I’ve been so saddened and upset by the rancorous, fearful shunning of both Muslims and Mexican immigrants that I hear all around me these days. If only it were just “out there” – in the “gotta-make-a-buck-so-let’s-sensationalize-EVERYTHING media. But alas, people I know – GOOD people, seemingly kind people, often purportedly religious or spiritual people – send me anti-Muslim emails. Or post things on their Facebook pages cheering on the mean-spirited racist law in Arizona targeting Mexicans (really – have you heard of the illegal Polish or Irish immigrants – of whom there are PLENTY – being arrested or harassed?).
I saw an article the other day that compared our current anti-Muslim hysteria to the internment of Japanese-Americans (who were American citizens, as you’ll recall) during World War II. One of my friends was not even aware of this – a part of our history that we’ve shamefacedly downplayed, I suppose. I pointed out to her that in WWII we had two enemies (3, I guess if you count the Fascist regime in Italy). So we locked up American citizens of Japanese descent on the West Coast – fearing a Japanese invasion and their possible collusion. But we did NOT do the same to German-Americans (note: Largest ethnic group in the US = German-Americans) on the East Coast. If there is a reason beyond racism and that it’s easier to “see” that someone is Japanese rather than German, I don’t know it. And I would argue that whatever other reasons are put forward racism and fear were the predominant reasons.
So too with Mexican immigrants. I would argue that here in Chicago Polish illegal immigrants are likely as numerous as Mexican ones. If you’ve had home repair work done or your house cleaned you may have second-hand hired such folks. Or if you work in an office building that gets cleaned at night – those invisible bathroom-cleaning sprites are likely Polish immigrants and I so very doubt that they are all “legal”. But they are white. So they apparently do not pose the same threat to our economic well-being as the brown-skinned people who do our yard work in the middle of the heat of summer or bus our tables when we go out to eat.
With Muslims it gets even more complicated. My friend Bill told me yesterday that he had read that most Arab-Americans are actually Christian. And most Muslims in this country are from India, Pakistan and North Africa (and I would add that I believe there is a growing African-American Muslim community dating back to the time of Malcolm X).
Even if you believe that it was Al Qaeda ONLY who were behind the 9/11 attacks on America (I personally think that is a simplistic, reductionist view, but I recognize it is the majority view), blaming all Muslims for that action is like equating all Irish-Americans or Irish nationals with the IRA. It’s absurd. And racist. And fear-based.
September 12, 2001 I went to Barnes & Noble and bought a copy of the Qur’an/Koran and in that next week I read the whole thing. Since the media was blaming the attack on the ‘violence’ of Islam, I wanted to see for myself. Like the Old Testament, it’s a mixed bag- there is plenty of smiting and a sometimes violent (and to me, at times capricious) God involved. And there are even more reminders to live a good life, to be kind, to be loving. Actually, I think there is way more of the latter in the Qur’an than in the Old Testament.
Reading that holy book in such a charged time brought me a few revelations. The first was quite personal – a deeper understanding of what a total radical Jesus was. What has been said and done in his name has struck me as so often offensive that I don’t think I had a good understanding of how totally revolutionary his message was – not only in the time/place in which it occurred, but now.
The second was a reminder of how “religion” like “patriotism” are both used by the power elite and the media who serve them to corral the public. How wrapping people’s fear in the flag or the cross are used to justify meanness at the least and state-sanctioned terrorism (the Japanese internment being one such example) at the worst.
I understand that people are very fearful now and I understand that without a broader view or strong spiritual underlying principles how that makes sense – the fear.
And when we’re fearful it’s comforting in some primordial way to have someone to blame. Things will be better if only we can eradicate THEM. We don’t look at our own darkness, or our own power – but seek to “make it go away” by blaming the other. And it’s so much easier if the other doesn’t LOOK like us, for then when we hold up the mirror (as we surely must) we can fool ourselves into the “not like me” self-righteous bullshit that so serves the power structure.
For if we really wanted to look at the state of America today it would not be illegal immigrants or Muslims we’d have to call out. And so the true villains – which, perforce includes every single one of us to some degree, and most assuredly includes the power structure – distract us with “Look! over there! there’s the bad guys.”
There was an article this morning on www.cnn.com – that was in response to the obscenity of the Glenn Beck rally yesterday (which I did not read as it seemed an apologia for the right-wing – yes, I should broaden my perspective but at least not before breakfast) but it’s title struck me “U.S. was born a Christian nation”.
I would challenge that writer and others who call themselves Christian. Not on the title – for the U.S. WAS founded precisely because of the strong desire for religious freedom – and it WAS founded by people from the Christian tradition.
But I would ask them to go back and reread THEIR book (and I would suggest a quick read of the Qur’an as well). Who would Jesus shun? Do you think he’d be hanging out with Jan Brewer? Or Mexicans huddled around their family table, after a long day in the fields? Does it seem to you that he would be rallying people to preach hate? Would Jesus hang out with Fred Phelps? Glenn Beck?
Or would he be helping Muslims in Dearborn Michigan?
Where is the “religious” right – where are ANY religious leaders – speaking out on religious freedom? Who is standing for the oppressed? Who is reminding us to “love one another, as my father has loved you?”
With the most recent incident of receiving an anti-Muslim email from a person I know to be good occurred, rather than delete it (or worse, delete her from my life) I chose to write to her. I nabbed a copy of the image of the “Coexist” bumper sticker I love (with symbols of the world’s great religions built into the word). I simply titled my email response “No one religion is “right” or “wrong” – we are all one (and scare tactics —– who benefits??)”
So I ask you today – whatever YOUR religion, or lack thereof – who would Jesus shun? What would Buddha suggest we do about “the Muslim threat” or “illegal immigrants”? And while my knowledge of Judaism is woefully weak, the thing I like most about it, learned from my Jewish friends, is the culture of welcoming strangers into community. Would a truly observant Jew shun her Muslim neighbor? Or invite her in?
Religion is being dressed up to look like the Big Bad Wolf at the door – distracting us from the ‘men in the shadows’ who are wearing Armani suits and don’t live in caves in Pakistan – they live in suburbs of DC – or in your town.
Who benefits from this divisiveness and mean-spiritedness? I can assure you definititively – NOT YOU.