My name is Anthony Frame. I live in Toledo, Ohio. I was raised in a Roman Catholic Church in a city that prides itself on its faith. We are, after all, “Holy Toledo.” I was also raised in a homogenous, nearly all white, all Catholic part of Toledo. But, some of my earliest memories include driving out of town, along I-75, past the mosque, The Islamic Center of Greater Toledo. The center describes itself as magnificent and it certainly is. Architecture is not my passion but it is something I have a great interest in and The Islamic Center is probably the reason why.
As I grew, I was lucky enough to be exposed to many different people of many different ethnicities, faiths and backgrounds. It is one of the reasons I love Toledo. Whether through our many restaurants, our many places of worship, or our many buttressed neighborhoods, it is quite difficult to not find yourself exposed to someone who grew up differently than you. You do, indeed, have to go out of your way to stay within your narrow tribe here in Toledo.
I was a sophomore in college when the planes hit the Twin Towers. I knew little about geo-politics and even less about the specific geo-politics relating to the Middle East. But I had friends. Friends who were Muslim. Friends who were from the Middle East. Friends who were from Palestine. And I saw them change after 9/11. I saw them become quieter, smaller, more invisible. I saw them do everything they could not to attract attention to themselves. I later learned one of my friends, on the day of the attacks, asked another of our friends if she hated her. Because this first friend was Muslim. Because she was from the Middle East. These two friends, the day before, had loved each other like sisters. Now, one worried the other hated her.
That day and the weeks that followed, I heard some of my fellow Toledoans talking about the Middle East. Few of them could pronounce the countries they were condemning. Few of them knew anything about the religion they were condemning. Many of them, I'm sure, had spent their lives avoiding people different from themselves. I felt sorry for them. They would eat at our Middle Eastern restaurants, they would drive past that magnificent mosque, but they would not stop to get to know these warm, loving and welcoming people. They would not sit with them, hear them talk and laugh and dance and sing. Oh, God, how they can dance and sing!
For some reason, I wasn’t afraid for my Muslim friends. Maybe I was too young and too naïve. Maybe I was blinded by the privilege of being in college and of being surrounded by people who stood by and defended my Muslim friends, who stood by and hugged and wept with my Muslim friends in the days after 9/11. I guess I just believed, in America, we didn't have to worry.
I am afraid for my Muslim friends now. Very afraid. The current climate of xenophobia and, more specifically, Islamophobia gives me great reason to be afraid. I read stories of harassment towards Muslims and towards those perceived to be Muslims. I hear stories about violence towards people from the Middle East. Violence perpetrated by adults. Violence perpetrated by children. I watch the television and hear politicians – mainstream politicians – politicians who believe they should hold the highest office in our country – saying Muslims shouldn't be allowed in our country. They say Muslims running from horrors we in America cannot even imagine might be terrorists. They say my friends might be terrorists. They say our screening methods, though the most strident in the world, are not enough. They shout fear and anger and their crowds cheer for that fear and that anger. I'm afraid for my Muslim friends and I have good reason to be afraid for them.
This is not the country I was promised. I grew up being told that this was the land of the free, the land of the brave, the land where all people, no matter their backgrounds, could come together and learn from each other, grow from each other, and build a better, safer, more prosperous world. Instead, we continue to dehumanize people. We continue to condemn people we don't know, people we refuse to know. We continue to blame the actions of a few on all who resemble those few in any tiny, microscopic way.
I have spent plenty of time with people from the Middle East and I can tell you all of the ways they are exactly like you and me. I can tell you all of the wonderful, amazing, enriching ways they are different from you and me. I can tell you all of the amazing things you are missing out on if you are giving in to this fear, this hysteria, this un-American hate.
But I won't tell you that. Because I shouldn't have to tell you that. In the Twenty-First Century, you should already know those things. If you don’t, you can and you should and you need to find that out for yourselves.
Please, stop. Stop filling the airwaves with this hysteria. Stop filling the streets with this violence. Stop filling our children's heads with this hatred.
This is not the country I was promised. This is not the country my Muslim friends, those who moved here and those who were born here, were promised.
Please. We are Americans. We are better than this.