There's a type of reported story taking shape this week. It's part of the long-running tradition of near-fiction on the state of American equality.
It involves true but carefully crafted stories that aim to leave readers with a sense of uplift, possibility and national confidence. The stories can be identified quickly because somewhere, up high and out front, they will include a line that says something like this: "I am shocked, appalled and frightened, this month, by the openly anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States. This isn't the America I know."
It has appeared in some form in almost every major publication. It's a concept that has certainly filled some of the endless hours of cable TV commentary and news. It's probably got some kind of trending topic status on social media and an accompanying, almost impossibly clever hashtag. And it's a set of ideas that may well ring true for some individuals.
But it's also one that is inherently gentle in its conspicuously time-limited critique of the country. It's hopeful yet deceptively "real." It is, in many ways, false.
It's true in that same way that some insist that the financial lives and material holdings of Oprah Winfry and Magic Johnson provide a universal manual for black economic uplift in the United States. It's true in the same way that suggestions that all women really need to do to resolve wage inequality is ask for more money and engage in some strong negotiations if their employers don't immediately comply. And, it's true in that way that some Americans — including some people with control of textbooks used in public schools — believe that an accurate telling of American history must include intentionally limited or no mentions at all of slavery, Jim Crow, the fight for women's suffrage, anti-immigrant political movements and so on. It's an assessment of American life that, really, is about as deep as a puddle.
Doubt that? Consider this.
Anti-Muslim attacks have ranked among the most common forms of religiously motivated hate crimes reported in the United States since 2001.
Right now, bias crimes motivated by what the FBI describes as "anti-Arab" sentiment (people attacked or property damaged due to the attacker's belief that the victim is Arab, a representation of Arab culture or has an "Arab appearance") are counted among the 734 hate crimes in the United States directed at white Americans. For the first time in U.S. history, the FBI began collecting data on so-called "anti-Arab" hate crimes in 2015.
Anti-Muslim sentiment — or at least the drive toward group suspicion — is so common that when the New York Times solicited the stories of Muslims about their daily experiences, the results were pretty grim. A collection of comments from people who live or work in the New York City metro area — one of the most diverse in the world and where immigrants and people with different religious traditions have always been present — were striking.
The stories of go-to insults heard at work, regular experiences with perceived suspicion and physical distancing on the subway and the largely misinformed public commentary about the contents of the Islamic faith are all there.
If the data and the stories of ordinary Muslim Americans about their day doesn't convince you, this last bit is worth considering too. The Washington Post's Lena Sun reported on a first-of-its-kind survey of Muslim American doctors.
The survey found that 10 percent of Muslim doctors had patients refuse care because of the doctor's faith. And 14 percent told researchers they had experienced religious discrimination in their workplaces, including from some of their own colleagues. This was a survey conducted in 2013 and 2014. This is a picture of some people's everyday American life.
We won't even remind you the way that the school officials who accused a middle-school student of Sudanese descent of bomb-making are now regarded, by some Americans, as the real victims in that suburban Dallas political conflagration. The student wasn't just called into the principal's office or questioned by teachers or school security. He was placed under arrest.
The point is this: Anti-Muslim sentiment has become a matter worthy of collective reflection and a pronounced part of our national politics at this time not simply because of the anxiety and anger the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino produced. Those feelings and ideas are layered on top of a multi-tier confection of hate, distrust and suspicion that distorts some people's lives and almost always has in the United States.
With that kind of mixture somewhere in the national batter, the probability of creating policies or implementing ideas that will one day make future generations shudder remains high.