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Two Tales of Islamophobia: The US and Germany

Dirty Jews and Ragheads:
If Modern America Resembles Weimar, the Tea Party Resembles...

By Betsy Rossinsky

I learned I was Jewish the hard way. Soon after my mother died, her ex-husband (my father) took me away to live with him. I was seven at the time.

“You killed Christ,” a pretty little girl named Peggy told me matter of factily on my first day at the new school. Apparently, Peggy’s mother didn’t like the sound of my name when she heard I was joining the second grade class. (She had called our housekeeper to verify her suspicion.)

“I didn’t kill Christ. The Jews killed Christ,” I replied, sure in my knowledge of innocence. My mother was an Episcopalian, who had sent me to Sunday School at the small church right across our street.

“Well, you’re Jewish,” Peggy retorted and marched away to join her friends.

That night I asked my father, “Am I Jewish?”

“Daddy is Jewish,” he said in a gentle voice. “When you’re grown-up you can decide who you want to be.”

He was wrong.

There ensued years of shame and ostracism: “Dirty jew piece of soap moneybags big nose kike.” I got called these names daily, and it always hurt.

I saw Peggy and her cohorts recently in the person of a blustering bigot on CNN, his face red and twisted as an heirloom tomato, sweaty with hate. Tied to the Tea Party, he exhorted viewers to demonstrate at mosques and declared September 11th “International Burn a Qur’an Day”. All terrorists are Muslim, he said – a contention that led Anderson Cooper to blurt, “What about Timothy McVeigh?” Muslims pledge allegiance to a separate state, he replied. But wasn’t that the rap on JFK and the Pope way back when? And of course there was the sophistic argument that Muslims are not Christian, ergo they don’t belong here.

So many of us – blacks, Jews, Japanese, Hispanics, Chinese, any kind of Catholic, you name it – didn’t and probably still don’t “belong here” in this roiling cauldron of a country, at least in the view of the Tea Party crowd and their ilk. I look into the black eyes of the receptionist at my local beauty spa. A fourth-generation Japanese, she says her mother is still traumatized by her time in the camps where Japanese-Americans were rounded up and penned during World War II. “After September 11th, I started to worry about racial profiling,” she tells me. “It happens you know.”

Her worries are well founded. In Dave Eggers’ masterful Zeitoun, he recounts the true story of a Muslim-American family, devastated by Katrina. Only their story had a twist.

The owner of a successful restoration & construction company, Abdulrahman Zeitoun prepared for the hurricane by sending his family to stay with relatives in Baton Rouge while he remained behind to look after their properties. After the levees broke on August 31st, he took the family’s canoe out to explore. Almost instantly, Zeitoun began to rescue people and even pets in need. At night, he kept hearing the howling of nearby dogs. On September 1st, he set out to find them, climbing up a tree and bracing a plank against the second story of a neighbor’s house:

Eggers writes, “He walked through the bedroom he’s arrived in, hearing dogs grow more hysterical. As he strode through the second-floor hallway he saw them: two dogs, a black Labrador and smaller mixed breed, in a cage. They had no food, and their water dish was empty.”

story | by Dr. Radut