Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Cemeteries, Mosques and Anti-Muslim bigotry

An ugly fact of the human condition is that the negative generalizations that we are so quick to detect and oppose when used against us we often eagerly apply to the other. Few of us completely lack this trait. Witness the ugly bigotry some people have against Muslims. There are four recent incidents which reminded me of these thought patterns. In the first case, former baseball great, born-again Christian, ESPN analyst and proud conservative Curt Schilling approvingly posted and later deleted the meme comparing Muslims to Nazis. He apologized and removed the tweet, but was briefly suspended from ESPN activities. His employer made it clear that Schilling did not speak for ESPN. Unsurprisingly the NY Post defended Schilling as telling "the truth" about Muslims. In the second case a group of apparently low information American citizens in the town of Farmersville, Texas are protesting plans for a "Muslim invasion" of their town. Well, what exactly has these people so up in arms you might ask? Is there some wealthy Arab expatriate sheik who is building a compound for his harem and is going to seize all the town's young women for his own libidinous purposes? Or maybe it's a smooth talking charlatan who is building a secret bomb making and terrorist training facility. When the time is right he'll give the secret radio signal. Every Muslim in Texas will start screaming Allah-u-Akbar and chopping off heads. Perhaps it's just a whole bunch of fiendishly clever Muslim parents who, just for s***s and giggles, intend to have massive numbers of children and so within a few generations take over the United States. The people of Farmersville apparently believe that some of that might be going on but in reality the plan that has them so upset, fearful and blurting out stupid or hateful comments is that some American Muslims, you know, fellow citizens, are planning to build a cemetery. Yes, some people in Texas are so scared of Muslims or hate them so much that even dead ones make them cry for their Mommy

Not to be outdone, some people in my own state, in the city of Sterling Heights, are protesting a planned mosque. Some people opposed to the mosque claim to have and may indeed have no religious or ethnic bias as a motivating factor. But many others are quite clear about their prejudices against and hatred for Muslims. When you say that "these people scare us" or "you should have homeland security investigate these people" or "I don't want to live next to people like this", you don't leave much room for misunderstanding. Finally, in Houston Texas, about thirty or so brave yahoos protested against a pre-kindergarten and kindergarten magnet language immersion school for the horrible crime of teaching Arabic. That'll show those five year old little terrorists in training! Don't mess with Texas!!!

Some Americans hold all Muslims responsible for the actions of a few. They think that Islam itself is wrong and evil. They piously point out that a small percentage of Muslims can do a great deal of harm. They feel justified in hating or distrusting all Muslims. Whether such Muslims are American citizens doesn't matter. The more historically minded among such folk or more likely those who can remember and repeat simple talking points will talk at length about past Muslim atrocities or point today to the savagery of ISIS as an example of the typical Muslim. That's all well and good for what it's worth. I have no interest in defending any form of conquest or imperialism, religiously motivated or otherwise. And if you want to be a bigot, as long as your behavior is not unduly or unlawfully influenced by your bad thoughts, I don't care as much as I used to care. The only problem I have is this. If you are living in the United States or Canada or Argentina or just about any place in the so-called New World you're standing on land which witnessed one of the greatest and most successful genocides in world history. For the past five hundred years people of European descent and primarily Christian belief conquered the word and raped, enslaved or exterminated millions of their fellow human beings. In the United States it's only really in the last fifty years or so that the idea that this might not have been such a nice thing to do has penetrated the mainstream consciousness. And it's still a very controversial concept. The New York Times, hardly a conservative or white nationalist publication, just published a fawning review of Hugh Thomas' World Without End, which is apparently one long apologia for Christian Spain's invasion and genocidal conquest of large swaths of the non-white and non-Christian areas of the planet. It's hard to imagine the NYT doing the same thing for someone who strenuously argued that, sure maybe a few people got hurt, but by and large the Islamic Caliphate's or Ottoman Turk's repeated invasions of Europe were noble attempts to spread civilization.

What's beyond the pale (pun definitely intended) is that people who were victims of all this and/or their descendants should judge all whites or all Christians the same way that others wish to judge all Muslims. So why is that? Why is it that because of 9-11 it's okay to say that Islam itself is the problem or that every single Muslim must immediately be held accountable for anything that one of the other 1,599,999,999 Muslims on the planet says or does? Is it okay for people who have suffered multiple 9-11s for centuries to say that white people are the problem? The racism which pervades the Western world is not something that can be laid at the feet of Islam or Muslims. I am less concerned about being blown up by Al-Qaeda than I am about being shot or beaten by a police officer. Nevertheless I try to judge people on an individual basis. And despite problems I think many Americans still attempt to do the same. Judging every member of a group because of something that a small subgroup did is wrong. Judge people for their own actions. Actually if Christians really want to live up to their teachings they should definitely not be judging people at all or even resisting evil. Good luck trying to get people to live up to that scripture.

Bottom line though, and this is apparently difficult for some people to accept, is that this country has no religious tests for citizenship or political office. Nor should it. And every religious freedom or exception to general law which is won by Christians can also be enjoyed by Muslims, people of other faiths or people of no faith at all. Whether it's Muslims building a cemetery, entering a gun shop, or building a house of worship, Muslim citizens enjoy all the same rights as any other citizen. And well they should. And if you wouldn't tolerate negative generalizations about Jews or Christians, blacks or whites, don't make them about Muslims. 
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