Bigotry among Christian Conservatives
I’m usually very patient talking with people I do not agree with. However there are two kinds of people and talk I have less patience for – bigots and liars. Recently I was handed a brochure that just pissed me off.
It was published by a conservative group that claims it follows conservative Christian principles. I have no problem with that. Most conservative Christians are following their core beliefs. My problem with this group is that it is now publishing what I can only describe as hate literature. That I cannot abide. The org, Concerned Women for America (CWA), was formed and is run by a well-known Christian conservative, Beverley LaHaye. Its original purpose was anti-abortion (one of these days I’ll post about why I do not consider most of these people to be, as they call themselves, pro-life), but it has diversified.
I was handed this brochure at a session of a five-part series on Islam by a man who has been harassing local people with anti-Muslim literature and opinion. The brochure is entitled “Sharia Law: A Threat to America as We Know It.” It relies on quotes from several conservative pundits including former Speaker of The House Newt Gingrich. It strikes me as the height of irony for Gingrich to be speaking out on behalf of women considering his personal history, but let’s put that aside.
This brochure makes no distinction whatever between Islamism (the Muslim extremism represented by the Wahhabi and Salafi movements). Of course, most likely, these people think they are the only real Christians, so it is understandable that they equate all of Islam with its fundamentalist extremists. That is a big lie. Islamic extremists represent only a small percentage of the world’s Muslims and an even tinier percentage of American Muslims.
It cites conditions in Saudi Arabia, which is unique among Muslim states, for its repressive form of Islam. One of the speakers at our program was asked which Muslim nations most truly reflect Muslim tradition in practice. She answered, “none of the Arab states,” and named the nation with the most Muslims, Indonesia, as the best in these terms. The CWA brochure makes no distinctions and cites the worst case as a general description of Islam in practice.
Their complaint about Sharia is that it is not a faith but a way of life encompassing every area of life. To a Jew this is a very nasty implication. Judaism is a way of life whose laws and teachings cover every aspect of human experience. There are many civil laws involved but the principle for us is “The Law of The Land is the law.” The same principle applies to normative Islam. Muslims living in a non-Muslim state are obligated to live by the laws of that state in all civil matters. My guess is that the people at CWA want to see our nation run under what they think of as Biblical law (the term for this is Dominionists). I know no American Muslim, no matter how religious, who wants America ruled by Islamic (let alone Islamist) law. Nor is there any remote likelihood that any religious legal system will become the law of the land. This is flagrant fear-mongering.
As for Biblical law, I know a thing or two about that. One of the points made in the brochure has to do with Sharia-compliant finance (FCS) which is investment funds that honor Muslim moral and ethical principles. This has become a huge phenomenon since such funds currently control about $400 billion in investments. I know a little something about this too. Jewish law has a lot to say about how business is to be conducted in a moral and ethical manner. I have studied these laws and principles and was once in communication with a Wall Street financier who asked me about how Jewish tradition would set up an investment fund based on moral principles. His was one of the first of these funds.
Most prominently this involves a prohibition on charging interest. This is a flatly stated Biblical principle (Exodus 22:15 and Luke 6:30, 35) and several other places). I have yet to meet a Christian in finance who wants to uphold this principle, but Jewish and Muslim law do. Yes, we use some interesting ways around this in order to conduct business, but the best form of finance in both traditions involves honoring this principle. Sharia-compliant also means not investing in alcohol, tobacco, gambling, and several other areas of moral and ethical interest. Fair conduct in the marketplace are also in Jewish and Muslim rules. The attack on FSCs is, in a very real sense, a denial of actual Biblical principles.
The bottom line is the assertion that “Sharia is a necessary precondition to Islamicizing a society.” The “expert” cited is Andrew McCarthy, a conservative pundit who has made a career out of anti-Muslim fear-mongering.
We’ve been here before. Jews have been accused of similar things for centuries, including in this country. We were accused of trying to bring down Christianity and Western civilization by Henry Ford and Fr. Coughlin, by Readers’ Digest, and by some who still write these things even now. This is flat-out bigotry and hate-mongering and is cousin to the Klan and the Christian Identity movement. It is a misuse and misrepresentation of Christianity. It is flat out vile.
Next week I will be speaking at the last session of the program on Islam. This person with his brochures is sure to be there. He has a sense of mission. If I were to speak to him today it would be in anger. That would make him a victim, as would shaming him (shaming a person in public is considered the moral equivalent of bloodshed – an idea I wish could be honored by today’s political commentators). Somehow, by Wednesday afternoon, I will find a way to address this collection of half-truths, lies, and fabrications. I pray I will keep my anger in check.
Just to leave my readers with a laugh, here are the lyrics to a song by the Austin Lounge Lizanrds.
