It was fear that drove me to attend the Muslim convention in Hartford on July 7.

In the days and weeks that followed 9/11, we were gripped with incomparable fear. Mothers on soccer sidelines whispered about gas masks on e-Bay. We questioned the efficacy of duct-taped plastic wrap as a household barrier against chemical warfare.

The hysteria has since been quelled, but the fear remains, simmering, and reminders of our vulnerability – a car bomb in Glasgow, Michael Chertoff’s “gut feeling”- are too frequent.

But I fear more than potential acts of terrorism: I fear the angry swell of our own anti-Muslim backlash. I fear the ugly vitriol spewed forth on the Internet, where anonymous commentators unleash torrents of raw hatred. When The Courant reported on the Muslim convention, the reader responses on the paper’s website were so hateful and profane that the editors shut the comment thread down.

I fear for the Pakistani and Indian boys and girls in Glastonbury, who hear other children hiss “terrorist!” as they brush past in school hallways. I fear for the West Hartford teenage Muslim who denies his faith to avoid being bullied. We’ve become a nation that sanctions hate against 1.2 billion fellow inhabitants of the planet – very frightening.

In an effort to confront my fears, I attended the annual convention, which offered a free symposium for non-Muslims.

The speakers were an eclectic mix: A burly Texan praised Allah in his Southern drawl and spat harsh criticism of hypocritical Christians, while Yvonne Ridley, a British journalist who was kidnapped by the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001, spoke about women in Islam. A professor defined “jihad” and asserted that “Islamic terrorism” is as oxymoronic as would be “Christian Nazism.” He denounced radicals who commit violent acts in the name of Allah, and lamented that no one is listening to this Muslim condemnation.

For lunch, non-Muslims were invited to join groups hosted by two Muslims. The unholy trinity of fear, uncertainty and doubt tapped on my shoulder, warning me of a recruitment effort, but I pushed my hesitation aside and got in line.

I joined three college women, a married Congregationalist couple and two middle-aged Catholic women. Our hosts, a Waterbury man and a New Jersey woman, were gracious as we sat down to curried chicken and lentils. The recruitment pitch never came.

What came instead was an inquisition from one of the Catholic women, who demanded of our male host, “You all seem nice, so why are so many of you terrorists?”


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