Islamophobia has been on the rise since 2001. The latest cause célèbre of conservative opponents of Islam is the Park 51 Islamic Cultural Center. The extent of this opposition is shown by the intentional mislabeling of this project as the “Ground Zero Mosque” despite the by now well known facts – that it is not at Ground Zero but two blocks away (it is not even visible from Ground Zero) and it is not a mosque, cut a community center with a prayer area. Imagine a hospital with a chapel. Do we call that a church?
I don’t. I go into a hospital quite frequently which has not only a chapel but pictures of Jesus on a little table by the door.
Things have gotten so out of control that it is being suggested by some on the right that great Americans “give up their rights” and that Muslims ought to forfeit their Constitutional guarantee of free exercise and go somewhere else, or that Islam is not really a religion at all but a cult, and is therefore not protected by the Constitution. Qur’an burnings have even been announced; an act of violence by Christians somehow meant to demonstrate “once and for all” that Islam is a violent religion.
What is a Pagan to think about this feeding frenzy of angry monotheists? One possible response would be to say, “Well, it’s between them; it doesn’t concern me.” I am here to argue that such a response would be mistaken. It does concern us. It concerns everyone because it concerns a Constitutional guarantee that is under attack by the dominant culture.
Conservative Christians have constructed a new narrative for America, a Mythic America that was founded by and for Christians, an America in which free exercise applies only to Christians, and in which the wall of separation is a myth. The First Amendment ensures that all Americans can practice their religion of choice – or none at all. When the dominant culture – in this case Christianity – takes it upon itself to decide to whom Constitutional guarantees apply, it is time to worry.
Naturally, anyone who defends Islamic rights is accused at worst of being a terrorist, or of being somebody who is “soft” on terrorism. Islam has become the communism of the new millennium, and we should all be searching under our beds for Islamofascists, one of the wonder new terms the right has gifted us. I have been attacked myself, and just recently, for defending Islamic rights in this country. For it is not just conservative Christians who are up in arms and misinformed, but Pagans too. The hysteria is widespread.
But I am not here to defend Islam. My own views on monotheism are hardly a secret to anyone who has read my pieces over the past few years. But my views on monotheism in general or Islam in particular are hardly applicable to this case, for this case is not about Islam but about the Constitution. And the Constitution says that a Muslim group can build a community center wherever they want. There is nothing illegal about it. They did not steal the land. They made a deal with a developer and they are using the site of an old coat factory in the same way that some Christian-oriented group might.
The only difference is that they are Muslims.
And it was Muslim terrorists who attacked the World Trade Center on 9/11.
The thing is, it wasn’t THESE Muslims. And mis-characterizations of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, a man with a reputation as a progressive interfaith leader, as an agent of America’s destruction are simply character attacks aimed at creating at atmosphere of fear and resentment. Fear is the coinage of Republican politics and has been since 2001. Fear of minorities, fear of immigrants, fear of non-Christians, fear of feminists, secular humanists, atheists, the LGBT community – and fear of Islam. It is easy to rally people around fear-inspiring causes – Irish immigrants, Germans in WWI, Japanese in WWII, communists in the 50s, Muslims today.
The situation gets very confused – as it’s meant to – fear mongering inspires neither calmness nor rational thought. Fear demands that people respond on a visceral, atavistic level, from the gut, in the same way that George W. Bush ran the country for eight years, from the gut. It is an anti-intellectual stimulant, fear is, and it brooks no argument.
For a Pagan, to get back to my original point, such attacks should resonate on a level invisible to most monotheists, who have a long history of being the persecutors rather than the persecuted. Once upon a time it was the witches who were being sometimes literally fed to the fires of hate. It isn’t all that long ago that being a Pagan was against the law, or that being a Pagan could cost you your job or your home. Rather than jumping up and joining those who would tear down freedom of religion, we ought to be defending those whose rights are under attack. Because next time, it could be us.
Can anyone forget the words of Jerry Falwell or the agreement of Pat Robertson in the aftermath of 9/11 on the 700 Club?:
JERRY FALWELL: And I agree totally with you that the Lord has protected us so wonderfully these 225 years. And since 1812, this is the first time that we’ve been attacked on our soil and by far the worst results. And I fear, as Donald Rumsfeld, the Secretary of Defense, said yesterday, that this is only the beginning. And with biological warfare available to these monsters — the Husseins, the Bin Ladens, the Arafats — what we saw on Tuesday, as terrible as it is, could be miniscule if, in fact — if, in fact — God continues to lift the curtain and allow the enemies of America to give us probably what we deserve.
PAT ROBERTSON: Jerry, that’s my feeling. I think we’ve just seen the antechamber to terror. We haven’t even begun to see what they can do to the major population.
JERRY FALWELL: The ACLU’s got to take a lot of blame for this.
PAT ROBERTSON: Well yes.
JERRY FALWELL: And, I know that I’ll hear from them for this. But, throwing God out successfully with the help of the federal court system, throwing God out of the public square, out of the schools. The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way — all of them who have tried to secularize America — I point the finger in their face and say “you helped this happen.”
PAT ROBERTSON: Well, I totally concur, and the problem is we have adopted that agenda at the highest levels of our government. And so we’re responsible as a free society for what the top people do. And, the top people, of course, is the court system.
Can we so easily forget that it was Pagans Falwell blamed first, and not Islam? Does anyone seriously think that if they succeed in depriving the world’s second largest religion of their Constitutional rights that they will hesitate to do the same to Pagans?
The threat to the Constitution is very real. Conservative Christians, religious zealots known as dominionists, wield a degree of power in this country far out of proportion to their numbers. Study right-wing Christian theocracy; study the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR). Study Sarah Palin and her witch-hunting pastor. People like to scoff, but then, people scoffed at Hitler too.
And look where they ended up.
No, I don’t have to think twice to know where I stand. With religious freedom and with the Constitutional guarantees I was born with, and not just for me, but for everyone.