This past weekend a “rally” was held on the South Steps of the Statehouse aimed at “Protecting Indiana Against Sharia Law” with additional flyers stating “Anti-Islamic Protest in Indianapolis.” The flyer reads “ATTENTION ALL MUSLIMS Avoid the downtown area.” The flyer was forwarded me through a group text message and they were some comments made to one of our friends, telling him it might be a good idea to stay away.
Before I responded to the group here were my initial thoughts:
Wait a MIN-UTE, is this actually happening at the crib?
What do you mean just to be safe?
So we’re telling people who are Muslim or look Muslim (completely idiotic statement) to avoid the area?
My actual response was a lot less eloquent laden with a few expletives as I’ve come to know this sort of fear-begets-fear mindset is backwards. It’s backwards, but this sort of fear is not new, especially in Indiana.
With respect to my alma mater and other state universities, making that first trip to Bloomington for Little 500 is a rite of passage of sorts. Sure, I had made other college visits and ultimately decided to continue my education at Indiana State, but the excitement of finally leaving the nest paired with an unquenchable amount of senioritis made the trip long overdue. We had our makeshift itinerary for the weekend thanks in part to older friends who seemed to be a wreath of knowledge (it’s amazing what a year can do), but what myself and other friends couldn’t account for was the drive down. A bit ominous, but more loaded than anything, this is what I was told:
You gas up here in Indy, and don’t stop until you reach Bloomington.
It wasn’t fear that prompted the comment, more of a humbled sense of awareness from my parents. The statement was loaded in nature, but I had no questions. It just seemed like one of those hand-me-down pieces of knowledge that echoed the sentiment of “what’s understood, doesn’t have to be explained.” More than a decade has passed and the thought is still the same, it’s just something myself and people that look like me accept. This is not meant to be some slight toward the people in the cities and towns along IN-37 from Indianapolis to Bloomington, I know we’ve come a long way as people, but this past weekend reminded of how much further we have to go.
I have a naïve sense of empathy toward people who come of age in somewhat homogenous spaces. It’s not compassion whatsoever, but I can understand how one would come to think the comfortable confines of one’s community is the end-all-be-all. I was born in a space where difference was appreciated; I always gravitated toward people who were different because in my mind that was the best way to grow.
I don’t have Muslim friends, I have friends who happen to be Muslim (there is a difference) and the overwhelming majority of our conversations have nothing to do with the sensationalistic climate so prompted by talking heads. We’re complex human beings with our own ideas, issues and conflicts; these things drive our dialogues, not the misguided rhetoric of a small segment of people.
An excerpt from the Indy Star from June 10th:
“How many Muslims do you know” shouted a counter-protestor from the capitol lawn.
“None!” responded a man in camouflage pants, from the sidewalk. “They have zero
place in this country! If you know a lot of them, you’re on their side.”
If you have no interactions with Muslim people, or only what you see on cable television, I think your opinion is a bit off. It is easy to feel that anger when you haven’t challenged the reasons why you’re angry in the first place. Now more than ever our sense of common humanity is what is most important. We tend to forget these are real people who are impacted by these decisions, these spaces that feel unwelcome. I know how that uneasiness feels in places, but I (we) can’t allow that to be someone else’s experience. It would be easy for me to say, “Just stay away from downtown during the rally,” but I know we are better than our differences suggest.