ABC recently placed actors "undercover" in a Waco, Texas bakery to observe Texans’ reactions to public anti-Islamic discrimination. Not surprisingly, the outcomes ran the gamut from Islamophobic to outstanding personal behavior.
Our actor, Sabina, walked into the bakery in search of apple strudel. When she reached the counter, an actor posing as a sales clerk was quick to greet her with hateful anti-Muslim language.
"Get back on the camel and go back to wherever you came from," he said.
"You got that towel on your head. I don’t know what’s underneath your dress. Just please take your business and go elsewhere with it."
The other customers seemed to hear the exchange but they barely looked toward our actors. When no one came to her defense, Sabina made a direct appeal to one customer.
"Sir, would you mind ordering me an apple strudel? That’s why I am here," Sabina said.
Though visibly shaken by the hateful words, the man gave Sabina the cold shoulder, completed his purchase, and walked out of the bakery. "I really think that a person who owns his own business should be able to say who they sell to," he said after we told him about the experiment.
Legally that debate was settled long ago as part of the civil rights movement; however, in the hearts and minds of many Americans the freedom to discriminate based on arbitrary preferences remains a powerful force.
Which – however offensive personal choices may prove to be – is as it should be. No government can make me like people with red hair if I am phobic about hating them; any attempt to legislatively mandate my love for them is foolish and doomed both to fail and diminish the people’s perception of the government’s authority, moral and otherwise.
That said, Americans are arguably the most blessed people on Earth simply by virtue of the accident of their birthplace. Is it so difficult for us to rise above our fears – fears which are, in truth, partially justified – to treat Muslims as we would want to be treated?
Not for everyone, as ABC demonstrates. In the matter of personal ethics it seems best to error on the side of courtesy rather than rudeness when in doubt. That’s as true as ever, even though violent Islamic attacks on U.S. targets and pictures of Islamic anti-western demonstrations have increased that doubt significantly.
Of course, this courtesy is assumed to be obligatory for all parties, regardless of race, religion, or color – Muslims included. Those who expect westerners to conform to Islamic codes of conduct when in a Muslim nation should return the favor by assimilating peacefully into other countries when abroad.
Failure to do so is the point at which common courtesy ends.