Ever since the St. Cloud City Council declaration passed, naming us a “welcoming community”, people who hate/fear their Muslim/refugee/immigrant neighbors are spitting mad. They are doubling down on their blog posts, their online comments, their in-person rants, and their call-in radio show diatribes. Essentially, our hateful neighbors know they lost a battle in St. Cloud - but, they still believe they can win the war. They are not pouting, taking their kickball, and running home. They are widening their base, attacking anyone who stands up for love and respect, and utilizing the tool that has been used for centuries around the world: dehumanization.
Examples of dehumanization I have personally witnessed in the past couple weeks:
- After a woman ranted about how there is not enough money to take care of “people like him”, my friend Ahmed attempted to explain how many degrees both he and his wife have, where they both work, and just how much money he paid in taxes last year. The woman interrupted him and demanded: “SHOW ME YOUR TAX RETURNS.”
- "Denounce Hamas, RIGHT NOW!" a woman demanded of my friend Jaylani, director of CAIR-MN. This came after a heart wrenching session of hearing from a Japanese-American woman whom our nation put in an internment camp for 3 years during World War II - starting when she was 6 years old. Another Japanese-American panelist - whose parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles were also interned - led us through our country’s path to the decision to intern human beings in their own country (over ⅔ were American citizens) and let us know that the beginning of this process is now being done to Muslims in this country. This woman was unmoved by all of that. She was only there to demand that one Muslim man answer for extremism and terrorist activity around the world.
- "You know what THEY are doing all over MN," a man said to me after the meeting. I asked who he meant by THEY. "I can send you an email list of everything THEY are doing,” he said. I asked him, again, who THEY was."I won't even step foot in MN malls now because of THEM,” he claimed. I asked him if he would go to a concert in Vegas. He was silent.
- A group in town, oxymoronically calling themselves “Peace in St. Cloud”, sends me emails—regularly. The latest one said: “What will happen when the population is 30,000 Sunni Muslims and only 30,000 long term residents ? What will happen to small businesses such as the Camera Shop on 3rd Street? We know you trust Sunni Muslims and certainly most can be trusted but please be careful when you are around the radicalized ones. The radicalization of the Crossroads bomber that was a model student at Apollo High School certainly got a lot of attention around our State as well as the entire Country.” Be careful when you are around the radicalized ones???? Sigh. The Crossroads BOMBER? Interesting. Oh, and, The Camera Shop? It was brought up because my relative owns it.
- A man I don’t know sent me an article that claimed: “The massive inbreeding in Muslim culture may well have done virtually irreversible damage to the Muslim gene pool, including extensive damage to its intelligence, sanity, and health.” Can you see how, if this is something you truly believe, you would think that fear of your Muslim neighbor is easily rationalized?
Unfortunately, I could go on and on here, relaying comments I’ve seen on social media, snippets from blogs I’ve been sent and other e-mails I’ve received, and more stories of in-your-face dehumanizing rhetoric that I’ve seen my neighbors spew at their fellow Central Minnesotans. But, you get the idea. Before you read this blog, you got the idea. You’ve seen it. You witnessed it.
The truth is, every single City Council in Central MN could draft and pass a welcoming declaration like St. Cloud did, and that still wouldn’t fix the problem of neighbors dehumanizing neighbors. This problem isn’t a matter of law, it is a matter of the heart. I know that sound fluffy, but, it is the truth. The only thing we have found that changes people’s hearts for their diverse neighbors is intentional relationships with their diverse neighbors. However, no one will go from thinking all Muslims are mentally ill to striking up a relationship with their Muslim neighbors. It’s going to take people like you and like me, continuing to be loud and proud about our own welcoming spirit, for people to move out of fear or indifference and into real relationships that will change their hearts and lives. We are the bridge. We must speak up. We must stand up. We must lead our lives in such a way that makes it clear to everyone around us in Central MN that ALL ARE WELCOME HERE.
Want to read more about the psychology of dehumanization? This Vox article (https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2017/3/7/14456154/dehumanization-psychology-explained), explaining that “Dehumanization is a mental loophole that lets us harm other people”, tackles the subject of the role dehumanization plays in current anti-Muslim and anti-Mexican sentiments more in depth.