Sunday, May 24, 2015

Islamophobia (A Five-Part Post)

Part 5: Implications for the United States

To conclude this five-part post, those who are concerned about combating terrorism should not allow themselves to be led into Islamophobic beliefs. Islamophobia is the dead end of bigotry. In the case of terrorism, such bigotry is a form of self-sedation that gives a person permission to sit on the sidelines and demonize a group of people rather than tackling terrorism.

Bigotry and racism are appealing to some because they provide a way to express fear without admitting one is afraid. However, the history of civilization shows that bigotry and racism have never once solved a challenge faced by mankind or led to anything positive. In fact, such thinking usually makes things worse by muddying the water with a cloud of hate, injustice, and emotionalism.

So to effectively defeat terrorism, we must resist Islamophobia. We must remember that terrorists have varied backgrounds and agendas. While it is true that most of today’s high profile terrorism is committed by Muslims, it is also true that most of it is committed by men and by heterosexuals. It makes no sense to attempt fighting terrorism by vilifying Muslims, men, or heterosexuals.

In terms of implications for the United States, if we need to be on our guard against anything related to terrorism, it is the poison of theocracy. Theocracy can encourage terrorism, because it allows:
Fundamentalist thought to move from the fringe into a position of power
Religious intolerance to drive national policy
Violence to become an acceptable means of influence

The US has a theocratic Christian fringe. While it is a long way from having the power of the extreme Islam that plagues the Middle East, the insistence of evangelical Christians and the far right that the United States is a ‘Christian country’ is a step in the direction of theocracy. There is ultimately little difference between a country that holds one religion in esteem over others so that that religion influences policy for all citizens, regardless of their faith, and a theocracy.

The Founding Fathers were not as devout as today’s evangelicals. However, even if they were, that devotion had little influence on their thinking related to the founding of the United States. While they made theological references (e.g., referring to a ‘Creator’, etc.), in action they built a massive wall between religion and government through the policy of separation of church and state. Even if the United States was founded on Christian morals, it was founded in such a way as to prevent Christian faith from influencing our country’s development. Despite their beliefs, the Founding Fathers chose to set up the United States as a rational and secular country based on laws, not faith.

As such, the United States never was a ‘Christian country’ and it can never become one without perverting the principles upon which our nation was built. We should be happy about this, because the sharp clarity in separating church and state is what has kept the United States free of the toxic extremist influences and religious wars that have plagued other countries.

To preserve that separation, the law of the land must prevail in any question between law and faith. Disagreeing with a law on religious grounds is not justification for flouting it or being exempted from it, because this places religion above law. That can never be allowed in a country that values freedom of religion and, more importantly, freedom from religion. Americans are citizens first and religious entities second. However, the increased desire of evangelicals and far right thinkers to place their religion above the law is opening a Pandora’s box that could turn the wall between church and state into a tattered scrim.

All Americans must decide which they value more: American liberal democracy or their religious precepts. And the decision most have reached is clear: Americans repeatedly reject using one religion as the sole foundation for legislation and candidates who run for national offices on such platforms invariably do poorly.

However, extremists do not have a history of allowing free will to stand in their way. Continued failures at the ballot box and harsh responses from society to wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing ‘religious freedom laws’ could eventually lead some extremists to use fear, intimidation, and violence as a way to break down the wall between church and state and enforce their religious views on others. In short, theocratic beliefs and mindsets can open the door to terrorism in the United States just as they can elsewhere.

In this context, abortion clinic bombings and repellent protests at the funerals of soldiers could be either the stench of a fading orthodoxy or the first sparks of a new breed of homegrown terrorist activity. Hopefully it is not the latter, but we can only avoid such an outcome if we hold true to our principles as Americans.

To bring the theme of these posts full circle, let’s suppose that the terrorist movement described above does in fact arise. It would be incorrect and bigoted to refer to such people as ‘evangelical terrorists’ or ‘Christian terrorists’, even if the majority of those who are part of the movement are Christian evangelicals. We would have to recognize that not all Christian evangelicals are prone to such violence. To combat such terrorism, we must avoid losing focus by demonizing a group of people. Vilifying Christians in this example would be pointless, just as Islamophobia is a waste of time in dealing with the terrorism of the world today.

Hopefully, as the world grows more interconnected through trade pacts, the Internet, porous borders, reduced racial tribalism, and a shrugging off of nationalism, we will see Islamophobia – and all forms of bigotry and racism - disappear. However, as writers like those in The New Criterion make clear, the lessons of history are not easily learned and we have a long way to go.

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