In a March 10 letter to The Tampa Tribune, Roberta B. Holstein portrayed clear ignorance of the Muslim community. Her anti-Muslim comments were a reaction to the launch of the new Council on American-Islamic Relations office in Tampa, an organization dedicated to bridging the gap of understanding between Muslim-Americans and the greater community. Unfortunately, her unwarranted fear of newcomers is not uncommon to our nation; it wasn’t that long ago that Catholic and Jewish Americans faced similar bigotry and doubts.
First, Holstein was concerned about the growth of Muslim-Americans in the Tampa Bay area, and her ignorance led her to ”assume that they are emigrating from Middle Eastern countries.” On the contrary, the majority of Muslims in the Bay area are not Middle Eastern; rather, most are African-American and first- generation immigrants from the subcontinents of Asia. Furthermore, most Middle Easterners in Florida are Christian and not Muslim.
Second, Holstein echoed familiar anti-Muslim accusations of not denouncing 9/11 and blaming Muslims for the act itself. Muslim-Americans and their leaders have condemned and continue to publicly condemn 9/11 and other acts of terror. The overwhelming majority of Muslims declared such acts un-Islamic and not sanctioned by the laws of Islam. However, one should not judge a religion by the acts of individuals. How often does one hear people blaming Christianity for the acts of Timothy McVeigh or Adolf Hitler? In the same breath, Muslim-Americans did not blame Judaism for the plot of Robert Goldstein, a local podiatrist who was convicted in a plot to blow up area mosques.
Over the course of history, many religions have fallen victim to violent interpretations, and the texts of all faiths are vulnerable to manipulation and abuse by extremists. Judaism, Christianity, Islam and many other religions share the basic values necessary to create a world where tolerance and peace prevail. We have an opportunity to build bridges between our faiths and challenge those who attempt to repeat history by dividing humanity along religious and ethnic lines.
(The writer is communications director for the Florida office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.)