17 April, 2011

Honor the Father

During the 2010 mid-term election campaign, Republicans rarely missed an opportunity to boast of their patriotism and broadcast their devotion to the Constitution. When they regained the majority in the House of Representatives, they began the session by reading an edited version of the Constitution and requiring that any bill introduced stipulate the precise section of the Constitution that supports it. Unfortunately the patriotism of which the Republicans boast and the Constitution they profess to adore, are not the same ones non-ideological Americans honor.

Few Republicans demonstrate the twisted nature of their brand of patriotism and their warped view of the Constitution better the Representative Peter King of New York. In an interview with the Daily News, King denied he was on a witch-hunt and cited recent homegrown plots to bomb the subways and Times Square, saying the threat of terrorism "is now more from within" than from abroad. [http://articles.nydailynews.com/2011-03-07/local/28681172_1_radicalization-witch-hunt-muslim-community] This statement is disturbingly reminiscent of Joe McCarthy who used to ask those summoned before his sub-committee, “Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?”
In contrast to Representative King, Denis McDonough, the White House deputy national security adviser, speaking at a Virginia mosque known for cooperating with the FBI asserted, "We must resolve that, in our determination to protect our nation, we will not stigmatize or demonize entire communities because of the actions of a few," McDonough said. "In the United States of America, we don't practice guilt by association."

Mr. McDonough is right and Representative King is wrong. Unfortunately, as the New Pittsburgh Courier states in a guest editorial of the March 23-29, 2011 edition, “There’s something in the DNA of American culture that is blind to the fact that racism, sexism, homophobia, and all stereotypes persist whenever someone other than a White man does something wrong.” The fact that men professing the Islamic faith crashed planes into American buildings and killed innocent, non-combatant individuals does not justify placing all Americans who profess the same faith under suspicion. It most emphatically does not justify Congressional hearings investigating the purported radicalization of this same subset of the American populace.

If the Republicans are authentically patriotic and genuinely revere the Constitution, they would heed the advice of the Father of the Constitution in this context. James Madison said at least two things that are directly relevant to proper patriotic, Constitutional treatment of American Muslims. First, “Among the features peculiar to the political system of the United States, is the perfect equality of rights which it secures to every religious sect.” Reactionary politicians are famous for both their professed piety and their intolerance of less conventional varieties of religious preference. Despite this predilection on the part of the right wing, the Founder and the Framer’s admonition must be the standard and American Muslims must be accorded “the perfect equality of rights” to which they are entitled by the letter and spirit of the Constitution. Any true patriot would know the thinking behind the Constitution and adhere to it in his use of political authority. It is not sufficient to gain political office. One must reflect credit on the office as well.

Mr. Madison further advises, “Equal laws protecting equal rights the best guarantee of loyalty and love of country.” We forget this at our peril. Representative King is making a mockery of the document and principles he is sworn to preserve, protect, and defend. There is no evidence that American Muslims are in league with terrorists. There is no evidence that American Muslims are disloyal. Such evidence as there is suggests precisely the opposite. The overwhelming majority of American Muslims are loyal citizens who do not sympathize with al-Qaida or its imitators. They would and have denounced terrorists’ plots and actions. More importantly, they are Americans and by solemn bond of Constitutional provision and civic value; they are entitled to full equality before the law and all the privileges and immunities of citizenship. Any infringement of their rights as citizens endangers the rights of us all.

Some may object that James Madison and his contemporaries did not fully implement the lofty principles they so well articulated. This is true. Nonetheless, this merely demonstrates the humanity of the Founders and the Framers. Their glory is not that they said the last word or took the last step for the realization of the American promise; it is that they said and took the first. Considering the utter novelty of their perspective and pronouncements at the time, their failings do nothing to detract from the veracity of their assertions or the nobility of their insights. Rather it is for us, the living, to summon renewed dedication to the great work lying before us. We will betray our heritage and fail in our duty if we allow bigots and mountebanks like Representative King to abuse his official position to harass and hassle our fellow Americans.

Representative King’s selective outrage and aggression against American Muslims is compatible with a nasty streak that has run through Republican politics at least since the late sixties. This is thinly veiled bigotry. The Republicans previously often and Representative King now feel safe in cynically arousing and callously exploiting the tendency of too many White Americans to be unduly fearful of those caricatured as other. Contemporary examples are the deplorable “papers please” law in Arizona, the lunatic obsessions with President Obama’s place of birth and religion, the ravings about Shania Law, and the somewhat more genteel demands for English as an official language. These are ignoble aspects of contemporary culture and both the right wing media and the Republicans exploit them for partisan gain regardless of the poison they inject into the body politic and the rents they tear in the social fabric.

It is instructive to note that Representative King was once a brash and insistent supporter of the Irish Republican Army [IRA]. Three distinct differences between the IRA and the 9-11 Attackers are [1] their professed religious faith, [2] their complexions, and [3] the site of their atrocities. Representative King clings to number three as a justification for his persecution of American Muslims. This is pure fiction, however, because American Muslims did not attack anyone anywhere. Their difference from those Representative King seeks to court are the faith they profess and [often] the hue of their skin. Actions based on differences in creed and complexion are contrary to the spirit of the Constitution and are generally recognized as instances of bigotry.

Despite the sound advice from the Founders and the Framers, America has not been the unblemished citadel of liberty and justice for all we truly ought to be. From slavery for Americans of African ancestry to slaughter of Native Americans, to subordination of female Americans, to internment of Japanese Americans, the bullying of Joe McCarthy and torture under George W. Bush we have often fallen short of our ideals. The errors of the past are no excuse to persist in error during the present. All American citizens have a Constitutional right to freedom of and freedom from religion. Muslim Americans have this right, as do we all.

CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad who wrote to Representative King provides one indication of the stance of Muslim Americans regarding national security –
"The threat of violent extremism to our nation is a profoundly serious issue. We agree with you that political correctness should not interfere in any serious investigation of threats to our nation. However, we do believe that reliable witnesses and verifiable information are crucial to properly evaluating the threat. We therefore respectfully request that you drop Walid Phares* as a witness for your planned hearing and reiterate our request that you meet with national leaders of the American Muslim community to discuss the negative impact your hearings could have on ordinary American Muslims."

These are reasonable remarks and requests by one American citizen to another. They should have been acted upon, but they were ignored. If Representative King were solely concerned about threats to national security and/or domestic tranquility, he would have given Mr. Awad’s statements the response they merited, rather than the silent treatment. Like others before him, Representative King is motivated by other impulses and pursuing other ends.

We must ask – “Where was the investigative frenzy when Timothy McVeigh blew up a federal building in Oklahoma and killed over 100 innocent people including children?” Where was the Congressional outrage when a Christian Fundamentalist killed Dr. George Tiller? Where are the investigations of the Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency that spies on America? The Republicans are silent in these cases because the actors are White. From the reactionary point of view, Tim McVeigh, Christian Fundamentalists, and Mossad agents are not other. Consequently, they are not the objects of investigation.

It is imperative that ordinary Americans step up to their civic responsibilities and demand that Representative King and those who support him cease and desist in this bigoted action toward American Muslims. If we do not do our duty in this regard, we will fail the Republic, our forebears, our children and ourselves. Now is the time to honor the Father of the Constitution and implement his admonition that, “Equal laws protecting equal rights are the best guarantee of loyalty and love of country.” Let us all work together to identify and eliminate all threats and wrongdoing without impugning honorable Americans whatever faith they profess.

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