My ongoing social experiment with my neighbor Roy keeps on getting more interesting with time. As I wrote previously, our friendship helps me understand how people like him have shaped their attitudes towards Muslims. In a way he is doing the same thing in reverse: trying to understand the gap between what he thinks he knows about Muslims and what he sees in my family.
I recently bumped Roy at the local Whole Foods, and we grabbed a quick coffee together after grocery shopping. After the usual chit-chat, he pulled out his cell phone to show me an item in his inbox: a newsletter about the latest outrages by Islamic extremists from a group called Clarion.
“These guys are doing a great job exposing extremist groups – you should subscribe!” Roy knows my disgust with extremists and was enthusiastic to have found the content he thought we could bond over. “MSM Now Compares Trump Supporters to ISIS Followers” blared the first headline in the newsletter.
As I skimmed over the newsletter (sample headline: “Judge Rules Leader of New Mexico Jihadi Cult Not Fit to Stand Trial”), I wondered whether I should give him the link to this blog. I decided against it, but did the next best thing.
“Vice-President Pence met recently with the head of one of those Islamist groups. Did you know that?” I told Roy without directly answering his question.
“You gotta be kidding me! How on earth does that happen?”
“Well, clearly someone in Pence’s office made a calculation that it was worth it to invite the guy who is in effect Erdogan’s top Islamist in the United States ”
“No way! This has gotta be fake news!”
Now, it was my turn to pull out my cell phone and show him a post on the September 25th Faith-Based Community Safety and Security Symposium held in the White House. Roy couldn’t process the information in his shock at a blow to the MAGA gospel. Then I made my move to respond to his “Clarion call.”
“Roy, groups like Clarion are ineffective. They are great fundraisers and they probably get you all worked up about Islamists. But they aren’t the solution to combating Islamists – in fact they feed the problem.”
“Well, their biggest failure is that that they do not understand American Muslims at all. They are clearly outsiders looking in, and even if some of them mean well in their hearts, they can’t help but write about us as if we are aliens. They are so ideological everything is seen through their intense lens.”
Roy didn’t seem to get it. So I continued.
“Even if you put my concerns as a Muslim aside, what have they actually achieved practically to meet their goal of stopping islamists? They’re just talk and newsletters and videos.”
“Wait now… hold on!”
I interrupted Roy: “I’ve seen their stuff in the past. Their approach has hardly changed in the last decade. Meanwhile, the Islamists have evolved big-time, adapting the language of social justice. They have implanted themselves with leftwing activists, effectively growing their base and building an ideological firewall around them. Clarion’s call just bounces off that firewall. And meanwhile even MAGA hero Mike Pence is hosting Islamists at the White House.”
At this point, Roy’s phone rang. His wife was asking why he was late.
“Listen, pal we have to continue this conversation.” He slapped me on the back and rushed out.
It will take more than one conversation to deconstruct some of Roy’s misconceptions. But real success here isn’t to give him an answer addressing every fear he has picked up along the way, but rather getting him to begin asking the right questions.