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Etan Thomas: Swastikas, Islamaphobia and Basketball

20 September 2010 Huffington Post No Comment Email This Post Email This Post

Recently I was at a basketball camp at HAX Gym in L.A. I happened to notice two little kids, middle school age, practicing on the court next to me. They were putting each other through drills, encouraging each other when one of them missed a shot, or mishandled the ball, or messed up in the drill. They were having a great time. After I finished my workout, my trainer Laron Profit wanted to put me through a series of sprints. I asked the little boys if they wanted to run with me and they enthusiastically agreed. Eyes wide, and full of youthful exuberance, while I was dragging and honestly dreading doing these sprints. Well, we did the sprints and afterwards, they sat around talking with me for a little while, asking me question after question. They asked if I thought the Lakers were going to win again, how good did I think Miami was going to be, who was the toughest to guard, and about five different Kobe Bryant questions. So i started asking them questions about themselves. They told me their names were Steve* and C.J.* (*changed to protect their privacy), they were in middle school and they were best friends. In fact, they emphasized that they were so close that they might as well have been brothers. They told me that they wanted to attend Mira Costa High School together and that they were always going to be best friends forever. After we finished talking, they went back to their drills, and I just watched them encouraging each other and giving each other high fives when one of them scored. It was really a beautiful sight. Oh, I didn’t mention that one was Arabic the other was Jewish.

It was really a beautiful sight watching these little kids from completely different backgrounds who didn’t see race or at all. I really had never seen that, besides at a Seeds Of Peace Camp where Israeli and Palestinian kids are forced to play together — but this was different. These kids kept describing themselves as brothers. But I wondered how long these kids will be able to exist in their happiness before society messes up their thinking? Before society makes them aware of issues that couldn’t be further from their young minds. In essence, before society ruins them.

Later that day, I read a story where a swastika was actually painted on a mural of the first Israeli-born player in the NBA Omri Casspi (now twice defaced). This didn’t happen in Germany, or back in the 50s, this was in downtown Sacramento in 2010. It is unbelievable that acts of hate such as this could happen in this day and age.

I remember after 9/11 there were multiple hate crimes against Muslims and anyone who was perceived as being Muslim as if they are all in agreement with the hijackers in 9/11. Within a few days of the attacks there was an abundance of events.

A Sikh owner of a gas station in Arizona was killed as was a Lebanese clerk at another station. Close to Dallas, Texas, a man murdered a Pakistani man who owned a small grocery store. In Cleveland, Ohio, a man used his Ford Mustang as a weapon and plunged into an Islamic Center. Event after event like these were occurring. Senseless killings and terror. After a while, the hate crimes slowed down, but recently this new crave called Islamaphobia began to bring acts of hate back.

A New York taxi driver Ahmed Sharif was attacked by a passenger after being questioned if he was a Muslim. He was actually stabbed multiple times, slashed across his face, neck and hands.

Islamaphobia was sweeping across the nation. It was making what should have been a time to remember the people who lost their lives during 9/11, into a hate-filled, politicized, discriminatory extravaganza. This was all prompted by the proposed building of a Muslim community center, that has a mosque on one of the floors, near the site of Ground Zero. Not on top of it, but a few blocks away. A recent poll stated that 70% of the country wants this community center built somewhere else. In fact, Donald Trump even offered to buy the Imam who was planning to build the community center out. That made me think of the “welcoming committee” who wanted to buy out the black family in A Raisin In The Sun when they wanted to move into the all-white neighborhood.

There have also been protests and hate-filled rhetoric spewed from the mouths of many political figures across party lines. Unfortunately, that discrimination turns out to be what brings about the non-partisanship that President Obama has been so desperately trying to achieve. A recent poll showed that 54 percent of Democrats were also opposed to the community center being built. Muslims in general have been treated like the enemy across party lines.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said: “We can’t let the Nazis put up a building next to the Holocaust Museum.”

Rudy Giuliani called the community center a “desecration.”

Democratic Rep. John Hall, a two-term incumbent, released in a statement that freedom of religion was essential to democracy but that he hoped the project would be constructed elsewhere.

Democratic Rep. Mike McMahon also said that he hoped it would be moved:

I believe a new location is the right compromise so that Muslim Americans can worship without eliciting feelings that push us away from our country’s basic tenet of religious acceptance while the families of 9/11 victims obtain the peace of mind they deserve.

Stop Islamization of America (SIOA), launched a “Campaign Offensive: Stop the 911 Mosque!” (SIOA ‘s associate director is Robert Spencer, who makes his living writing and speaking about the evils of Islam. SIOA called the community center, the “911 monster mosque.”

Republican New York Congressman Peter King, stated:

… move the mosque to another location similar to what the Carmelite nuns did at Auschwitz when the Pope intervened and didn’t question the right to have the convent there, but said it was very, very insensitive to the Jews who lost so many millions of people in the Holocaust.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R-MN), a potential presidential candidate:

I’m strongly opposed to the idea of putting a mosque anywhere near Ground Zero — I think it’s inappropriate. I believe that 3,000 of our fellow innocent citizens were killed in that area, and some ways from a patriotic standpoint, it’s hallowed ground, it’s sacred ground, and we should respect that. We shouldn’t have images or activities that degrade or disrespect that in any way.

Florida Pastor, Terry Jones, who has received way too much attention in my opinion, actually threatened to burn copies of the Quran on 9/11. What has happened to our society?

After hearing all of this, I thought to myself, do these proponents of this community center and anyone else who agrees with them not understand that not all Muslims are with al Qaeda?

Do they understand that many Muslims (around five dozen) also lost their Muslim family members at Ground Zero? Furthermore, there are more than 1.6 billion Muslims in the world. Does it make any sense to discriminate against all of them for the actions of 19? Or as Michael Moore recently asked in his open letter in favor of the community center being built:

“Blaming a whole group for the actions of just one of that group is anti-American. Timothy was Catholic. Should Oklahoma City prohibit the building of a Catholic Church near the site of the former federal building that McVeigh blew up?”

Of course everyone has the right to protest, don’t get me wrong. Even the Klu Klux Klan has a constitutional right to assemble, march, protest and have rallies of hate. But what message are we sending the world? That it’s OK to blame an entire religion, culture or nationality for the actions of a few? That discrimination is acceptable as long as we can come up with a justification? That someone’s religion should dictate how they are treated? I think Mayor Bloomberg said it best:

The Community Center can and must be built at the Park51 site… Anything less would compromise our commitment to fighting terror with freedom… If we do not practice what we preach abroad- if we do not lead by example — we undermine our soldiers — we undermine our foreign policy objectives and we undermine our national security.

Looking at all of this I thought back to Steve and C.J. Two innocent kids, from completely different backgrounds. Playing a game that can unite races, cultures, nationalities and religions. Best friends. They didn’t enter this world hating those who are different — they appear to be completely color blind. They kept describing each other as brothers. Racism is a learned trait, and these two appear to be completely oblivious to it. But the question is how long will it be before society takes their innocence away from them.

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