Anti-Muslim backlash in England, but not here

A supporter of the far-right English Defence League gestures at an anti-Muslim rally on May 27 after a British soldier was killed.

Story highlights

  • Dean Obeidallah: Anti-Muslim backlash in England was severe after a soldier was slain
  • In comparison, he says, the backlash in the U.S. after the Boston bombings was minor
  • He says American Muslims denounced the act and other faiths stood with them
  • Also, he says, the melting pot and "out of many, one" make up our identity

Two different terror attacks by two different sets of Islamic extremists in two different democracies. But the difference in people's responses is what's key, and exemplifies why America truly is exceptional.

I'm referring to the bombing in Boston, Massachusetts, on April 15 and the attack on a British soldier on a London street on May 22.

After the Boston attack, which claimed the lives of three people and injured more than 250 others, a minor anti-Muslim backlash was reported. The most notable: A Bangladeshi man in New York City was allegedly beaten and a Muslim woman in Boston was struck in the shoulder and called a terrorist.

And sure the professional Islamophobes, who make their living spewing hate, came out to sell their rancid goods of division and distrust. However, thankfully, and unsurprisingly, Americans weren't buying it.

Dean Obeidallah

But in England, the backlash against British Muslims has been alarming.

Since the terror attack on May 22, there have been 193 anti-Muslim incidents in England, that's 15 times the average number. These hate crimes ranged from vandalizing mosques to pulling off women's headscarves, to threats of violence against Muslims and to minor assaults.

One of the most serious incidents happened Sunday night when three firebombs were thrown at the Grimsby Islamic Cultural Center in Lincolnshire, while worshipers were inside in the mosque. Luckily no one was killed.

According to British media reports, this wave of anti-Muslim fever was not spontaneous. It has been an organized campaign of hate led by the right-wing group English Defence League, which held protests on the streets of London and Newcastle this past weekend.

At its London event, EDL's leader Tommy Robinson told supporters: "They've had their Arab spring. This is time for the English spring." Of course, the terrorists who killed the British soldier were of Nigerian heritage, not Arab. But then again, bigots aren't the brightest, whether they're English or American.

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Obviously, the anti-Muslim attacks and rallies orchestrated by the EDL don't represent mainstream British society. In fact, an anti-racism rally was held in London to counter the EDL's march.

And comedian and actor Russell Brand wrote a heartfelt column for the UK's popular The Sun tabloid, imploring his fellow Brits to remain tolerant and not blame all Muslims for the sins of two madmen.

Another bright spot: At a smaller EDL protest in York, Muslims invited the protesters into their mosque and found some common ground in a properly British way, with tea and cookies and an impromptu game of soccer.

But why didn't we see an angry anti-Muslim backlash in the United States after the Boston bombings killed and injured so many more people?

A few reasons. Not only did the American-Muslim community quickly denounce the Boston bombing, but people of other faiths publicly stood with American-Muslims, including Jewish and Christian leaders in the Boston area.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying all Americans love Muslims. But there's a difference between not feeling too warmly about a minority group and actually advocating discrimination and hatred and committing violence against them.

But the bigger reason we didn't see a backlash like the one in England has to do with who we are as Americans. Our nation's DNA can be found on the words affixed to the seal of the United States of America: "E Pluribus Unum" which means "Out of many, one."

To most Americans, Republicans and Democrats both, these words are more than rhetoric. It's the promise our Founding Fathers offered, to welcome people from all different backgrounds to become one with us as Americans.

America was, and still remains, a melting pot. And since its creation, that melting pot has grown; it has become bigger, more colorful and more vibrant.

Sure, some are troubled by our increasing diversity. We see it in the angry rhetoric from those on the far right toward those who don't look, pray or act like them. And we regrettably see it in the hate crimes perpetrated against people simply because they are different.

We need to look no further than New York City, the "bluest" city in the "bluest state," to see a spike in reports of hate crimes against gays, with 29 so far this year compared with 14 last year. Mark Carson, a gay man, was killed on May 18 while he was walking the streets of Greenwich Village. Carson was murdered simply because of his sexual orientation.

We may never be able to end all hate crimes in a nation of more than 300 million people. But we must remain vigilant in countering the voices of intolerance and hatred.

The reaction to the Boston bombings, in such marked contrast to England's reaction to the killing of the soldier, shows we are on the right path. By staying on this path, we will ensure that the United States remains truly exceptional.

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