Paris: Here we go again
NEW YORK CITY—Those ignorant of history are condemned to repeat it. A cliché, I know, but never so true as with the irrational reaction to the horrific, ISIS-sponsored acts of terrorism inflicted on the good citizens of Paris, one of the loveliest cities on the planet.
We have seen this before, haven’t we? The destruction of the twin World Trade Center towers unleashed the venom of prejudice against Muslims and really, against the dark foreigner, the Other, rendered a scary monster and scapegoat for all sorts of social ills. This unfortunately is a tradition, as much a part of United States history as the brighter side, that side that makes the country, especially New York City, a vibrant center for all cultures and all races. The United States is a nation of immigrants, white supremacists notwithstanding, bearing the diversity and color of all of humanity, for which Lady Liberty stands as a glorious symbol.
As in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the Paris attacks engendered sentiments and views running the whole gamut, from the sublime to the ridiculous. Once again, the fanatic killers and lovers of hate (and haters of love) are automatically viewed as stand-ins for all those billion-plus souls who profess their beliefs in Islam. Thus, Jeb Bush expressed his view that only Christian refugees be accepted. Donald Trump, he of the big hair and simplistic reality-show mentality, characterized those fleeing war and persecution as Trojan horses—a more erudite comparison perhaps than his depiction of Mexicans as rapists and drug dealers, but demeaning nonetheless.
It’s nothing new, this demonizing of a perceived enemy. It renders easier the task of disposing of the stranger and the unfamiliar, depriving them of their human faces and individuality. Ironically, those ISIS bastard jihadists did exactly what some in the public arena are now advocating in the feverish desire to lash back: robbing their victims, from diverse races and religions, of their humanity.
In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, right-wing extremists urged the government to place Arab Americans in camps, similar to what befell the Japanese-Americans during World War II. Because of Pearl Harbor, their loyalties were questioned simply because of their ethnicity, and just like that their civil liberties were trampled upon. On the West Coast more than 100,000 legal residents and citizens of Japanese lineage were imprisoned in internment camps. The post-9/11 hardliners in a bit of revisionist history said that the government was justified in doing so.
Sad to say, many in the Filipino émigré community voiced the same sentiments then and many are doing so right now, resurrecting such inherently dumb notions that President Obama is really a Muslim. What planet are these people from? But then why should I be surprised? The Oreo mentality sits comfortably with these folks, who imagine themselves to be white but for the color of their skin. Perhaps they choose to ignore the wholesale racist sentiments directed, often violently, towards our Filipino forebears in this country, the manong. Or perhaps they are simply ignorant.
For them, the only good Muslim is a dead one, a sentiment that echoes similar ones expressed against Native Americans in the 19th century, seen as the enemy in order to justify the expansionist drive of white settlers in the West. That same attitude made the overseas trip to the Philippines during the 1899 Philippine-American War, when U.S. Army veterans of the wars against the Native Americans essentially believed that the only good Filipino was a dead Filipino. So too did the racist sentiments against African Americans migrate to Philippine shores: the transference of how blacks were seen now superimposed on brown bodies.
That short phrase has proved of immense utilitarian value and will not likely be retired any time soon. Just fill in the blank with the appropriate target of mindless hate: “The only good ________ is a dead _______.” In the last century, the Holocaust proved to be that belief’s most horrific fulfillment.
We have our own homegrown prejudices, against the Moros and against the Chinese, with the same reflexive views that impute to the whole the sins of a few. Nor is it a question of lack of intelligence, though this can be assumed safely to characterize many of those who follow mob thinking. (This certainly cannot be said for Frankie Sionil Jose, a National Artist for Literature, who has expressed some disturbing views about Filipino Chinese due to the People’s Republic of China’s sea grab. Come off it, Frankie.)
We live in Jackson Heights, a truly diverse neighborhood in one of the most diverse cities in the world. This Queens neighborhood has a significant Muslim community, mainly from South and Southeast Asia. They coexist with Jews, Hindus, Catholics, evangelicals, atheists, Sikhs, Hare Krishna devotees, Buddhist monks, and likely a dozen or more other religious affiliations. There are halal stores, sari shops, coffee shops, eateries that serve spicy fare, from curries to samosas to biryanis. Some long-time residents in our building are Muslim, as ordinary and regular in their habits as anyone else. There is a madrassa down the block, and in an alley a block away, the daily rituals are observed, of Muslims praying while facing in the direction of Mecca.
No member of any of these religious groups is the enemy. The enemy is the fanatic, whether the Islamic jihadist, the bigoted Christian, the fundamentalist Jew, the white supremacist, or any individual intransigent in his or her views that only one, my-way-or-the-highway, worldview matters. We all know some. Take two aspirin and treat them with humor and kindness.
Copyright L.H. Francia 2015
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