After last week's incident of anti-Muslim vandalism at the Islamic Society of North America's mosque in Plainfield, I remembered a piece I wrote for NUVO three years ago. In it, I looked back to my childhood growing up in Hendricks County just a few short miles from the site of the mosque. Within the text of that column I made a terribly embarrassing admission that by the time I'd reached my teens I knew every pejorative racial epithet for an Arab or Muslim, but knew nothing of substance about the culture or history of the Islamic world.
I wasn't alone. I'd speculate most of my peers in Hendricks County were equally ignorant. During the early '80s when the mosque was built, the surrounding area was populated almost entirely by white Christians. There was great confusion and some resentment as to why our sleepy suburb was chosen as a spiritual home for a religion we know little of, a religion that was so often portrayed on nightly news broadcasts as an enemy of the American people.
Misinformation and angry rhetoric about the mosque spread with speed, and eventually seeped deep enough into the local culture to become fixture. Throughout my life, encountering suspicious and indignant feelings toward the mosque has been common.
Looking back on that era in Hendricks County, I blame the media, schools, politicians (reminder: Indiana is only one of five states that don't have a hate crime bill on the books) and cultural leaders in the area for not combating the public ignorance head on. And now that I hold a small role in local media I refuse to remain silent and apathetic about anti-Muslim bigotry in my community.
During my own formative years, a chance encounter with the music of Sufi Muslims helped to shield me from absorbing the anti-Islamic sentiments that consumed so many of my peers. For me experiencing the rich beauty of this music weakened the potency of all the erroneous propaganda I'd been fed. With the hope that the views and opinions of other souls can be transformed through exposure to the arts, I've decided to end every edition of my Cultural Manifesto radio program for the reminder of the year with songs from the Islamic world celebrating peace, love and joy,
In the coming weeks and months I'll be playing songs like Ismaël Lô's "Tajabone,” a beautiful meditation on a traditional Senegalese Islamic holiday. I'll be spinning tracks from charismatic Pakistani qawwali singers like Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Abida Parveen. I'll be featuring music from the spellbinding Azerbaijani vocalist Alim Qasimov. I'll be spotlighting the gamut of Islamic musical expression from Indonesian punk rock to Lebanese hip-hop.
While this is a small gesture, I believe it's vitally important right now that we all use the channels at our disposal to speak out against hate and ignorance. The vandalism at the Plainfield mosque is just one of many points of concern for Indiana's Muslim community. Last October a Bloomington man violently attacked a Muslim woman, screaming "white power" as he struggled to tear off her hijab. The execution-style killings of three young Muslims in Fort Wayne have deepened the fear and anxiety of Hoosier Muslims, even though the city's police say religion was not a factor.
If the fear mongering messages of bigoted politicians continue to be the dominant voice on the public discourse of this issue, then in my view it's likely hate crimes against Muslims in the U.S. will increase in frequency and severity. I challenge every person of conscience reading this column to use whatever influence or voice they have to speak out against the rising sentiments of anti-Muslim bigotry in Indiana.
Tune in to 90.1 WFYI this Wednesday evening at 9 to hear the first edition of my new weekly segment titled Songs of Peace, Love and Joy From the Islamic World. Tweet me @djkylelong if you have any requests for this series that I should consider adding to the playlist.