Anti-Semitism, Islamaphobia, my Sunday routine


The Washington Post today has a nice front page piece about a Starbucks in northern Virginia that’s become a hang-out for North Africans and Somalis.

My Sunday routine, among other stops, includes dropping off and picking up my kids at Sunday school, and a stop at this very Starbucks.

The first time I saw this Starbucksian gathering, when I launched this routine about a decade ago, I recognized it for what it was: Caffeine-fueled Middle Eastern men of a certain age, gossping, putting Heloise to shame with helpful hints.

You see the same phenomenon in Israel, and I’ve seen it in the West Bank, in Egypt, in Turkey.

The contrast between the Sunday school and this easy gathering triggered a "contrast and compare" moment for me.

The Temple is barricaded, staffed with security visible (local cops) and invisible.

It’s always upset me that my children are being raised to associate worship — Judaism, for that matter — with a fortress. AP assigned me a story a few months after the Sept. 11 attacks, asking me to stroll down Pennsylvania Avenue, from its top near George Washington University to the Capitol, and take notes. The one thing that struck me is that while just about everything else was shut down, I was able to wander unhindered into any of the many churches along the way.

Yet there’s no doubt in my mind that the barricades at the Temple are a necessary evil. There have been real attacks on Jewish targets in recent years, resulting in real deaths, in southern California, in Seattle. There have been plans uncovered of such attacks in New York, in Ohio, in Connecticut.

The men at the Arlington Starbucks do not even contemplate such threats as they gather easily every day, or even as they slip away for prayer at local mosques.

Which does not mean they do not face threats. The threats they face have a different cast.

Here’s the Post:

Last year, they rallied together when their hangout was threatened. A new manager told them she didn’t like them there, called the police several times to complain that they were loitering and removed the outdoor chairs so vital to their ritual, the men recalled.

“She’d never been around a community like you see here,” said Rashid ElGataa, an Arlington truck driver from Morocco. “She wanted people to pick up their coffee and leave.”

The regulars collected almost 300 signatures and wrote to corporate headquarters, and five of them — two Somalis and three Moroccans — met with Starbucks officials. A different manager is now in charge.

Stacey Krum, a Starbucks spokeswoman, said she could not comment on whether the old manager was replaced because of the complaints. But “there was definitely misunderstanding and miscommunication,” she said.

“We landed in a good place,” she added. “That store represents so many of our stores, a place where the community can come together.”

Would a Starbucks manager have even contemplated similar actions against Africans, Laotians, Poles — hell, white Americans — who gathered each day and brought them hundreds of dollars in revenue?

Would corporate Starbucks have been as coy about whether it had booted said manager’s butt out of the joint?

Jews, the community’s security experts will tell you, face no greater danger than the lone wolf, the attacker unattached to any known group, practically impossible to trace.

Muslims face institutional barriers, assumptions about Muslim behavior and beliefs that have permeated the American establishment since Sept. 11.

Stupidly, there are folks in each community — and folks in each "pro" community, that is, people who cast themselves as sympathetic either to Muslims or to Jews — who will emphasize one threat while ignoring or diminishing the other.

I’ve seen people like Phil Weiss make a career out of peddling watered down Marxist non-sequiturs: Jews are part of the establishment, the establishment is in the business of oppression, so anti-Semitism, therefore, is not a problem.

I’ve seen pro-Israel types trot out FBI stats about attacks on Jewish buildings, and how they vastly outnumber attacks on Muslim buildings, so anti-Semitism, therefore, is the only problem.

Bigotry is like language: Its syntax and vocabulary vary for each community. Jews still face some institutional barriers — talk to the qualified Jewish applicants turned down for jobs in the nation’s intelligence establishment. Muslims face violence, as vandalized mosques will attest.

But the most dangerous language afflicting Jews in America remains embedded in the careful plans of the lone gunman, the small cell of bombers. And the language most dangerously afflicting Muslims is expressed in the actions of those in authority seized by misbegotten notions of Americanness.

Both languages derive from the same ur-language, the fears we embed in the different, the other. The lone gunman who targets a JCC has been exposed to vile theories about Jewish control; the manager who shuts out the guys smoking strong cigarettes and chattering in guttural tones has been exposed to overwrought fears about Muslim ambitions for control.

If we want to live in an America where sanctuaries  — of camaraderie and of worship and of both — are able to thrive, we need to recognize each bigotry, and the common fears that underlie them.

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