Two of my former advisees and their families attend this mosque

Last night, the New Tampa mosque Daarus Salaam was firebombed. Here are some pictures.

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Thankfully, no one was hurt. A neighboring church immediately offered its premises for Friday prayers and will host a gathering open to all to express solidarity with Muslim Tampans, tonight at 7. If I see an opportunity for donations for repairs, I will post it here. ETA: Here’s a link. I have donated my March charitable budget.

There have been five arson attempts on Florida mosques in recent months.

And last night a troubled man yelled racial slurs, shouted “get out of my country,” and killed Srinivas Kuchibotla and injured two others.

Aside from the fact that I’m extremely angry, I have two observations about this:

First, the briefer, more important one — someone will say, has already said, that guy in Kansas was known to be borderline mentally ill, even his neighbors thought he was a little weird, these are just crazy people doing these things, we can’t do anything about it.

No, I can’t control the actions of people other than myself. However, we must realize that our own attitudes legitimate these things. With the constant, ubiquitous ignorant barrage of “Muslims are dangerous,” “Muslims are terrorists,” “Sharia will destroy our country,” it is hardly surprising that people who even normally occupy at best the edges of rationality slip into criminal behavior — precisely because they think it makes them more normal. Because we made it more normal first. And the more often it happens, the less crazy it seems.

OUR WORDS MAKE THIS BEHAVIOR SEEM OKAY WHETHER OR NOT WE ACTUALLY BOMB A HOUSE OF WORSHIP PERSONALLY.  When we bear false witness against our Muslim neighbors, we become responsible for these crimes.


I could make an argument about how Muslims have been here forever, even in Iowa. Remember Ali Hakim in Oklahoma! — who more or less paid so Will could have enough money to marry Ado Annie? — a Muslim. I could give you a class on the teachings of Islam and we could have a discussion about the logic of reasoning by categories in which we discussed how “Muslim,” “terrorist,” “immigrant,” and “refugee” may overlap are not necessarily the same thing. But honestly, most people I observe saying these things don’t know anything about Islam or Muslims, and they don’t want to know.

But you know, I don’t need to do that. I think everyone’s life would be improved by knowing more about the world, but when it comes right down to it, I shouldn’t have to convince you, because none of that is required for coexistence. As Jean Bodin pointed out in the sixteenth century — so we’re talking 450 years ago, not exactly rocket science here in terms of argumentation — for toleration to work all we have to do is not threaten or kill the people of other faiths around. We don’t have to love them, we don’t have to agree with them — all we have to do is not kill them or set fire to their houses of worship.

I don’t get why this is suddenly so difficult. But don’t tell me, well, I certainly would never set fire to mosques. I didn’t light that fire. Every time we gossip about how dangerous Islam is we are putting the matches in someone’s else’s pocket who is a little more labile than we are.

Second, the longer one.

About the third apartment I rented in Göttingen, about 1995 — I was starting to feel more comfortable in Germany and I put a very small, unobtrusive mezuzah on my door. I rented from a kind of (as it seemed to me at the time) zany (in a good way) old lady. I’d see her zooming around the city from time to time on her Vespa, in her leather jacket, and the apartment had been recommended to me by a fellow researcher in the theological faculty.

At some point when she came by to collect the rent, she asked me what I’d put on the door and I explained.

Immediately (and this is a rare experience today, but it wasn’t in the 1980s and 90s; I know many others who have had this experience) a litany of apologetics came out. “Yes, there were Jewish girls in my school, but they said they moved away, we just didn’t see them anymore, you have to understand, yes, I joined the BDM [NAZI girls’ organization], but it was fun, we went hiking and sang songs. We noticed they were gone but that was it, no one really noticed the rest of it.”

I didn’t know what to say so I didn’t say anything. She didn’t need my absolution anyway; my family didn’t flee Germany in the 1930s. Arguably, she’d already absolved herself and I was just an embarrassing presence. Also, given her age, she really was a girl in the 30s so it’s not like she could have done anything.

But the thing that drove me crazy about what she said?

“No one really noticed the rest of it.”

(This was objectively false, incidentally.)

I think this is a thing we say. “Oh, that protest that I could have attended? I didn’t realize. Oh, those people were harmed? I didn’t see that. We didn’t really notice.”


~ by Servetus on February 24, 2017.

18 Responses to “Two of my former advisees and their families attend this mosque”

  1. Both things are terrible, and I feel for the victims.

    And yes, this becomes possible by too many people paving the ground for it, making it maybe not acceptable, but just an outgrowth of behaviour that in itself is unacceptable if you look closely at it.


    • I think it’s always a hard case to differentiate because I like many would argue that a certain amount of harm results from living in modern society, just statistically speaking (and in fact this is one of my arguments for why we should not be worried about refugees — because in fact they cause less harm than things we tolerate as a matter of course in the U.S.: gun violence, or drunken driving).

      So on the one hand, I’m willing to say, unacceptable behavior but the man is crazy but the question is always, why is the crazy person choosing this particular expression for his illness and the answer to that is pretty unambiguous.


  2. All that not-so-subtle marginalisation and discrimination has got to stop. And thanks for bringing it to our notice, too!


  3. There’s been a level of idiocy up in Canada as well. A group, a small one, had an anti-Muslim protest. The response to between counter protests and notes of support dwarfs the stupid.


  4. If anyone would like to support the New Tampa mosque, a campaign has been set up to benefit them here:


  5. No no no no!!!!!! I have no words to describe how awful I find this and how this escalation of hatred against Muslims frightens me (in my own country as well)… Before we know it, we’ll have another Kristallnacht…


    • There are forces in this country that seem to have that as their goal. (I haven’t been writing about it, but threats to synagogues and Jewish Community Centers are off the map at the moment — seems like there is a new wave of them every day. Both synagogues and mosques are responding by inviting people to come and visit, but I think the people making the threats are uninterested in that possibility).


  6. I see the rationalization of this as mental illness has begun. Not really surprising.


  7. The percentage of hate group members in this country have increased unbelievably and it is not just the ones being singled out now that we need to worry about. Hatred has a way of growing and shifting to others. When will it change to those who have simply different color eyes or hair? Or go to a certain type of school? It is poison and it never stops. That is why it has to be protested against, petitions signed or anything else one can do. Frankly, I don’t want to be on the list simply because I think differently than they do. ( which is probably already noted..haha)


    • yes, I’m sure I’m on a list somewhere as well. This weekend’s revelations about the detention of Henry Rousso — well, he’s a person in my world, and I spoke out about it, a lot.


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