The deadly explosions in Brussels Tuesday morning had some American Muslims and Christians awaking with dismay.
“I’d like to say I was surprised, but I wasn’t,” said Joe Bradford, founder of the Houston-based nonprofit American Muslims Care.
The previous arrests in Belgium of terrorists involved in November’s Paris attacks led many to predict retaliation from Islamic radicals.
And they struck with a vengeance, attacking the airport and a subway station. ISIS claimed responsibility for the explosions that killed at least 30 and injured approximately 230 others.
“I was sad for the people that were affected and a little worried about how we will be affected here,” Bradford said.
His comments echoed the thoughts of Christians and other people of faith concerned that millions of Muslims in the United States and around the world will suffer yet more criticism for the actions of a few terrorists.
Religion News Service reported Tuesday that faith groups in Belgium called for sympathy and prayers for the victims and their families.
Belgium’s Catholic bishops expressed shock and offered prayer for those affected, RNS said.
Pope Francis I issued a statement condemning “blind violence which causes so much suffering,” the Vatican reported.
And the Belgium Muslim Executive said it condemned the attacks “with force and without reservation” and expressed concern for Muslims who would be judged by the acts of a few, according to RNS.
Concern about hostility
While some were condemning the attacks, others spent Tuesday morning working through social media, email and text messages to learn the well being of friends, family and colleagues in and around Brussels.
The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship said that field personnel Janee Angel, who lives and works in Antwerp, was safe.
“Janee has reported that all is well with her and her family,” the Fellowship said in a statement posted online. “She asks for prayers and for all of those affected by the violence and reports that people are in shock over the death and destruction today.”
Butch and Nell Green, who served in Brussels as CBF field personnel from 1997 to 2006, spent hours tracking down Muslim and Christian friends from their home in Texas.
“To all of my Brussels friends, I am checking regularly … which ones of you are marked safe on Facebook,” Nell Green wrote on the social media site shortly after the attacks were reported. “Praying for that beautiful city and her people.”
As the day progressed, Green told Baptist News Global she felt relief as one after the other checked in with her.
“We heard from the pastor of our church there — he posted early in the morning on my Facebook,” Green said. They also confirmed the safety of one their daughter’s best friends.
“There were many others,” she said.
But relief was tempered by worry, Green added.
“My Muslim friends here are worrying that Americans are going to be even more hostile towards them. And things were already heating up in Europe between immigrants and nationals.”
Green said she’s searching for ways to communicate to Americans that all Muslims are not terrorists and in fact are grieving the terrorist acts in Brussels.
“If I respond to them with genuine concern, then I can fully expect they will respond to me that way,” she said. “But if I respond with distrust and anger and stereotyping, then I am giving them permission to do the same.”
Green’s worry that the attacks will fuel further hysteria in the U.S. presidential campaign was echoed by Bradford.
It’s already happened. On Tuesday, Texas Senator and Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz said the government should “patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods,” The New York Times reported.
The comment makes no sense because most Muslims don’t live in clusters but in cities and suburbs among people of other faiths, Bradford said.
“It’s not like 10th-century Jerusalem where everyone was segregated” by religious beliefs, he said.
“The immediate reaction was very un-presidential.”
That kind of rhetoric breeds more hostility, not less, said Mitch Randall, pastor of NorthHaven Church, a CBF congregation in Norman, Okla.
“This event demonstrates why creating a hostile environment sets the stage for unjust responses towards Muslims in this country,” Randall said. “We do not need leaders that are willing to paint with broad strokes of judgment and create toxic atmospheres that lend to reactionary violence towards innocence.”
Bradford said he already senses that atmosphere and expects he and other law-abiding Muslims to be busy as a result.
“I will have a lot more requests to come and explain … ‘why Islam is not like this and why we should not be worried.’”