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I swear, what kind of country is this?, Leonard Pitts Jr.
So, as you may have heard, we’ve got a new Congress. The Washington Post had a very poorly thought out picture of Speaker Pelosi on the front page of the Style section which will probably be a future IT.
You may also have heard that a certain congressman swore his (not actually legally mandated) oath not on the traditional bible, but on Thomas Jefferson’s Quran, prompting speculation that Thomas Jefferson owned a Quran.
Anyway, this is all little more than a historical footnote, as it wasn’t really an oath required by law, and it’s not like lawmakers haven’t been sworn in on other things before. Pierce took the presidential oath of office on a law book. In fact, at the same time as Congressman Ellison was being sworn in on a Quran, a representative from Hawaii was being sworn in on nothing at all.
But, as always happens, a couple of people went apewire. In an act that threatens to turn “macacanated” into a word, Rep. Virgil Goode (R-Va) macacanated Ellison by launching a tirade about how we need to tighten immigration laws to stop muslims from being elected by the will of the people. Ellison is a native-born American. I’m guessing he’s a third or fourth generation native-born American (Admittedly, I haven’t looked into it).
The most mind-breaking attack, and the reason I am pointing you toward Mr. Pitts’s article, is that of Roy Moore, who, despite his name sounding like it, is not a Wild West-era Texas Hangin’ Judge, but rather the Alabama judge who causes all that commotion a while back over a big rock with the ten commandments engraved in them.
He claimed that freedom of religion demanded that Ellison be blocked from using a Quran (Quick precis: “<Roy_Moore_Voice>In America, we have freedom of religion. In Islam, you don’t. Therefore Islam is incompatible with America</Roy_Moore_Voice>”). The argument isn’t too far afield from the ones that (my dad tells me) were made when Kennedy was running for President — that a Catholic would be bound by his faith to do whatever the Pope told him to, Constitution and the good of America be damned. Which is not a bad argument for limiting positions of power to atheists, but no one’s making that argument (well, except for the atheists, but they’ve got a vested interest).
I think I’m with Pitts on this one: “Moore’s argument refutes itself so effectively he must have been drinking when he wrote it.”
Pitts goes on to talk about the “strain of intolerance” that hides out inthe American spirit. I think he’s missing something important, though. This doesn’t feel like real intolerance to me. It doesn’t feel like real bigotry. Why? Because it’s too flavor-of-the-weeky. It’s not really that we’ve got a deep-down hatred of muslims, or even that we’re all secretly waiting to reveal our prejudice against the abstract “Other”. Right now, it’s Islam that piques our fear. It used to be Communism. And so on and so on. Actually, I think America’s been pretty good on the actual longstanding-prejudice front. You don’t see “No Irish Need Apply” signs any more. We’ve stopped systematically erradicating our aboriginal population. We’ve got one or two longstanding racial problems, but we’ve kept them on a comparatively low simmer, nothing like the many years of institutionalized oppression in South Africa. Nothing like what went on in Europe in the early 40s. Real prejudice, real bigotry, is something very deep and longstanding. It’s the way your grandmother uses the “N-Word”, because she’s been using it since she was a little girl and her daddy always used it — and she can’t even quite compute that it’s wrong to use it. That’s why they’re so insidious and hard to get rid of — they’re burned in, and the people who have them don’t even feel that they’re wrong.
No, I think that prejudice and bigotry are just convenient labels for what we’re really very susceptible to: Insane Fearmongering. We weren’t raised this way. And we know things oughtn’t to be this way. Some folks justify this (Roy Moore did) by trying to say that these are special circumstances — that as it happens, we’re at war with Islam right now (We’re not, of course, but the people doing the fearmongering either think we are, or want us to think we are), so it’s “justified in this special case”. That’s totally bogus, of course, but it’s telling to me that they think they need this justification. Real racists don’t feel the need to excuse or apologize for their racism. They may try to “scientifically” prove the white man superior or the black man inferior (Watch one of them try it some time, it’s pretty funny), but they’ll always start from the assumption that they aren’t making an extraordinary claim, that their racist beliefs are obvious and inherently good. I don’t think I recall ever having a notion of a person “becoming” a racist before — racists were racists because they’d been raised that way. Now, though, we have people who weren’t raised that way, people who never had any problem with this culture and this faith before, who, one day in September, half a dozen years ago, suddenly developed an unjustified distaste for a certain religion. What we have here is people who quite clearly understand that they are standing in the face of what we as Americans are supposed to believe in — they present this sort of prejudice as a necessary evil (Actually, read that last clause twice, once with the emphasis on “necessary” and once with it on “evil”). That is, they know it’s wrong, but they feel like they have to do it anyway.
I’m not sure which is worse, now that I think about it.

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