t was easy to see where the bigots were getting their inspiration. Their hate reflected what I saw in the culture around me. In film, on TV, and in newspapers, images of Muslims were uniformly negative. Oil sheiks battling the Bionic Woman. Terrorists blown away by Chuck Norris. Monstrous caricatures of the Ayatollah Khomeini and Moammar Khadafy, who, our schoolteachers told us, wanted all Americans dead.
Years later I was living in New York when terrorists flew airplanes into the World Trade Center, murdering thousands of people. Public spaces were wreathed in notes of support from across the country. Most were solemn and gracious. But there were others. “They had their turn. Now we’ll get ours!’’ screamed one banner, though we didn’t yet know who “they” were. Another poster showed a man in fatigues stomping on a camel. This knee-jerk reaction found its expression in the streets as well. In New York and across the country, mosques and community centers were vandalized. Muslims — and those who “looked like” Muslims — were harassed, even attacked, simply for going about their lives.
But on the heels of this hate came gestures of love and solidarity: peace rallies and interfaith vigils. Reminders from leaders that the terrorists had killed Muslims too. On Sept. 12, when cell service resumed, one of the first calls I received was from my friend and mentor, an old leftist Jew who knew well the sort of discrimination that Muslims would face in the wake of the attacks. “Be careful out there,” he said. “And let me know if you need anything.”》》》》》》