Commentary, Park Forest

Hating Muslims: Xenophobia In America

Ibtihaj Muhammad and hating Muslims
Ibtihaj Muhammad as she generally appears in photographs, smiling brightly.

American xenophobia and hating Muslims: the two walk hand-in-hand. And it’s not new.

“A large majority of them can neither read or write, do not understand our language,
and have natural tendencies to live crowded among their own race
and to continue their customs brought with them.

“The time has come when the American people must call a halt” —
and you might think I got this off of Greg’s blog, but let me just finish.
“American people must call a halt to the Italians.”

This was published 1906 in the Baltimore Sun.

9500 Liberty (Full movie here)

This is an article that has been mulling around inside for quite some time.

Xenophobia: “fear or hatred of strangers,” Merriam-Webster tells us.

What if the “stranger” in question is an Olympic athlete, an American citizen, born in New Jersey?

And what if her name is Ibtihaj Muhammad?

And what if she is Muslim?

And what if she wears hijab, in real life and while competing?

And, what if Ms. Muhammad feels unsafe where she lives, in America? What if she was followed home one day, by her own report, and almost reported to the police, not because of anything she said or did, but because of who she is, because of her appearance?

What if that happened to you?

There are some in this country, and some locally, who apparently have no ability to empathize with Ibtihaj Muhammad. And they are quite free and bold with their opinions from behind computer monitors, iPads, smartphones, etc., as I discovered today while participating in a local, public, Facebook thread.

The thread, started by Jo Anne Letourneau, who also moderates a local Park Forest group, Grew Up In Park Forest, seemingly began innocently enough. Jo Anne linked to the story from The Independent with the comment: “Awe…saddest story I have heard all day…”

Was this comment made in empathy for Ms. Muhammad’s position, or was this a thinly-veiled, back-handed, and sarcastic remark that hinted at hating Muslims?

First, some background on Ibtihaj Muhammad, from The Independent:

An American Muslim fencer, who is the country’s first Olympian to wear a hijab, says she does not feel safe in the US due to the country’s increased anti-Muslim rhetoric.

Ibtihaj Muhammad, 30, is currently in Rio de Janeiro preparing to represent the US in sabre fencing. She is ranked eighth in the world and is gearing up for her first Olympics after missing the 2012 London games because of a hand injury.

While much has been reported of concerns over health and safety in the Brazilian city, Muhammad says she feels unsafe in the US.

“[I feel unsafe] all the time. I had someone follow me home from practice and try to report me to police,” she told the Daily Beast. “And this is right on 28th and 7th in New York City.

“I’m very vocal about these things because I want people to know I’m not a novelty, I’m not special in any way. I’m a woman who wears hijab and these are my experiences.”

The tenor of the post soon became obvious once the comments began:

“So that is why she plays with knives like all good muslims [sic]” wrote Josef Schwabl. Ms. Muhammad is a member of the United States of America’s Olympic fencing team.

Here she is making Olympic history on August 8, 2016, in Rio:

That performance wasn’t good enough for these Americans, however.

“then go back to that F^&^% sh*t [edited] hole you came from [sic]” screeched Frank Bertuna, whose Facebook profile sports his face hovering over a Confederate flag.

Again, Ibtihaj Muhammad was born in New Jersey. She is as American as apple pie.

“Renounce your citizenship and leave!” Michael Fisher commanded.

“There aren’t enough “f” words for this…” Jennifer Adams chortled.

“I guess living in the 21st Century instead of the 8th Century is becoming too much for her mind to handle” [sic] Dave Watson complained.

And on and on and on it went.

Jo Anne Letourneau jumped in again: “Sure she would feel much safer in an Islamic Country” [sic].

Michael Potter took her to task: “Born in New Jersey. She has the exact same right to worship as she pleases as you do.”

Jo Anne’s reply? “Jus sayin….” [sic]

Michael Potter: “‘No. You’re not “jus sayin … ‘ you are saying that Americans can practice a religion that YOU approve of. Anyone who doesn’t should leave this country.”

Dave Watson: “You can leave with her”

Michael Potter: “why? Because I believe all people in this nation have the right to practice the religion of their choice without interference? I respectfully suggest that try reading the First amendment to the United States Constitution.”

Jo Anne Letourneau, a short time later: “Was not speaking of her religion…was speaking of her fear in the U.S…who gives a FF? I sure do not!”

I should point out at this point that Jo Anne, who, as I said, moderates an unofficial Park Forest group on Facebook, has often empathized with others who commented on how unsafe they supposedly felt in Park Forest — usually in the comments of a police report posted by us at eNews Park Forest. A robbery or burglary in Park Forest? Someone said they’re now afraid to walk outside in Park Forest?

Jo Anne certainly gave a “FF” then.

Enter Paul Robinson, self-proclaimed expert on Islam: “And isn’t that religion special that will not let Mu$lim [sic] women participate in beach volleyball or swimming events due to showing so much skin. Not to mention the stonings, forced rape, not being allowed to drive or attend school, ad infinitum. GTH out if you are so afraid.”

Why the refusal to write the word “Muslim?”

Jo Anne Letourneau: “Well if she is from Joisey…she must not be afraid of much…lol”

That’s when I entered the fray.

