A month after University of Montana Saudi Arabian exchange student Abdulaziz Aljama was refused service at the Pickle Barrel March 15, a formal apology was issued by the restaurant.

Well, we’re glad we can put that one behind us.

After weeks of heightened racial tension, when accusations and misinformation were flung all over opinion pages, Internet blogs and Facebook pages, it’s good to know we can finally go back to pretending prejudice and bigotry happen someplace else.

We’re not talking about the Pickle Barrel: We’ll accept the brouhaha was simply a case of mistaken identity blown out of proportion. But the reaction to the reaction is what bothers us.

We recently went to the Pickle Barrel to see what some of the customers and employees thought about the incident now that it’s been formally resolved.

“This was probably pushed by the ACLU and those other die-hard crybabies,” said one customer who skipped lunch at Quizno’s in favor of the Pickle Barrel in a show of support. “No offense toward students, but I think they should have thought before they acted and stood behind the local guy and just got rid of all these foreigners.”

She wasn’t the only one lining up to support the restaurant in the midst of a student-led boycott. According to one Pickle Barrel employee, recent business has been “crazy,” as in busy.

“I think a lot of people who came in just wanted to support us,” he said. “But some people came in for their own reasons, because they think we are racist—or whatever. Which is bad.”

That is bad, but it doesn’t surprise us. Nor does it surprise us that ASUM President Andrea Helling says she received multiple phone messages from critics who said, “Muslims should go home.” And we’re not shocked to read this little gem on one Montana blog: “I didn’t think the admission of Saudi exchange students to the University of Montana would pass without an incident of some kind, but one would think Abdulaziz Aljama could perhaps find a better target than the Pickle Barrel, though for Saudi’s [sic] I suppose we should be grateful they chose the Pickle Barrel rather than the Sears Tower.

The great tragedy here—as the above comments illustrate—is regardless of what really happened on March 15, this incident gave the bigots a chance to come out and play.

“I think this town was looking for an excuse to react to something,” the sandwichmaker observed.

We agree, and it’s not the reaction we would have hoped for.
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