We’d like to set the record straight by singing of the newt
For newts are open-minded; they are flexible and cute
A newt can breathe in water and a newt can breathe on land
And if you are a different critter newts will understand
Newts are not mean-spirited; they never are unfair
Newts are not underhanded and are not afraid to share
Newts do not have bad haircuts because newts are lacking hair
But the newt called Gingrich drives all true newts to despair
Gingrich the Newt’s a disgrace to the name
When true newts see him they feel so ashamed
He’s the black sheep of the newt family
The one rotten fruit on the newt family tree
Newts don’t prey on other newts; in that they don’t believe
And you will never catch a newt with something up his sleeve
They’re tolerant to different environments and so
They don’t send little newties to the orphanage to grow
What kind of newt wears a suit and a tie
And frightens small children as he rushes by?
But we admit that his suit suits him good
Much more discreet than a sheet and a hood
A newt may be cold-blooded but he won’t go to extremes
And you can trust a newt to be exactly what he seems
Newts are sorry if you’re sad; they’re happy if you’re gay
But Gingrich is perverse, and worse
He’s proud to be that way
Gingrich the Newt is puffed up like a toad
So full of himself that he’s bound to explode
And then we’ll raise up our tails in salute
A fitting tribute
To that horse’s patoot
Gingrich the Newt
Lyrics from <a href=”http://www.elyrics.net”>eLyrics.net</a>
The Senate defeated a bill supported by 90% of Americans. This is clear evidence of how truly dysfunctional Congress is today. Mark Twain wrote, “Suppose you are a member of Congress and suppose you are an idiot – but I repeat myself.” Back in the Gilded Age the Senate was known as the millionaires club and their guiding star was money. We are back to just that situation. The problem is compounded by the reality that it takes a super-majority of 60 to pass a bill; that the GOP says openly it considers its main job to be denying Obama and the Dems anything and everything; and the Citizens United case and the “money is speech” case that have turned DC into bribery central.
Why did these 46 senators vote against universal background checks for gun purchases? They are concerned that the NRA, which has 4 Million members (85% of whom supported this bill) in a nation of 330 million people, would support and fund opponents and end their political careers, if they voted for the measure. The NRA wields an inordinate amount of power. Their face, Wayne LaPierre, who is paid just under a million dollars a year, opposes any or all additional regulations for gun ownership. This benefits their true sponsors – gun manufacturers who are making money hand over fist by spreading the absurd rumor that the federal government is going to take away all their guns.
That an irresponsible lobbying organization can work against the public interest so successfully is a symptom of a much bigger problem. The only guiding principle in DC is money. This is a reversion to the age of Robber Barons. (An excellent history of that era is Barbara Tuchman’s “The Proud Tower” but I also have Twain’s “The Gilded Age” on my iPad and I plan on reading it soon) Our news media are now owned by a handful of corporations who seem to go along with the political philosophy of treating the electorate like mushrooms (keep them in the dark and feed them plenty of BS). The blogosphere and Internet may be our only hope for free expression. We need a revival of muckraking journalism and the kind of reforms that Teddy Roosevelt achieved.
What can we do? You do not have to remain silent. Sign online petitions and encourage your friends to do so. I have not yet found one in response to that shameful vote, but you can let the White House know you want universal background checks. There are campaigns n this in several states. Let your senators know how you feel about the way they voted. If there is a movement in your state, sign on. You can request face time with your reps in DC and the state legislatures in their home office in your area. If you can go to DC or your state capital, ask for face time there. You might find yourself meeting with a staff member, but that’s okay. Elected officials figure that if one person takes this trouble there are a lot more like her among the voters. If you are a gun owner and agree that we need better laws, make sure you tell them that.
I did a lot of this over the past 35 years or so. One of the reasons for my blog is to make my readers understand how important it is not to act on your beliefs and opinions. As Gandhi said, be the change you want to see.
To my readers:
I’ve been busy but have compiled several ideas for blog posts on a variety of subjects. Right now, however, I want to give you an op-ed column my local daily newspaper would not publish. It has footnotes because the editors demanded them of me on this subject. I wrote letters to the editor of this paper several times a year and I have my local following. This is the only subject for which the Editor has demanded I source my letters. The essay comes from the time of the controversy over the so-called Ground Zero Mosque. I even had to prove that the building in question is not visible from Ground Zero since it is two blocks uptown and a block to the east. I used Google Earth. A week from today (May 1) I will be speaking at a five-part series on Islam on how Jews and Judaism relate to Islam. We’ve been getting upwards of a hundred folks attending fro our small town. The message here will be part of what I will have to say then.
Do Not Fear Islam
On September 11 this year my college classmate Laurie walked the ten minutes from her loft to Ground Zero to witness the demonstrations going on that day. She writes, “I spent more time in the anti-Park51 crowd than the pro- side because I wanted to talk to people, try to educate and to find out why they thought what they did so strongly as to come to NY to demonstrate. I got the feeling that many of them are extremely misinformed and many are unfortunately genuinely very scared because of all that they do not know and the misinformation they’ve been fed, and of course plain old fashioned fear of people not like themselves,…” A recent Pew poll shows that people who know Muslims are less likely to fear and hate Muslims. Since Islam is a minority religion in this country (population percentage is estimated at one to two percent) most Americans have never met a Muslim let alone have any personal or work relationship with one. More than half of Americans say they know little or nothing about Islam.
