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What can we learn from American Muslims?

This entry was posted on Jul 13 2013

Last year Kemal Argon, a contributor to Huffington Post, wondered What Can The Salem Witch Museum Teach American Muslims? . Yet this spring after the Boston Marathon bombing a few of our staff, reeling with the aftermath of the horrific events so close to home and family, expressed apprehension about discussing religious, cultural, sexual, gender and racial tolerance in our second exhibit.

tolerance-word-cloud-ii

Fear  +  Trigger  = Scapegoat

Our second exhibit Witches Evolving Perceptions looks at the evolution of folklore and stereotypes that lead to scapegoating, especially of those accused of witchcraft in Essex County 1692.  The formula for a witch hunt fits to explain other scapegoating events, for example the McCarthy hearings in the United States in the 1950’s.

Salem 1692

Fear:  God/Devil

Trigger:  Dr. Griggs

Scapegoats:  150 Townspeople

Japanese-American Internment 1942

Fear:  Imperial Japan

Trigger:  Pearl Harbor

Scapegoats:  100,000 +/- Japanese Americans put in internment camps

McCarthyism  ~1950-1956

Fear:  Communism

Trigger:  HUAC / Senator Joseph McCarthy

Scapegoats:  Blacklisted citizens

AIDS Epidemic Outbreak  1980’s

Fear:  Infection

Trigger: HIV/AIDS

Scapegoats:  Gay community

There are many other examples of witch hunting in the United States and elsewhere in the world throughout history.  Using the formula, it could be said that the treatment of law abiding Muslim-Americans as terrorists in a post-9/11 environment certainly follows.

When the Boston Marathon bombing occurred this spring, one unforeseen result was that tourists visiting the city were rerouted elsewhere, including to Salem; the Salem Witch Museum hosted several unscheduled tour groups, even as the Boston police were chasing down the suspects, and most people in the area were single-minded in their concern.   It was a surreal day where citizens of the metro Boston area were unified in prayer of sorts, while political and social tensions were escalating.

A couple members of our staff struggled with discussing tolerance in our second exhibit that day.  While there were those who felt that Muslims as a whole should not be allowed to immigrate to the United States, others believed that this was the precisely the time to hold fast to our commitment to teach the lessons of intolerance.

To address the conflict, staff members researched various media for a broad sample of opinions on the subject of Muslims in America:  some pro, some con.  We realized that this complicated issue brought to mind the very real conflict between our moral ideals and our naturally occurring human fears and prejudices.  Today as much as in 1692.

We found the research and following discussions somewhat unsatisfying, as none of the opinions expressed were coming from the very people whose presence in our midst we were examining.  Museum director, Tina Jordan, reached out to our Education Director Emerita, Alison D’Amario, to help us get a more personal view of the issue.  Alison has taught English  at the Immigrant Learning Center, Malden, MA through which she’s been afforded a genuine  familiarity with – unedited by mass media –  the daily lives and stories of people, including Muslims, who have decided to live in the United States.

. . . . . to be continued. . . . .

In part II, we’ll recap a moving evening of discussion on the topic of the treatment of Muslims in the Boston area after the fateful marathon bombing of this spring.

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