Monday, October 4, 2010

Of Boisean Bosniaks

It's a little strange. This Idaho Statesmen piece about Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks) has been making the rounds--by which I mean, in true scientific fashion, that friends on Facebook and Andrew Sullivan have been linking to it--with a general sentiment of "This is so unexpected and wonderful!"

Which it is, don't get me wrong.


Boise is something of a demographic outlier. It voted Republican in 2008 and is still 94% white, but it is the capital. As the article mentions, it has a well-established Basque presence. It has a strong professional class. It's a hub for refugees, not just Bosnian, but also Iraqi, Burman, and Afghan (and more; I had a college roommate whose family came to Boise after escaping the Rwandan genocide). It has a (mixed company) gay bar. This is par for many urban areas, but compared to the rest of the state it may as well be New York City.

Yet in the actual New York City, of course, people have been driven to distraction over a Muslim community center. And far less cosmopolitan burgs have displayed a similar intolerance. The best explanation I can think of is that Boise is diverse enough to cultivate a sizeable Muslim community, but one that isn't so visible as to be easily demagogued. Also, Vaughan Ward, the Palin-endorsed Republican candidate for Congress who would have most likely attacked the mosque, did not get the nomination.

But enough hand-wringing. Whatever the reason, Boiseans have shown themselves to be more tolerant than New Yorkers. The margin of decency has been eclipsed. This in itself is encouraging, but in the broader context it's the exception that proves a particularly ugly rule.

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