The Dakota Student, the UND student newspaper, asked me to write a guest column on the rise of anti-Islamic sentiment in the U.S. I felt uncomfortable about sticking my faculty nose in a student paper, but I agreed. (This month’s WHY? monologue is about my trepidation.) And since it was for the student paper, I decided to, in the words of Malcolm X, “talk right down to earth, in a language that everybody here can easily understand.” (To hear his voice, and an awesome 80’s song that samples it, go here🙂 So, for those of you who are interested, here is the column:
On Burning Books and Terror Babies
Some people are just dicks. I recognize that as a philosophy professor, one might expect a more sophisticated response to the Reverend Terry Jones’s desire to burn Qur’ans, but there isn’t much more to say about him. He’s a charlatan – an attention-whore – and he’s using tragedy and politics to gain his fifteen minutes of fame. He’s not an agent of God. He is a purveyor of adolescent angst. Don’t give him any attention and he’ll go away.
The people who condemned the book burning – politicians ranging from Barack Obama to Sarah Palin – did so by citing the imminent danger to American service personnel. I certainly don’t disagree. But they neglect the greater danger to the Baptist church in Lawrence, Kansas; the Pentecostal community in Boston, Massachusetts; the Mormons in Lubbock Texas. The terrorists can’t tell the Christians apart – they can’t even tell Americans apart in general – and when they strike back, they’re not going to bomb Jones’s church, they’re going to bomb someone else’s. They might bomb a synagogue, or a Chuck E Cheese. They believe all Americans think the same way, have the same values, and share the same religious points of view. They’re bigots.
Of course, so is Jones, and so are many of us. Lots of Americans can’t tell Muslims apart. They think that the folks who bombed the World Trade Center share the same religion as those who want to build a cultural center a few blocks from ground zero, but those two groups have as little in common as White Pride skinheads do with Episcopalians. Yes, they share the same book. But so does the guy who shoots the abortion doctor and the priest who distributes clean needles to heroin addicts. If we shouldn’t paint all those people with the same brush, then why should we paint Muslims as such?
The worst offender, to my mind, is not the moronic Reverend Jones, but Texas Representative Louie Gohmert who claims that there are “terror babies” in our midst. Muslims, he claims, are having children in the U.S. just so they can gain citizenship and train them to blow us all up. He is not a dick. He is much worse, although my professional judgment prevents me from using the appropriate words to describe him accurately. His message can be boiled down a familiar racist accusation, “they don’t love their children the way we love ours,” and its logical extension, “they are not human.”
For Gohmert, Muslims are lesser creatures who willingly procreate to develop an army. They suckle their babies smiling, not with love, but with the vision of their child’s body parts spraying across the landscape taking as many people with them as they can. He thinks they are monsters, that they must be stopped.
In the nineteenth century there was a debate as to whether “negroes” were able to love. Black people were not regarded as fully human, and scholars wondered if they were capable of this most human emotion. This debate ought to make us all nauseous, but it is a short walk from it to Gohmert’s position, one enabled by Jones’s and by all those who can’t tell Muslims apart anymore than the fanatics of Al Qaeda can distinguish individual Americans, Americans, by the way, who themselves may be Muslim and wholly loyal to our democracy.
Terry Jones is a dick and the response to him is simple. Everyone should just walk up to him and say “stop being a dick.” But Gohmert and the rest are anti-American bigots and the response to them must be to tirelessly point out their ignorance. This requires learning more about the world and the people who inhabit it. It means accepting, once and for all, that Islam is not a four-letter word, and that assuming it is makes all of us bigots too. So stop it.
The article has now been posted on the Dakota Student site. There is a comments section there too, as of yet, no one has responded.