There were a lot of Jewish Muslims in Times Square on March 6, 2011. There were also a lot of Christian Muslims, Buddhist Muslims, Hindu Muslims, even a few atheist Muslim, armed with nothing but colorful umbrellas and cameras.
Despite the rain, many Muslims and non-Muslims came to the corner of 42nd St. and 7th Ave. to protest the hearings set up by Long Island Congressman Peter King to determine “the extent of the radicalization” of the American Muslim community. While King has defended his much-criticized hearings by insisting that the threat of radicalization in the Muslim community is bigger than that of radicalization in other communities, many, including those at the rally, have said that focusing solely on the American Muslim community is too narrow of an approach to fight radicalization.
As NG, my partner-in-rallying, and I made our way through the 500-some people and their umbrellas (sidenote: we saw two Coach umbrellas- NG: “I’m immediately judging that lady right now…which is not why we’re here today.” Giggles.), we heard a variety of statements about being American and patriotism. There were many statements about Muslims being treated as second-class citizens, America being full of diverse peoples and Islam being a faith of peace. The usual.
What got me thinking was one of those speakers that pauses every sentence to encourage cheering and gradually gets louder so that by the end of the speech, everyone’s basically screaming.
“When it happened to the Irish, it was wrong. (claps here and there). When it happened to the blacks, it was wrong. (strong applause). When it happened to the Jews, it was wrong. (applause and some woot-woots). When it happened to the Chinese, it was wrong! (solid woots and signs waving). When it happened to the Japanese, it was wrong! (staggeringly loud cheers, view blocked because of all the signs/umbrellas waving carelessly). It is happening to the Muslims (wait for it…) and it is WRONG!” (outlandish screams)
And this was even before Russell Simmons showed up.
Is the American Muslim community going through a rite of passage? That’s what I was wondering while yelling and avoiding escaped umbrellas. The Irish, blacks, Jews, all of these people went through a process of moving here and gaining respect from the already-established Americans. The U.S. seems to be an exclusive frat house, with a crazy hazing process. Each time these groups were persecuted, it was wrong, according to our charismatic speaker. But then why did we keep letting it happen?
Because of patriotism. Not patriotism the way it’s supposed to be, but patriotism the way it has been for a while. The patriotism that sent our troops into a never-ending war, the patriotism that makes us determine the “American-ness” of people, the patriotism that produces episodes like this (the patriotism that makes you claim you know Marines that would be willing to kill your constituents). The patriotism of generations past.
The emcee of the rally provided us with a new definition of patriotism, one which I think makes a little more sense: “Patriotism is standing up for your country when it is right, and correcting it when it is wrong.” What is more patriotic than understanding what your country is doing wrong and fixing it? This is the patriotism of my generation (I hope). Otherwise, we’re in for a pretty rough hazing.