Call me a spoil sport but I’m afraid I have fallen hopelessly behind many other conservatives and Republicans in being sufficiently fearful of Muslims, gays, and Mexicans. For some reason, I just can’t summon the proper amount of outrage at Mexicans who are overrunning the country, Muslims who are trying to convert us, and gays who want to hug us… or something.
It’s not that I haven’t tried. It’s just that my personal experience with these enemies of decent, God-fearing, patriotic Americans hasn’t matched up with the knee shaking, palm sweating, rank stink of fear generated by many conservatives in response to the “threat” these groups represent.
Take Muslims, for instance. It’s hard for me to get too worked up over Sharia creep and Muslim proselytizing when every single Muslim I’ve ever met seemed as bored with their religion as most other Americans are bored with theirs. The Muslim cab drivers I’ve come in contact with have been just as rude, just as clueless about getting me to my destination while running up the meter as any other Sikh, Greek, Russian, Kenyan, or Guatemalan hack out there. I have yet to experience a cab ride where a Muslim driver treated me like a “dhimmi” or demanded I worship Allah.
Nor have I been threatened with beheading upon paying for gasoline purchases at the local Muslim-owned convenience store. In fact, the proprietor (who goes by the name of “Jack”), and I trade good natured insults about religion all the time. He calls me a “Christian dog” and I refer to him as “Osama.” His beautiful teenage daughter sits behind the counter wearing a headscarf and gabs all day on her cellphone, giggling and laughing while the line at the counter grows longer and longer — just like at any other convenience store. When one of his sons works the counter, he can be just as surly and unpleasant as any other clerk in America.
Typical American Muslims? It might be typical of the experiences average Americans have with Muslims. But it doesn’t matter to many conservatives whose fear of Muslims seems to have exploded on to the front pages of American newspapers, shocking many of us with the inexplicable, unreasoning notion that America is in grave danger of being Islamicized. Fighting against “dhimmitude” and making wild accusations of plots to bring Sharia law to America against the will of the Christian majority is now a respectable pastime for pundits and mainstream conservative politicians alike.
Incredibly, there seems to have been an explosion of Koran scholars among conservatives on the internet as well. I don’t know where they all came from or what graduate school would have been so hard up to accept them, but there sure are a lot of frustrated academics on the right who specialize in telling us everything we don’t know about Islam - and were afraid to ask.
Write a piece about Islam or any prominent Muslim and the comments will be filled with do-it-yourself experts on the Koran and Sura, citing chapter and verse where it says that it’s OK to lie for Allah, killing Christians is a blessed act, and the goal of all Muslims is to place their boot on the neck of America. If it wasn’t so pathetically ignorant, it would be amusing. The thought that a couple of million Muslims could impose their will on 150 million Christians is infantile. But that doesn’t stop some on the right from having a cow whenever an American community tries to accommodate the rituals and practices of Islam, or tries to expose kids to the complicated history of Islam and the West.
Being fearful of radical Islam is a good thing. The forced nonchalance on the left in their approach to combating terrorism represents a far greater danger to the republic than the healthy, intelligent recognition of the threat posed by Islamic extremists. Fear, as Ben Franklin noted, focuses the mind wonderfully. It is in that spirit that we acknowledge the extremity of the threat of terrorism, and plan accordingly to counter the jihadists in order to defend ourselves.
But to fear all Muslims is irrational. That hasn’t stopped a growing cadre of conservatives from initiating a campaign to demonize all Muslims everywhere, regardless of whether they are peaceful adherents of Islam or not.
What began after 9/11 as a few internet bigots twisting Islamic teachings to fit a predetermined narrative of violence and misogyny has become a mass movement with recognized leaders and politicians who seek to adopt the rhetoric and tactics of the fear mongers to make political hay. This October profile of Pam Geller in the New York Times pretty much says it all. Along with her sidekick Robert Spencer, a rogue academic whose musings on Islam are rejected by many mainstream Muslim scholars, Geller and Spencer represent an organized effort to deny the religion of Islam parity in American life with Christianity and Judaism.
Any attempt to accommodate Muslims be it foot baths at college campuses or time off for a Muslim holiday is portrayed as caving in to terrorists. The fact that the Muslim population of America is so tiny, and the threat seen by these bigots is so large suggests either a mass delusion or fear mongering for political purposes.
