I was thinking about racial justice the other day. That’s not weird, I work for a non-profit whose mission includes eliminating racism. I started thinking about Radicalized Patriots, an essay I published when my blog was new. I thought it was pretty good, but only a handful of people ever read it. It’s still timely with our daily news:
Radicalized Patriots – December 10, 2015
Man, people are pissed. I am too. Luckily we have someone to blame. It’s all Obama’s fault. Seven years ago, it was all Bush’s fault. In a little over a year from now, everything will be better. President Trump or President Clinton will fix everything… until they don’t. And then we’ll just blame them.
Refusing to accept blame is the easiest way to solve problems. Kids learn this at an early age. The Family Circus, that saccharine-sweet comic circle in the newspaper clearly highlights the issue. Whenever something goes wrong in Bil Keene’s household, a ghost named “Not Me” can be seen fleeing the room.
Who broke the window? Not Me!
Who cut into the pie? Not Me!
Who killed Freddie Gray? Not Me!
Who started World War Three? We all did!
When I was a kid, my family had a huge, hardback joke book titled Tell me another Joke. The first printing was in 1964, just two years after I was born. I can’t remember a time when Tell me another Joke wasn’t in my childhood home. To some degree, I learned to read from this book. I spent afternoons lying around on the living room floor with my older brothers taking turns reading the jokes. At some point the book disappeared, but forty years later, I remember many of the jokes verbatim.
On a family hike a couple years ago, I rattled off a few of the jokes to my kids. After talking about my childhood book, I did exactly what every middle-aged guy in America would do – I immediately went to eBay and bought it. Many of the jokes are exactly as I remember them – relying on nuance and double-meanings to craft the punchline. What I didn’t remember is that many of the jokes also rely on prejudices against ethnic groups to create the “humor.” The Scottish are cheap. The Irish are drunks. The Jews are greedy. People from India are poor. The Africans are… well never mind.
It’s hard to imagine a book like this being published today. We’ve come so far as a society. We understand now that biases and stereotypes are nonsense. We’ve grown to realize that we can’t categorize an entire population by the actions or beliefs of a few.
That last paragraph is clearly ridiculous, but it’s also partly true. Those age old stereotypes have been banished from polite society, sanitized from our reading lists. So much so that some of our greatest stories have fallen out of favor because they reflect the lingo and the attitudes of the time they were written. Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn is one of the easiest, most annoying examples. A book with the overriding theme of looking beyond stereotypes, judging others based solely on their character, is ironically accused of perpetuating stereotypes.
Fear not. Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, a Christian college with a current enrollment of over 100,000 students, is working hard to keep biased language front and center in America. In his weekly convocation, President Falwell urged his students to get a concealed-carry gun permit “so we can end those Muslims before they walked in and kill us” (whatever that means).
So is Ben Carson: “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.”
And of course, Donald Trump: “I would certainly implement” a database to track U.S. Muslims. He also advocates a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”
More egregious examples include Michele Fiore, a Nevada assembly-woman, offering to shoot the Syrian refugees in the head to put an “end to their miserable life.”
See? People are pissed!
Michele Fiore is cherry-picking. It’s easy to find outrageous state politicians – I’ve even voted for a few. But Trump, Carson and even Falwell? These are national public figures, extremely popular with a large swath of Americans. Based on a recent poll of people likely to vote Republican (roughly half of the adults in the United States) 49% are likely to vote for Trump or Carson for president. This harsh anti-Islamic rhetoric resonates with about a quarter of Americans. We are at war with a Muslim army, therefore we are at war with Islam.
These comments by our “leaders” eerily echo our treatment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. We are lumping our citizens with a foreign threat based on their cultural, national or religious background. As a teen in the seventies, Japanese interment camps were often held up as a low point in American history. Our knee-jerk reaction left over 100,000 of our friends and neighbors illegally incarcerated. Nice! Let’s do it all again so we can give future generations an easy opportunity to prove they are better than us.
Daily, I read news reports about “radicalized Muslims.” The story goes that ISIS “recruits western Muslims to their jihadistic causes” through Internet-based propaganda. Maybe, maybe not. But I’d suggest that Trump, Carson, Falwell, and their ilk are doing more to create a western Muslim groundswell against the United States than ISIS is. With a quarter of the country cheering anti-Islam policy promises and recommendations, how can Muslim-Americans possibly feel like anything but an outsider.
We’ve got a big-ass problem brewing. I can’t possibly see how it will end. Leaders around the world are vowing to “crush” ISIS. But ISIS isn’t a defined country, or necessarily a finite army that can be targeted. The massacre in San Bernardino has shown us that the ISIS of the future may well be a collection of seriously angry people, primarily unconnected, except by an ideal. Many of these people may even have once been living lives similar to mine, or yours. Statements implying that all Muslims are a threat, that all Muslims are dangerous to the United States or to the rest of the world creates more pissed off people. A small percentage of Muslims align with ISIS, but we’re doing our best to egg-on any who might.
Military leaders have historically invoked religion as rallying cry for their cause. It works – if God is on your side, how can things go wrong. Both armies in our own civil war did this. Germany’s Nazis did too. And don’t forget the Ku Klux Klan – they consider themselves Christian knights. Of course ISIS uses the Quran to justify its war, why wouldn’t they. Our politicians use the Bible to justify all sorts of unconstitutional crap. But while many are quick to lump all Muslims together, I don’t hear politicians calling for registries of Christians in response to terroristic threats from neo-Nazis or the KKK.
So, is this World War Three? Who knows. It’s becoming a global conflict with nations banding together to form alliances. Beyond the violence, the terroristic threats and attacks, it’s a war of words, a war of rhetoric. A holy-war, if you will, that is being waged by extremists. And for every line in the sand drawn by “Radicalized Patriots” like Donald Trump, Michele Fiore, or Jerry Falwell, Jr, there will be another American, or European, or Canadian tempted to cross that line, and lash out violently at the hate they feel all around them.
Many of those old, out-of-fashion biases that littered my old joke book have long passed. They are now meaningless and confusing to my children. Those prejudices have largely run their course, and they will get less and less credence as my generation dies off. But now we are creating a whole new set of prejudices. They start with the hate-speech you hear today, and they will ultimately take on a life of their own.
When I was a kid, cartoon representations of the Arab/Muslim world showed a magical place. A place of mystery and beauty. Who wants to be part of the generation that created a whole new set of bigoted prejudices against entire nations and religions? Not Me!
There has been a call for the American Muslim community to speak out against the “Radicalized Jihadists” causing so much violence in the world. I’m making a similar request of the non-Muslim community: speak up now against the harsh rhetoric of our Radicalized Patriots. This may be the only chance we’ll get.