There was an interesting synchronicity with this week’s question about the congressional hearings on the “radicalization” of Islam. While I was pondering that issue, I was also watching the surveillance camera “viral video” of a woman’s rampage through a store. A person of color, the woman had reacted violently to a clerk’s comment about “you people.”
As much as the backers of the hearings care to explain them away as merely examining a small segment of Islam, the investigation will be seen as targeting “you people” by many Muslims. Especially in an environment in which many think it is still okay to stereotype Muslims, and popular media talking heads continue to regale us with dire warnings about “radical Islam,” it is no surprise that offense has been taken! It is a testament to the overwhelmingly peaceful nature of Muslims among us that there has been no equivalent “sacking of the store” in response to the announcement of these offensive hearings.
Such targeting of one particular religion, ethnicity, or other group usually takes us no place good. Inflammatory speech has been linked with the firebombing of legal clinics, violence against public officials, and the murder of common citizens. Do we not remember the Nativist mobs of the 1800s? The lynch mobs of the past century? Kristallnacht? Perhaps these hearings won’t lead to such depredations, but remember what a little paranoia did to Richard Nixon! And in an age of “viral videos,” 24/7 cable channels, the Internet, and Facebook revolutions, we cannot control how these hearings will be framed, presented, and interpreted around the world.
It probably has not escaped the attention of many Muslims that in America the removal of a Christian flag or a nativity scene from a public space leads to cries of a conspiracy against Christianity. Criticism of Israeli policies leads to howls of anti-Semitism. But singling out a whole religion because of the actions of a few seems not to invite a similar response.
Why were there not congressional hearings about the “radicalization of Christianity” when a pastor in Florida threatened to burn the Qur’an, a church in the Midwest picketed military funerals with hateful slogans, and other Christians have bombed buildings, assassinated quite a few over the years, and wielded considerable political clout to deny rights to fellow citizens and pursue a bellicose foreign policy? Probably because we don’t judge the whole of Christendom by the folly of a few; nor should we Islam.
I have no problem with our professional law enforcement workers’ continuing their good work of “serving and protecting” through their usual investigative and community policing activities. I don’t think they need Congress to stir up animosities and suspicions.
But how about some hearings on the “radicalization of Congress?!” Or maybe of our whole political climate?! I hear rumors of politicians’ gutting our classrooms, destroying workers’ collective bargaining, stripping away the social “safety net,” and denying education to the most vulnerable in society. I have a sneaking suspicion that the radicalization of our own political climate may well do more damage in the long run than any imagined “sleeper cells.”
In the 1950s in my home state of Indiana, at the height of McCarthyism, legislation was proposed in the state legislature to strip any mention of Quakers from school textbooks, lest any impressionable students be influenced toward pacifism in the face of the Red Menace. It was silly legislation, and it didn’t pass. I think the current paranoia about Islam is similarly silly at best. And at worst, it could fuel the fires of those who do claim that America is waging a war against Islam. Toting up the figures in our current and recent expeditions into Muslim countries, they stack up interestingly against the record of Muslim activity in our own country!
“We the people” can do better than this.