Despite having a Master’s degree in Political Science, I really don’t like talking about politics. Whether on the internet or during polite small talk with strangers, it always seems to lead to ugly places. But after Jerry Falwell Jr’s statement at Liberty University last week, I feel a strong urge to write a brief blog post about my thoughts.
For the record, I am not going to personally attack Falwell or his policies. I am not going to declaim against Liberty University or Christianity. Why? Because reacting to bigotry with more bigotry is too easy.
On with the show.
For those who don’t know, here are a few of Falwell’s most memorable speech quotes:
“I’ve always thought that if more good people had concealed-carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in and killed them.”
“Let’s teach them a lesson if they ever show up here.”
Mr. Falwell has since clarified that “those Muslims” was a reference to Islamic extremists.
Backpedaling and gun waving aside, the reckless and othering rhetoric he used during his speech terrifies me. It’s indicative of a big problem in America. It frustrates me to to see how some people continue to lump all Muslims into the same boat. Even if Mr. Falwell’s clarification is true, it doesn’t take away from how there are people who will take the bare essence of his words to heart.
I think everyone in the world knows this by now, but Liberty University is in Lynchburg, Virginia. And Lynchburg, Virginia seems to be notorious for one thing: Liberty University.
Here’s a surprise for you…
I grew up in Lynchburg. Despite how it acted as the setting for a turbulent adolescence, Lynchburg is still part of what makes me…well, me. It pains me to see how Lynchburg has once again garnered negative attention because of statements from LU representatives.
Hearing Mr. Falwell’s speech gave me many feels. Here’s just a few:
I think I can be naive sometimes. After all, I like to surround myself with progressive, open minded people from all walks of life. As a result, bigotry is not something I encounter very often.
But when I do, it hits hard. When saw Mr. Falwell’s face on TV last week, I gave him the benefit of the doubt. When I heard his words, my jaw dropped. I couldn’t believe my ears. My hometown was on TV. National news networks played and discussed the clips. I convinced myself it wasn’t happening.
My first exposure to Islamophobia happened when I was in middle school. World history was a mandatory subject; when my class arrived at the Islamic Golden Age unit, my teacher prefaced it with a vile, declamation against Muslims and Arabs.
I didn’t know much about Islam at the time, but it didn’t change the fact that my teacher’s hateful rhetoric bothered me. Thankfully, I heard his words over ten years ago. He was angry. It was after 9/11. Everyone was angry at that time. I assumed that things have come a long way since then.
Surprise! Hearing that same bigotry come from a stakeholder in the local community made my anger bubble up again.
Even at my most cynical, I have a lingering desire to see the good in humanity. I believe in it, even during our darkest hours. My undoubtedly conservative hometown is not immune from these feelings.
Circumstance has brought me back to Lynchburg and I’m currently using it as a landing pad before permanently moving away to a bigger city. Being away from my hometown for years meant that when I returned, I’d have to get used to some changes.
Despite Mr. Falwell’s statement, Lynchburg is not all bad. It is home to a thriving Muslim community. Just last summer, a local elementary school agreed to serve as a community gathering place for worshipers during Ramadan. Liberty University itself offers a comparative religions course, where students visit mosques, learn about the Quran’s history and significance, and engage with Lynchburg’s Muslim community.
I’m not worried about my own safety. I’m worried about the safety of my Muslim friends. I fear that a few reckless words could jeopardize the well-being of thousands of students at Liberty University and in Virginia. I worry that Mr. Falwell’s words are a depressing reflection of broader American attitudes towards gun control and Muslims.
Worst of all, I fear that someone will take Mr. Falwell’s words too seriously…and act on them.