Chris Powell: Muslims ask to be seen as they are

Being Muslim in America these days may be almost as hard as being a young black 
man -- not quite as hard, since, if they want to, Muslims can conceal their 
religious affiliation. But these days both groups can't escape the hurtful 
stereotypes -- young black men because poverty and crime are so racially 
disproportionate, Muslims because their faith is being hijacked by theocratic 
gangsters whose crimes grow more horrifying by the day. 

Are these stereotypes being taken as license for murder in America? Many blacks 
think so whenever a young black man dies in a confrontation with police. And now 
many Muslims think so because of the murder this month of three Muslim college 
students in Chapel Hill, N.C. The motive of the man charged with the 
atrocity awaits official confirmation. 

At their mosque in Berlin, Conn., last week Muslims from the Hartford area gathered to 
mourn the murdered students and protest the stereotyping, especially as they 
find it perpetuated by television newscasts, where sensation is often the 
objective and where “Islamic” can hardly be spoken without some connection to 

That's not us, the Hartford-area Muslims told their neighbors last week, 
continuing: The world wants to see "moderate" Muslims -- normal people, good 
people wishing only good for others -- so here we are. Take note of us! 

Adherents of most other religions in Connecticut came to the mosque to join the 
Muslims in their mourning and their demand to be seen as they are. 

As this is America, Muslims shouldn't have to protest so that they might be 
considered as individuals any more than young black men should have to. Their 
own blameless lives should be enough to fend off prejudice. They should not have 
to call attention to themselves. 

But if they choose to do so, as the Hartford-area Muslims did last week, they 
can declare that they mean no harm and want to live in a pluralistic and 
democratic society with a government that respects and protects all, as the 
ethnic and religious groups that preceded them here wanted, and thereby oppose 
the gangsters and do the world a service. They also will be astonishing and 
shaming the prejudiced and thus making it easier for their children. 

All ethnic and religious groups that came to America faced prejudice and even 
aggression from some of those who preceded them, though even Jews, most vilified 
of all, may not have had to deal with the defamation that Muslims have faced lately 
because of the hijacking of their religion abroad. 

But then the country's hard-earned precedents of individual liberty and equality 
before the law have never been stronger. Muslims should claim those precedents 
boldly, grant them gladly, and make themselves at home. The universal nation 
will not refuse them. 

* * * 

As improvements on the Metro-North commuter railroad are not happening as fast 
as its riders in Connecticut would like, some state legislators are proposing 
that state government should seek another operator for the part of the railroad 
that serves Connecticut, the tracks long having been state property. 

This would not be practical, since Connecticut's part of the railroad is 
inseparable from New York's part and most of the railroad's commuters move back 
and forth across the state line every day. 

Connecticut has only itself to blame for its dissatisfaction with Metro-North. 
For nobody made the state assign its railroad to a New York state agency when 
the railroad's private operator failed four decades ago. Connecticut simply 
wasn't prepared to take responsibility then, and it still isn't prepared. 

But Connecticut  could  take responsibility for improving 
the railroad by seeking membership on its board and sharing credit for success 
and blame for failure -- if Connecticut's elected officials are ever interested 
in more than being able to blame someone else about the railroad. 

Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.