Former Islamophobe Opens Up About The Experience That 'Took The Hatred' Out Of Him

"If you hate a Muslim, go get to know one.'"

61-year-old John Dutcher used to be the kind of anti-Muslim white American male that has become something of a stereotype these days. Dutcher's Islamophobia came after the 9/11 attacks, and he used to be "one of those guys who would want to put a pig's head on a mosque," he told The Washington Post"I hated Muslims."

In that area in deeply conservative Omaha, Nebraska, Dutcher, a house cleaner, used to live next to drug addicts and alcoholics. But then six Muslim families moved into the neighborhood in succession, and things changed. Robert Samuels at the Post wrote:

Soon enough, Dutcher said, empty bottles in the hallway were replaced with children's bicycles. The loud arguments of a ­drug-addicted couple were replaced by the sounds of children's laughter. 

Being surrounded by Muslims challenged Dutcher's notions about the religion and its adherents. "After three months of being here — they all have jobs, they all have cars, their kids are going to school," he told the network KETV. With the help of translators, Dutcher got to know about the families, and nowadays, is often the first person their kids go to for help to fix a broken bicycle or the sort.

"They took the hatred out of me," he told KETV, choking up. "I just never knew how badly someone could hate someone they don't even know."

Dutcher voted for Trump in the election, but said that he disagrees with the president's ban on visitors from seven predominantly Muslim countries and halting of the refugee resettlement program. 

As Islamophobia grows in the west and anti-Muslim policies become laws, Muslim Americans have increasingly become a target for hate crimes. Oftentimes, the most virulently Islamophobic people don't personally know any Muslims — like Dutcher, in the past. 

Fatima Shah, a volunteer with Lutheran Family Services, told the network that Dutcher has only one suggestion to people who harbor Islamophobic sentiment. Shah told KETV: "He preaches this to everyone. He said, 'if you hate a Muslim, go get to know one.'"

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