violence, bad parenting, moral degeneracy (as a by-product of the previous two causes), and anything as crazy as Marilyn Manson. But what interests me the most is the analysis of mental illness as a factor. Mental illness only comes up when the shooter is white. There is a push to somehow justify the shooter’s actions, to bolster the white race and show “white America” that the shooter is an outlier. It is a defense mechanism to protect the idea of a peaceful America made up entirely of white suburbs. In addition to the racism this projects, there is no thought about the ableism it harbors either and how this theory further serves to elevate the ideal of a white and perfect race.

When the shooter is a person of color, it is expected that the person of color is morally degenerate already. There is no image to save, but a racial stereotype to reinforce. Why would the media waste time talking about mental illness as a cause of the violence, when people are ready to believe the violence is a natural by-product of race?

The NRA comes into play because they love the racial stereotyping and the media’s back and forth over useless “causes” of the shootings. The NRA knows that everyone will ask “How does someone with a mental disability get a hold of a gun?” No one will bother to uncover the deeper question: “Why is anyone, mentally handicapped or otherwise, able to purchase assault weapons?” And if the shooter is a person of color, there won’t be as many questions asked at all. Instead, white suburban Americans will go out and buy more guns to protect themselves against an imagined racial threat.

And while people argue over Republican and Democrat ideas of gun control, the NRA controls both parties. Liberal and conservative, both parties are bought and sold so the NRA and other lobbyists can feed off America’s fear and paranoia over racial strife. The greater the racial tension, the more guns fearful Americans buy and the more guns there are, the chances increase for another Columbine, another Aurora or another Newtown.

The time has not passed to discuss gun control. If anything, the time is now because we need to speak out before Newtown becomes a thing of the past.  It is too easy to relegate the shooting to a half-hearted discussion where no one has a solution and no believes it is relevant. It is relevant. Not just to discuss, but to discuss all aspects: the NRA, the racism, and the overall question:

“Why are Americans adamant about owning guns?”