Hate speech is harming Muslim young people

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Students at Nassau Community Colllege.
Students at Nassau Community Colllege.

We have been hearing some terrifying things about Muslims lately. We were told a few days ago that Islam hates us. The stirring up of anti-Muslim feeling seems like a major preoccupation for some in the political entertainment industry. They don’t seem to care who they hurt.

Last week I delivered two speeches at Nassau Community College to mixed groups of college students. Many were young people just ten months out of high school. Others were older men and women trying to polish their skills. They came from all different ethnic and racial backgrounds, but they all seemed to agree on one thing.  During the question periods and informal luncheon discussions, student after student expressed concerns to me about the vitriolic verbal attacks against Muslims.

Very few of the students I spoke with identified themselves as Muslims. They were, instead, a cross section of 21st Century Long Islanders. But even if not Muslims themselves, they worried about the impact that the new hate speech is having on their Muslim classmates. They also said that the targeting of a religion, like Islam, or of vulnerable groups of Muslims, like Syrian refugees, made other people who were different from the white native-born majority equally liable to be “otherized” by politicians. After all, if it had worked with these groups, it could work with other scapegoats as well.

By the way, it is sad that scapegoating has become so common that political commenters have a word for it. To “otherize” a group is to say that the group is not part of the American people.

The strategy of division, including the denigration of an entire religion, will go on as long as Americans reward outrageousness with votes and political power and TV time. While sophisticated Americans will laugh at the bizarre rhetoric that is on the television every day, Muslim students in our high schools and community colleges will feel marginalized and outcast, even if their non-Muslim classmates are like the sympathetic Nassau Community College students I met. Damage is being done to young men and women, to boys and girls, every day this circus continues. And it will continue if we don’t speak out.


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