Right after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, a dry cleaner's storefront was vandalized and set ablaze in Modesto, Calif. The reason? The business was named "French Cleaners."
The French government took a strong anti-war stance regarding our preemptive invasion of the sovereign nation of Iraq. They said they would not join the "Coalition of the Willing." Republican Congressmen Robert W. Ney and Walter B. Jones, Jr., then rallied to make French Toast and French Fries less "wimpy" and championed new names for the fried fares. "Freedom toast" and "freedom fries" were soon available in the House cafeteria. Ironic, since the French helped us win our freedom from England in the Revolutionary War.
The French Cleaners became a victim of a hate crime because the French were personae non gratae. Enemies of America! You're either with us or against us -- and the French were against us! Of course, the Modesto French Cleaners owner is Pierre Frik, a Middle Eastern man from Lebanon. Frik admitted he thought he might end up a target because he was Middle Eastern, never guessing it would be because the name of his store contained the word "French."
Which leads me to urge the following: Let our paranoia be accompanied by just a little research. No, I'm not promoting some "kumbaya -- stop the hating" message. No "can't we just all get along?" query. No, the economy stinks. No one should be expected to love everybody. We're hurting. Instead, this is a plea to get the hating straight, so at least we have the accurate thing in our crosshairs.
For example: In May, Arizona passed a law banning ethnic studies as part of its pandering to the election year anti-immigrant fervor. Following the "fear of outsiders" theme, the next national news story out of Arizona was about a pair of escaped convicts at-large, John McCluskey and Casslyn Welch. The two were described as "fiancee-cousins." So, which is more of a threat: learning about other cultures, or refusing to marry outside your family? If any state should be teaching multiculturalism, it's the one that launched the phrase "fiancee-cousin" onto America's headlines.
A Pew Poll recently found that 18 percent of Americans think President Barack Obama (who bucked a 20-year trend to have a name that wasn't Bush or Clinton) is a Muslim. The U.S. just spent a trillion dollars "liberating" Muslims in two countries and helping them democratically elect leaders. You'd think we'd all be super pro-Muslim, judging by our national budget. But no, "Muslim" has a negative connotation because of terrorists on 9/11. Christian terrorists have "nothing to do with Christ" -- but Muslim terrorists must be BFF's with everyone of the Islamic faith.
Believing Obama is a Muslim shows how little we understand about actual Muslims. Some have rightfully pointed out that Obama drinks alcohol (remember the Beer Summit?) and eats pork, both of which defy the teachings of Islam.
In reality, Sharia Law, the sacred Law of Islam, is completely opposite of how Obama's knee-jerk critics describe him. "Radical leftist" doesn't fit with being a "secret Muslim." Nor does having an "extremist" Christian preacher like Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Nor does calling yourself a Christian and attending a Christian church. Oh sure, Obama is a sleeper cell: soon, 19 months into his presidency, he's going to decree that girls not go to school and we have to stone adulterers. He's a closet foreigner-tyrant who will make us all bow toward Mecca. So, what's the hold up? Is the bill being stalled in the Senate or what?!
You know what tyrants don't do? Let you call them tyrants.
Of course, Obama's legitimate critics say he has yet to close Guantanamo as promised, and there are still killings of alleged terrorists without trials. Criticizing our elected leaders is part of being American. But using innuendo to try and make our president un-American delegitimizes the whisperer. It lacks logic and, therefore, credibility.
All I'm proposing is this: Ask some follow-up questions before burning in effigy. Are there French people who actually own it? Do we happen to have the same grandparents? What do you mean by "secret Muslim?"
Otherwise, let's all shake our fists until more of us are employed.
Tina Dupuy is an award-winning writer and the editor of FishbowlLA.com. Tina can be reached at email@example.com.