If this fear were confined to the fringes of the right, you might roll your eyes and chalk it up to the polarization and excessive ideology on both sides of the political divide. And if this abject fear were confined to Muslims, it might be thought of as an ideological anomaly, a result of the national trauma of 9/11. But in statements made by some candidates during the mid term campaign, as well as ads run in some districts, it is clear that fear of gays and illegal immigrants — largely Mexicans — have also achieved a kind of nauseating legitimacy on the right that would be shameful if those who are deliberately ratcheting up the fear could feel any shame at all.
The animus directed against illegal immigrants is so over the top that it suggests that many are less concerned with protecting our borders and more concerned with keeping America safe for white folk. There is indeed a racial element to the immigration debate. Just ask most Hispanic Americans. The message being sent by many conservatives is you’re not welcome - even if you’re here legally. Does the right really think that Hispanics voted 2-1 in favor of Democrats this past election because they thought Obama was doing such a fine job? It should tell conservatives something that in the midst of the worst economy in 80 years, with the Hispanic community hard hit by joblessness, that they would see “more of the same” as the lesser of two evils.
As any rational American, I want our laws enforced, the border made secure as much as can be reasonably expected in an open, democratic society, and that something be done about the 10-12 million illegal aliens already here. It’s one of the toughest, most contentious problems we face and we’re not going to solve it by demagoguing the issue in order to appeal to the worst nativist instincts found in the American psyche.
What of those illegals already here? Do we deny them medical care? Do we make their kids stay at home all day by preventing them from going to school? Let’s not forget that American business makes a home for illegals in America by hiring them to do the scut work that Americans refuse to do. We’re not going to pay anyone $14 an hour to pick lettuce so we better get used to the idea of a guest worker program. And while amnesty has been proved to be a terrible idea, some kind of path to citizenship for those who truly want to be Americans has to be found and an orderly means of facilitating legal immigration that doesn’t involve waiting periods of years must be developed.
No easy answers to be sure. But we’re not going to find any answers at all as long as many on the right view Mexicans as criminals, or worse, the cause of unemployment and a drain on government resources. Reasonable people can disagree about the nature of how to approach the illegal immigration problem. But it must be done without the baggage of mindless fear directed toward illegals.
If many on the right are anti-Muslim and fearful of illegal immigrants, the attitude toward gays shown by many conservatives strikes me as being the most irrational. The mixture of sexual politics and religious fervor is a brew that has made otherwise kind, generous, intelligent people on the religious right into crusading bigots, unhinged from reality and filled with an unreasonable fear of what could happen if out of the closet homosexuals were to be considered equal with the heterosexual majority.
The idea that two people in love who want to get married are a threat to anyone or anything - including the institution of marriage which has been under attack by co-habitating heterosexuals for 40 years - is beyond the ken of my understanding. More than 50% of the families in America are “blended” families - products of two or more marriages. Marriage as an institution doesn’t need gays to be under assault. Straight people are doing a fine job at that, thank you with divorce rates that make one question why getting married in the first place is worth the effort.
There is a conservative case for gay marriage. Is there a conservative case for repealing “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell?” DADT is a different issue since it involves our national security and the tiresome efforts of liberals to use the military as a social science lab. Still, if someone is willing to serve, it is hard to make a case that they should be denied the opportunity. I remember similar arguments regarding readiness and combat effectiveness used against allowing women on naval vessels, and African Americans being integrated with white army units. Today, it is impossible to imagine our military without either “experiment.”
Somehow, I don’t think the Joint Chiefs would have signed off on repeal of DADT if they really believed we would lose 250,000 enlistees over the issue, or that it would destroy the esprit d’corps and unit cohesiveness so vital in combat. I’m sure they have their doubts, but I can’t believe them to be such political creatures as to sacrifice the effectiveness of the armed forces.
Apparently, many on the right know better than the JCS. I can’t escape thinking that at least some of this opposition is rank homophobia, in which case it is the right that has the problem, not patriotic gays who wish to serve their country.With polls showing that 67% of Americans support repeal (even 47% of Republicans), it appears that once again, fear is driving many on the right, not logic or reason.
I wish I could say that the fear of Muslims, Mexicans, and gays was confined to a small, grumpy, fanatical fringe of the right. Indeed, I still have enough faith in conservatism to think that the majority is far less hateful, bigoted, and yes, racist than the crazies who fear for Christian America from Muslims, see Mexicans as criminals, and gays as a threat to the American family. But the voices of reaction and hate have bigger microphones, more ink, and occupy a larger space on the internet than those of us who believe their anger and fear are destroying the social fabric of America.
They are wrong. And America suffers because of them.