There is certain irony that Jim Scharnagel's letter to the editor of May 13 expressed the same kind of Islamophobia that the conference to which the Imams were traveling on May 6 was seeking to combat.
As a reminder, the letter began by praising a pilot who excluded Muslim Imams from flying to an Islamophobia conference in Charlotte and concluded by calling for the expulsion of all Muslims from the U.S.
First, let's remember that the first wave of Muslims that came to America were Africans brought here to be sold as slaves, such as Abdul Rahman Ibrahima Sori, the subject of a recent documentary titled "Prince Among Slaves." They were not willing immigrants.
Second, what does Mr. Scharnagel propose happen to the legions of black, white or Hispanic Muslims who know of no other country than America? How about boxer Muhammad Ali, singer Everlast, or comedian Dave Chappelle? To where should they be deported?
Third, and most illustrative of irrationality, the letter asks what would have happened had the pilots on Sept. 11 objected to the presence of the hijackers. This flawed logic ignores the central fact that the hijackers were attempting to blend in. The Imams from the May 6 incident, however, were distinct due to their dress or their appearance. Terrorists know where to buy a pair of jeans, a razor and a fake ID.
It would be false comfort to say that the extremist and bigoted views expressed in that letter are isolated. Rather, they are like a cancer that is metastasizing in our society. Indeed, they are un-American.
To suggest that American citizens, no less, should be discriminated against and deported solely because of the religion they practice is counter to the very reason that the Founding Fathers had in mind for the First Amendment.
Thomas Jefferson wrote in his autobiography that the Statute of Virginia for Religions Freedom was written ecumenically so that "within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohammedan (i.e., Muslim), the Hindoo (sic) and Infidel of every denomination" could observe their faiths free from government favoritism or objection.
If we think that Mr. Scharnagel's views are merely "free speech," then we ignore that they have a very real effect on our communities. It is how a 5-year-old pre-kindergarten child from Flowery Branch was told by a classmate that his last name, Mohamed, meant "hate."
Or how another 5-year-old in Duluth who was told last week by a classmate that "Allah is dead." Surely, Arab Christians would be dismayed to hear this news, since the Arabic word for God is Allah, the very God of Abraham, Moses and Jesus.
These children were not born with these views. They learned them at home from adults like us. Are these the values that we aspire to?
In stark contrast to Islamophobia are random acts of kindness that bring out the best in people. A woman wearing a head scarf reported being at a deli counter at a Hall County grocery store when a clerk greeted her with the Islamic greeting of "peace be unto you." Or the North Georgia neighbor who invited a Muslim to move in with him because he feared for his safety post-Sept. 11. Previously, the neighbor was expressing his disdain for Muslims to the neighbor, who hadn't told him that he was a Muslim.
Muslims of Hall County established a mosque in Gainesville in the 1980s. It is open to the public. The best way to dispel irrationality, mistrust and anxiety is to interact with the Muslim community by visiting their houses of worship and their homes.
One will find that the Muslim community is a positive force. Whether they are on the street greeting Charlie Company returning from Afghanistan or feeding Gainesville's homeless, they seek to put their faith into action for the betterment of their society.
The right of extremists to express their views, however, must be enthusiastically defended. We must remember that not only does the First Amendment protect their speech, but it also protects the rights of people of all faiths to practice their religion without government interference.
M. Yusuf Mohamed is an attorney who lives and works in Hall County.