This letter of hate makes very little sense, and the author, a self-described “patriotic American”, seems to know basically nothing about American principles or about Muslims. Hate always leads people into ignorance and self-contradiction, and this letter fits that pattern, saying whatever will stoke the author’s rage even if some of the claims aren’t consistent with each other. I gather that the author was influenced by a vicious theology some Christians use which illogically claims that, merely because Muslims and Christians have different beliefs about God, Islam can’t be worshiping the right God so it must be devil-worship. That line of thinking makes no sense, but as this letter illustrates, making sense isn’t what’s driving Islamophobes.
Providence police say that they will patrol more in the area around the Masjid Al-Kareem, the mosque that received this letter, after the Council on American-Islamic Relations asked for increased protection for local mosques. The letter was postmarked in California, where mosques have been getting almost identical letters, and the handwriting looks similar too. So, I guess this particular letter doesn’t seem to come from Rhode Island. But let’s not be too complacent about that.
This letter’s author, whose idea of being a “patriotic American” doesn’t stop him from taking Hitler as a model, is just showing one form of a viciousness that’s afflicted people in every place and time, in one way or another. You can see how this guy is making his own life miserable, attempting to ride his negativity from behind his mask, hoping to intimidate and trying to keep himself from seeing just how other people are his fellow people. But don’t most or all of us do that in one way or another, a lot of the time?
I feel it’s not enough to just say that this guy is a kook – I want to take some time to appreciate that the ridiculousness which comes through in his letter is something he shares with me and others. Can getting more aware of that inspire me, or him, or more of us, to move on from some of this negativity and develop more of a life instead? That’s important; it’s the way to win. When a nation loses an internal struggle of repression, it’s because you too eagerly pursued the highs in which people are taken down, instead of sharing the open values you can take part in creating.
I’m glad there’s already some room in Rhode Island for understanding, for saying things that make sense, and for the dignity of not needing to tear others down, which are the kinds of things that this letter’s author was trying to keep himself away from. And likewise, there’s already room for these things outside our state too. But the only reason we have some room for these things is because people before us have made them into standards that they hold themselves and others to. And there’s nowhere in the world that has enough room for these things yet. So I’m saying, we haven’t done enough.
Certainly Muslims need our support, and so do people who look like Muslims to those suffering from hate-nurtured ignorance, but this letter helps to show that in the end it’s not only about Muslims. The letter’s author insists, in the most ridiculously extreme way, that Muslims are bad, but after focusing so strenuously on a group that he doesn’t bother understanding, he goes on to say approvingly that the government will “start with” Muslims. Start with, because what hate-infected people are trying to get power for is not really about Muslims at all. Those who say we should name Islam as the enemy would be willing to add more enemies for us later if there was ever a risk of running out.
When people say “it’s us against the Muslims” and discuss who will win, they are asking the wrong question. The question that matters is about what we will do to put more creative and truthful value into our own lives, and to work with other people who are able, in different or similar ways, to do this themselves. Negative feelings toward a group like Muslims are largely or entirely a distraction from that.
It’s well-known that wars are frequently claimed to be a fight for our very survival, or for the freedom of millions, or to keep civilization itself from being destroyed, when the actual effect of the war is much less positive and far more damaging. If we actually were engaged in a war for our very survival, it would still be important to spend some time promoting what’s good in ourselves and others. But we are not in a war for survival itself; we are, just as in most periods of history, in an easier-to-miss struggle about how human we will let ourselves be.
We have to make ourselves, as individuals and as people working with others, into a kind of civilization that a decent person would want to be in. We have to respect what others have to offer toward that goal, even when they may be covering it up with repressive emotions and habits, but we must accept that we may be wrong and that each person must be the prime creative force and source of insight in steering their own life. And that’s how I want to treat the author of this letter.