In my bachelor days I had a landlord who believed that the Jews were in cahoots with the Chinese to take over the world and destroy Western civilization. He was a Bosnian and the first Muslim I ever knew socially. Not that he was a very religious Muslim. He liked a drink from time to time. Once he lent me a book by Henry Ford called “The International Jew.” This was the source of my landlord’s information. Ford bought a newspaper (The Dearborn Independent) expressly to serve as a medium for his anti-Semitic writing. Every Ford dealership in America gave away booklets from these writings and Ford sponsored the weekly radio “sermons” of Father Coughlin also attacking the supposed Jewish subversion of America. He had about a third of the national radio audience and was the Glenn Beck of his day combining paranoid politics and religion. Among American supporters of Hitler in the 1930s were American hero Charles Lindbergh and Readers’ Digest Magazine. Even after World War II, when the extent of the horrors committed by the Nazis was known, there were politicians in this country who tried to block visas for Jewish refugees on the grounds they might be subversives. To this day you can find these same anti-Jewish rants all over the Internet.
When I read, see, or hear the Islamic faith accused of trying to take over the world or “Islamicize” America I see the same ugly forces at work. We’ve been here before. The ravings of extremists in the early 20th century led to the Holocaust. I shudder to think what the current anti-Islamic rants might lead to. This is so especially because the fear and hatred of Muslims is being actively promoted by politicians and media stars for their own purposes. Let me be clear: I see Islamophobia as a bigotry that relies on the ignorance of most Americans about Islam and the people whose faith is Islam.
Who are America’s Muslims? As with all large groups of people there are all kinds: religious and secular, liberal and conservative, smart and not-so-smart, open-minded and prejudiced, law-abiding and not. Public opinion polls show that the vast majority of Muslims here want to fit in and be accepted.  They are seeking ways to practice their religion as a minority. Islam teaches a moral life and its social values are the same as those of any religious tradition, by which I mean they teach the Golden Rule. Do they have a vision of all of humanity being Muslim? Some do, but then some Christians want to see every human soul within their faith. Both have a history of bloodshed in pursuit of such goals. The Koran is essentially a book of sermons preaching morality and kindness. Some pick out verses that have ugly implications, but the same could be done with our Bible. Some Muslim fundamentalists take verses from the Koran out of their contexts to give them violent applications. Some Jews and Christians have done the same with the Bible. Contrary to the common impression terrorism is against what Islam teaches about war and many authorities around the world have said so without reservation. The question is why those decrees have received virtually no acknowledgement in American news media.
America’s Muslims are facing the same kinds of prejudice that immigrants have faced throughout American history. The American Muslims I have known personally hope that they will, in the end, be accepted as a normal, accepted part of the American people. Our great national tradition of pluralism which makes us a beacon of hope to the whole world requires no less.
 http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/lindbergh/sfeature/fallen.html and http://rationalrevolution.net/war/american_supporters_of_the_europ.htm (note that Prescott Bush, father of George H W and grandfather of George W, was among Hitler’s admirers)
 http://pewresearch.org/assets/pdf/muslim-americans.pdf and http://www.muslimindex.org/index.html the latter reference is to a site that deals with a variety of issues and both of these sites are excellent resources for your writers.
Actually I don’t really know how I became a pacifist. Looking back I held this view by the time I was 14 years old. I was not aware that my feelings had a name until much later.
I found an audio file from the one time I testified before a Congressional committee. This was for a hearing for a piece of legislation that has been kicking around Washington for about half a century. It is called the Peace Tax Fund. I needed to refer to it in an email discussion and found they have a website. http://www.peacetaxfund.org/ and on that site there are four audio files, one of which is mine from that hearing. In that speech I told of my pacifism. You can find it on that website (I have no idea how to post it here).
One of the books that influenced me as a teenager was “Heavenly Discourse” by C.E.S. Wood, a wonderful satiric work. I’m not sure why it was in my mother’s library, but it is a witty and clever book about the issues of the day – 1927. It consists of dialogues among God, Jesus, Satan, and a wide variety of authors and activists like Mark Twain, Robert Ingersoll, Rabelais, and many others. This book is long, long out of print, but Amazon has third party sellers who have it.
In the chapter “A Pacifist Enters Heaven” (which I guess introduced me to the term) we find the following bit of dialogue.
From A Pacifist enters Heaven—in bits:
BATTERED SOUL: I’m a pacifist.
GOD: A what?
BATTERED SOUL: A pacifist. I believe in Jesus and peace.
GOD: So you are a Christian?
BATTERED SOUL: O, no. I really do believe in peace.
Somewhere in the book someone says that the soldiers sent into combat believe they are fighting for peace or freedom or their nation, but the reality is that this is a lie. They are sent into combat for purposes that are advantageous to the government and profitable to war profiteers.
In a sophomore world history class, when we got to World War I, I repeated this idea. About two periods later, between periods, I was backed up against a wall by a group of ROTC students in uniform. They threatened to beat me up if I ever defamed soldiers again by saying such a thing. I knew then I was onto something.
I have thought since that these boys, when they first became men, were probably sent to fight in Viet Nam. Some, no doubt, did not come back whole in mind or body and others did not come back alive. That thought haunts me.