This is what demonizing a population gets you:

At one point, a portion of the crowd menacingly surrounded two Egyptian men who were speaking Arabic and were thought to be Muslims.

"Go home," several shouted from the crowd.

"Get out," others shouted.

In fact, the two men – Joseph Nassralla and Karam El Masry — were not Muslims at all. They turned out to be Egyptian Coptic Christians who work for a California-based Christian satellite TV station called "The Way." Both said they had come to protest the mosque.
It got so bad that police had to come to the rescue of the two Egyptian Copts. Mind you, I don't have a lot of sympathy for anyone involved in this story, from the ignorant non-Arab protesters who consider a mosque to be an insult to the ignorant Arab protesters who consider a mosque to be an insult. One of the charges we have as citizens of a secular, inclusive country is to make room for and tolerate all different beliefs. Notice I didn't say "respect"--I said tolerate. More on that later.

The first thing I thought of when I read this article was "that's what happens when you spend eight years conflating Muslim with Arab." When you have know-nothings like the ones who were in charge until January 2009 constantly saying Muslims are terrorists and yet downplaying the fact that not only are there significant numbers of non-Arab Muslims in the world, but that there's a sizable non-Muslim population in the Middle East, it's no surprise that you'd have an ignorant mob fail to notice that the Egyptians at the protest are on their frigging side. After all, we've seen politicians and pundits argue that anyone who looks like they're of "terrorist descent" (thank you forever, Aaron Magruder, for coming up with that) should be profiled before being allowed to board a plane--why shouldn't the public assume that everyone with a name like Karam isn't ready to blow up a crowd of people? Besides, Idol's on, and the news media's biased anyway.

I wish I had any confidence that anyone involved in this mess would learn a lesson from it, but I don't. I'm cynical today--I'm cynical a lot when it comes to the intersection of religion and politics these days, because we can't seem to get the basics of human interaction down. We're all sharp elbows and hurt feelings and looking for a shortcut to get mad at each other, and religion doesn't help that. The people who are going to get along are going to get along, and if they're religious, they belong to some moderate faith which uses some variant of the "all roads to the same place" metaphor. And the people who are looking to hate on the other are going to hate, and if they're religious, they're going to relate to some version of the "we're right and you're going to hell/should die, infidel" metaphor. Add in a dash of racism and you get what happened in this story--a case of mistaken identity nearly causing a (sort of) fratricide.

There are a lot of things I could rant about here, lessons that could be taken away. The first would be that this is a great example of why profiling is foolish, but no one who matters is going to listen to that one. None of the people in that mob would listen to it. They're the kinds of assholes who carry signs to identify themselves as "A Proud AMERICAN Infidel."

But I want to go back, instead, to what I mentioned in the first paragraph--tolerance. In the past, I've thought that we need to be more than tolerant of other faiths, or other belief systems. I've said that I think we need to respect those systems. Not anymore. I can't do it. I can't respect faiths which treat women as less, which demonize non-believers or different-believers, which preach peace and loving kindness one week and justify war and death the next. I can't respect Islam either (see what I did there?)

But I can tolerate them, because I neither expect nor even desire everyone else to think the way I do. I'm not one of these Pollyanna atheists who thinks the world would be unquestionably better if everyone gave up God, because it's not belief that makes us assholes (though it doesn't help)--the assholes are just assholes. Some of them use religion as an excuse for acting that way, just as some truly wonderful religious people use their religion as a justification for being wonderful (like they need it).

All I ask--all I demand, as a citizen of this nation--is that you tolerate my non-belief, and that you tolerate your neighbor's different belief. You don't have to like it, you don't have to pretend to like it. You just have to tolerate it, just like they have to tolerate you. And that means that if some New York Muslims get all the necessary clearances and permits to put a center up in the general vicinity of the former World Trade Center, and you don't like it, tough. I don't like that the Catholic Church is still allowed to run elementary and junior high schools given their recent record, and I don't like that creationists can open up "museums" that show humans and dinosaurs walking together, but I deal with it. That's the price of the United States. We're diverse. We're secular. Get used to it.

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