Gary Kopycinski: “Dear God, the xenophobic, anti-Muslim rhetoric you toss around is disgusting, Jo Jo Anne. [sic] What’s next? Go after Catholic nuns for wearing their veils? And why not? Why can you not tolerate your Muslim sisters?”

Jo Anne Letourneau: “The article states she is scared…”

I suppose feeling frightened is some kind of federal crime?

Again, the self-proclaimed expert on Islam, this time also demonstrating refusal to write the word “Islam”:

Paul Robinson: “Sorry Gary 95% of the world’s conflicts today involve Mu$lims [sic] and EVERY mass attack this past year. If you are going to give us the “only 10% are terrorists” argument which I believe to be way low, that’s still 160 million of them that want all those in the West subjugated to I$lam [sic} or dead.”

Gary Kopycinski: “Far less than 1%, Paul. Did you just pull 95% out of thin air! like Faux News? And these would qualify as apostates since they’re obviously violating the tenets of their faith. You know, like the “Christian” man who kille African Americans in a church not long ago, or the “Christians” who have attacked Planned Parenthood or abortion clinics. Or the countless “Christians” arrested for domestic violence, robbery, theft, etc. You know, like them.”

Gary Kopycinski: “And so she’s scared. Wouldn’t you be if you were targeted for WHO YOU ARE, not what you do or say?”

Paul Robinson: “Nice try equating Christianity with a sect that does nothing but burn, rape, and pillage. They have brought nothing positive to the world in 800 years.”

Wow. Talk about hating Muslims.

Use a computer lately, Paul? Guess where the basics of programming come from? A little something known as Al Jabar, invented by Muslims.

You might recognize it better by its common English name: “Algebra.”

And while Christians were busy locking up Galileo, Muslim scholars embraced science, calling the universe the “Cosmic Qur’an.” God created the universe, so study it, learn it, they taught.

There is more. So, so much more. Start here, but follow the footnotes for source material.

Mr. Robinson then sent a link to a blog post which proclaims, “Of The 22 World Conflicts Around The World, 21 are Muslim.”

Honestly, I won’t dignify that with a link here. The blog itself is the last thing on the Internet I would consider authoritative, written by someone who calls himself/herself “CountDrac.”

Yes, you read that correctly. The byline of this post is “CountDrac.”

Then, Mr. Robinson took a strange turn:

Paul Robinson: “Keep your head in the sand Gary. Your’s [sic] will be one of the first ones lopped off.”

Was that a threat? What, exactly, was that supposed to mean?

The truth of the matter is, this entire discussion compounds the evidence that our national dialogue on Islam is in desperate need of an infusion of intelligence, understanding, bridge-building, and empathy. I salute my friends, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim, who are members of the Southwest Interfaith Team (SWIFT), who, in the immediate aftermath of September 11, 2001, decided to begin meeting, to shake hands, to work together.

And guess who started the outreach?

Our Muslim brothers and sisters in Frankfort.

From the SWIFT website:

The origins of SWIFT go back to interaction between two groups: the Tinley Park United Methodist Church … and the American Islamic Association (AIA) of Frankfort. In November of 2002, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, the AIA Sunday School held a food drive and collected a large amount of donated items. These items were dropped off at the Tinley Park Food Pantry hosted by the TPUMC.

This wonderful organization began because a community of Muslims held a food drive during Ramadan in 2002 and decided to donate the food to the Tinley Park Food Pantry. They discovered that the food pantry phone was hostedc by Tinley Park United Methodist Church.

The Pastor of TPUMC at the time, Rev Jim Young, visited the AIA to thank the Muslim community for their donations. he AIA told Reverend Young of their desire to reach out to the surrounding community, specifically the Christian and Jewish places of worship. Young responded that he knew many pastors who wished to extend a hand of friendship and support to the local Muslim communities in the aftermath of September 11th.

The first SWIFT meeting was held at TPUMC in June of 2003 and was attended by AIA, TPUMC, St. Stephen Catholic Church, and Faith United Presbyterian Church of Tinley Park representatives.

Our friends at SWIFT, Christian, Muslim, and Jewish, do the real interfaith work in the South Suburbs. And, frankly, their forums, discussion, meetings, are far more intelligent than my contributions to the aforementioned Facebook thread.

SWIFT shows that real dialogue is possible. Indeed, real interfaith is a long-standing tradition among SWIFT members.

There is so, so much more to life than hating Muslims.

Or, indeed, hating anyone at all.

SWIFT shows that love is possible among people from diverse backgrounds.

Perhaps some from this horrendous Facebook thread will show up at a SWIFT forum some day.

They will be welcomed with open arms, smiles, and love.

And best wishes to Ibtihaj Muhammad during these Olympics, and her future, wherever that may lead.

Love. Is. Possible.


Gary Kopycinski is editor and publisher of eNews Park Forest. Follow him on Twitter at @GaryKopycinski and on Facebook at, or email him at [email protected]. He served as a village trustee in Park Forest from 2003-2006, and then again from 2007-2015. eNews Park Forest, Inc. is an independent media company and is not affiliated with the Village of Park Forest in any way.

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