Yesterday afternoon, I heard a story on NPR where they were exploring the presidential campaign in terms of race; specifically they wanted to know if the racial experience of the voter had anything to do with their ultimate choice of candidate. So, they got a bunch of people from York, Pennsylvania together and asked them questions about the candidates and their own histories. One woman’s comment stuck out in particular, and it’s been bothering me ever since:
“I look at Obama, and I have a question in my mind,” she says. “Years ago, was he taken into the Muslim faith? And my concern is the only way you are no longer a Muslim is if you are dead, killed. So in my mind, he’s still alive.”
Let’s just sit and let that sink in for a minute.
Really, think about that. Can this woman be for real? Can she be so ignorant of other religions that she views Islam like it’s the Borg? That she views Muslims as mindless zombies? I shook my head at the radio, and another thought came into my head. There are millions of other people in America that believe the same thing. At this point, I got scared. Because, I think, we are that stupid. We’re a bunch of rich, ignorant xenophobes with too much power and no education. If any of us stopped to look around at the country we live in (cue your Toby Keith song here) we’d realize there are Muslims all around us. Muslims shop in the same stores, drive the same cars, pay their taxes, and quietly raise their families, just like the rest of us. To say that a Muslim cannot be considered for the Presidency of the United States on account of faith is to say that the First Amendment to our constitution is worthless. (You know, the one about free speech, freedom of religion, assembly, etc.)
Jen heard the same broadcast and we talked about it a little over dinner. She brought up the controversy surrounding John F. Kennedy’s election as the only Roman Catholic president, and this evening I did a little digging to find out more. This is taken from a speech he gave on the 12th of September, 1960, to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association:
I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute; where no Catholic prelate would tell the President—should he be Catholic—how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference, and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him, or the people who might elect him.
…I believe in a President whose views on religion are his own private affair, neither imposed upon him by the nation, nor imposed by the nation upon him as a condition to holding that office.
It’s pretty amazing to think there was a national debate about the dangers of electing a Catholic to the presidency as little as fifty years ago. History shows he didn’t hand the country over to the Pope, and most people would agree he was a pretty effective, successful president following his own moral and ethical compass.
For the record, I believe Islam is a religion of peace, its rich history and meaning sullied by a handful of radical fundamentalists pushing their own agendas. It’s frightening to see the same narrow-minded fundamentalism gaining traction here in America, especially when the national debate increasingly gets framed in terms of religion. My America is a land where anyone can practice any religion they choose without fear of persecution, and any citizen has the ability to be elected to public office, like Kennedy said. After all, this crazy, beautiful, maddening country was founded by people fleeing religious persecution. It’s quite sad how often we as a country forget that. It’s sadder still to hear how polarized and ignorant people can be.
“It’s frightening to see the same narrow-minded fundamentalism gaining traction here in America, especially when the national debate increasingly gets framed in terms of religion.”
Frightening indeed, and we have Rove and Cheney to thank for it.
Americans, generally, frighten me. Between the elective ignorance (and I mean that both in terms of choosing to be ignorant, and in choosing to be ignorant while wielding the collective power to shape the government) and the unexamined jingoism that are hallmarks of the subspecies, I shudder.
Remember me? How apropos that is. Anyhow, having grown up a Jew in West Virginia, the general ignorance of most Americans, unfortunately, comes as no surprise.
So, I guess it’s left to the rest of us to make sure they don’t win.