Muslims in America — John Nichols in The Nation on the history of the faith in the United States.
Followers of Islam have lived in what is now the United States since before the American Revolution. Like Christians and Jews, Muslims worshiped initially in their homes. But as communities grew, they began to construct mosques. Because so many Muslim immigrants came as farmers, some of the earliest mosques were built in rural communities like Ross, North Dakota.
Historians record that the first structure purposely built as a mosque in the United States was located in Ross, a crossroads town in the northwest corner of the state. In the late 1930s, when a Works Progress Administration field worker arrived in remote Mountrail County, he interviewed Mike Abdullah, a native of Syria, who recalled, “I belonged to the Moslem church in the Old Country the same as I do in this country.”
The original mosque in Ross fell into disrepair and was torn down in the 1970s. A new mosque—built a decade ago at the urging of Sarah Allie Omar Shupe, a member of the community—stands next to the Muslim cemetery, where generations of Syrian-American farmers are buried.
As a young journalist, I wrote a good deal about the rural Muslim and Jewish farm communities of the Midwest. I met the children and grandchildren of those Muslim farmers from the Dakotas, and from eastern Iowa, where the Mother Mosque of America was constructed in 1934 in Cedar Rapids. As a reporter for the Toledo Blade, I came to know Yehia “John” Shousher and other Muslims who built a pioneering mosque in the city’s “Little Syria” neighborhood more than six decades ago. Later, they constructed one of the great mosques in North America, the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo, at which people from dozens of countries proudly celebrate their community’s “equal and vibrant representation of women and the democratic and constitutional processes that the Center diligently follows.”
It is because I have spent so much time in these mosques, because I have for so long known them as part of the fabric of the communities where I have lived, of the regions I love, of an American experiment I have treasured, that I was shaken by Donald Trump’s crude claim that “there’s absolutely no choice” but to monitor mosques, to consider closing some of them, to begin tracking Muslims using “surveillance, including a watch list.”
What Trump is talking about is not public safety or responsible policing. It is broad-sweep stereotyping rooted in ignorance and cruelty. And he is not alone in abandoning basic premises of the commitment to religious freedom that underpins the American experiment. Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz propose to admit Christian refugees but reject Muslims. Ben Carson objects to the notion of a Muslim president and compares Syrian refugees to rabid dogs.
Trump says he wants to make America great again. But he knows nothing of greatness. The measures of what is great and good about America are not found in the crude comments of politicians. They are found in the mosques of Ross and Cedar Rapids and Toledo, and in the stories of the Muslim immigrants who built and cherish them.
Fearful Students — Todd Gitlin in The New York Times on why student protests have made them sound vulnerable.
THE message coming out of recent student protests on college campuses, from Princeton and Yale to the University of Missouri, couldn’t be clearer: Students are rightly pained by the racist and sexual abuse still shockingly common into the 21st century, and for good reason they are indignant that institutions they trust — or wish to trust — fail to stop the culprits, or even to acknowledge publicly the harm they do.
But rumbling under the surface of some recent protests is something besides indignation: an assumption of grave vulnerability. The victims too often present themselves as weak, in need of protection. Administrators are held, like helicopter parents, wholly responsible. To a veteran of movements of the ’60s like myself, this is strikingly strange.
Surely there are reasons to feel vulnerable to abuses of power. There is a rape culture. Black people are killed by the police in grotesque proportions. Hatred of immigrants has reached a high pitch of hysteria and looms large in the thinking of one of our major political parties.
It is also true that many administrators are caught flat-footed; just consider how long it took the University of Missouri to acknowledge longstanding concerns by minority students about campus racism.
And yet, when that recognition came and the president and chancellor resigned, instead of celebrating an extraordinary victory — with football players as their crucial allies — demonstrators blocked photographers from taking pictures of their assembly. They apparently believed that public assemblies ought to be “safe spaces,” meaning, safe from photography, which might have been thought to be useful for bringing the news to a larger public. Their starting assumption was that the press had it in for them.
At Yale, meanwhile, administrators cautioned students about how to dress properly for Halloween, and when another administrator publicly questioned whether this was an issue the administration needed to take a position on, protesters demanded her resignation.
Why such a widespread and bristling feeling of acute vulnerability followed by attacks on those who disagree? Why the lust for “safe spaces”? Why the clamor for “trigger warnings”? (At my own university, Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” came off the syllabus for a required core course after some students objected to Ovid’s accounts of rape.) Why do so many students see themselves as so vulnerable to the slings and arrows of outrageous texts, arguments, comments? Why so fearful?
A pattern is clear: Too many students doubt that their community is, or can be, strong enough to stand up for itself, entertain arguments and strive to persuade opponents. The extremity of their reaction suggests that they lack confidence that reason and values are on their side. They may well resent the fact that, after decades of civil rights reform and feminism, they still have to argue against people who “don’t get it.”
One can only speculate about the forces that drive this crisis, but odds are that we are witnessing a cultural mood that cannot be reduced to political-economic considerations. There’s a generalized anxiety when one has always been supervised, as this generation has. Moreover, students suffer under mountainous debt loads. Professional work is being destabilized. Careers dissolve into serial jobs, or the insecure “gig economy.”
The prospect of gargantuan, destructive climate change must also have young people rattled. It ought to. There are actual apocalypses in the making.
But movements that change the world are the creations of confident people — confident despite their hurt, confident despite their fear. If they don’t start out confident, they learn how to create strong communities and become more so. As leaders test themselves in action, the better ones rise and the lesser ones fade. The militants suffer, yes, but they find ways to learn a broader repertoire of feelings and skills. They can imagine putting an end to their suffering, at least much of it.
The Exhaustion of Explaining — Andy Borowitz.
MINNEAPOLIS (The Borowitz Report)—Many Americans are tired of explaining things to idiots, particularly when the things in question are so painfully obvious, a new poll indicates.
According to the poll, conducted by the University of Minnesota’s Opinion Research Institute, while millions have been vexed for some time by their failure to explain incredibly basic information to dolts, that frustration has now reached a breaking point.
Of the many obvious things that people are sick and tired of trying to get through the skulls of stupid people, the fact that climate change will cause catastrophic habitat destruction and devastating extinctions tops the list, with a majority saying that they will no longer bother trying to explain this to cretins.
Coming in a close second, statistical proof that gun control has reduced gun deaths in countries around the world is something that a significant number of those polled have given up attempting to break down for morons.
Finally, a majority said that trying to make idiots understand why a flag that symbolizes bigotry and hatred has no business flying over a state capitol only makes the person attempting to explain this want to put his or her fist through a wall.
In a result that suggests a dismal future for the practice of explaining things to idiots, an overwhelming number of those polled said that they were considering abandoning such attempts altogether, with a broad majority agreeing with the statement, “This country is exhausting.”
Doonesbury — Sucking up.