Recently, I have seen a campaign against Delta Airlines because one of its pilots refused to fly two traditionally dressed imams. Airlines officials attempted to reason with the pilot, but he stuck to his position; consequently, the imams were asked to deplane and given a subsequent flight.

Prejudice in America is not new. My own great-grandfather had to change his name when he immigrated from Ireland, because Irish people were the targets; often it's the Jews, it's always been black people; now the Muslims and, of course, "everyone knows Italian-Americans are gangsters" is another prejudice.

It is important for us to notice who, exactly, is generating the prejudicial activity (in the case of the imams, it was not Delta Airlines per se, so it would be unfair to condemn the entire company for the prejudice of one employee). If a special female TSA person has to pat down Muslim women, thereby delaying their flights, I'm not sure why.

It is important to remember that this prejudice relates to fear much more than hatred. I do understand that Americans are afraid of Muslims in general (as irrational as that may seem to Muslims, especially those who dress traditionally), because whenever a terrorist commits a public crime, he or she shouts, "Allahu akbar!" -- the known typical Muslim expression of allegiance to God. So, it is natural for Americans to associate violence with Muslims; not correct, of course, but perhaps understandable. Also, during the 9/11 attacks three airplanes were involved.

And, yes, media typically highlight anyone who stands out spectacularly – generally, for negative actions. A big part of the media’s job is to get ratings not to set a moral tone, although it is pleasant to see them increasingly turn in that direction. We should not ignore the excellent documentary of CNN’s Soledad O’Brien recently – The Muslims Next Door. She has been a marvelous advocate for fair representation of ordinary, law-abiding American Muslims. And media coverage of Osama bin Laden’s death has often included reference to his killing more Muslims than anyone else.

Prejudice against ordinary, law-abiding Muslims is a public relations problem, and I believe it can be turned around, although I don’t in any way assume that I have all the answers. I remember a PR campaign a year or so ago in Canada, in which Muslims initiated a large billboard presence. Muslims from several public service areas were shown – a policeman, nurse, etc. – with the headline ‘Your Neighborhood Muslim’, or something to that affect. A similar campaign built around that theme could help.

Regarding TSA profiling, of which Muslims often complain, we can regularly contact our state and national politicians, especially those in Homeland Security, regarding the profiling. We can also run for office and let our voices be heard more directly. The key is to always be factually reasonable and courteous. Leave the hot emotions out of it, and persevere -- be convinced that we can solve this problem.

Also, more visibility of Muslims as Americans will go a long way. A big presence at Fourth of July celebrations, with other Americans – not separate -- for example, will help. Celebrating Black History month with other black Americans, attending sports matches and other cultural events, then commenting on Facebook and Twitter. You get the picture, I hope.

We should watch mainstream media more, in order to know exactly what journalists are saying, rather than what others say they report. We can Friend influential journalists including news editors and publishers, and the main networks on Facebook so that, when we see something good we can tell them so – show appreciation. On the other hand, when we feel they have gotten it wrong or skewed, we can politely let them know. I utilize these tools regularly, and am developing relationships with several of them because they respect my reasoned comments. We can learn to use Twitter in the same way.

In summary, this is a definite problem, with definite solutions. If we choose to participate in the solutions, we can help turn it around. If not, we can continue to complain. It’s up to us. Regardless of our legal status, we are Americans if we are living here, and we can decide to live as Americans rather than a separate outlier group. As for me, I choose to live as a fellow American, and to help our country work through our problems in any way I can. What is your choice?

 


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