|This is the guy who started all|
But then came GW Bush, 9/11 and the rise of a much more extreme American Political Right. Muslims attacked us, they said - it was practically our patriotic duty to hate them. And illegal immigration is destroying America they told us - we must hate and fear any brown skinned Spanish-speaker, a category they neatly lumped together under the rubric "Mexicans". And leveraging the fear generated by these 'threats', they suddenly created a loophole, a way to indulge bigotry and hatred in mainstream speech - as long as the targets of their hatred could be classified as America's "enemies". And then, a few years later, when an African American Democrat was elected to the highest office in the land, it all just exploded in spittle-flecked rage.
Which brings us to, well, me. I have always been disproportionately disgusted by bigotry, particularly racial animus, but (just about) any arbitrary and meaningless label that allowed one group to identify another group as something alien, dangerous, the enemy of all 'we' stand for. I say 'just about' because there is one area where I, myself, am downright prejudiced - religion. As most who know me will readily admit, I'm a fairly militant atheist. Religion has been a toxic cancer on the world's societies for thousands of years, spending lives, spilling blood and stealing treasure in the name of power and aggrandizement. The holy books are full of ridiculous just so stories, terrible examples of prehistoric science fiction as told by illiterate peasant farmers. When I hear grown men and women in positions of power speak earnestly of gods and angels and something called 'the holy ghost', telling us with a smug certainty what "God" wants us to do, I cringe in embarrassment.
So when I hear the attacks on Islamic people, my first reaction is anger and outrage. Just another example of our institutionalized racism and sectarian hatred. But then I immediately think, wait a minute, what makes these people Islamic is not their race, but their religion, and their religion is every bit as stupid and unsupportable as any other. It is actually true that every day, somewhere in the world, somebody murders people because they believed "Allah" wanted them to. But at the same time, for me, at least, it's not terribly difficult to separate a person's indoctrination and beliefs from who they actually are as a person. So when I denigrate a Christianist from Mississippi or an Imam from Lahore it's not that I hate American Southerners or Pakistanis - I just think they're dopes and suckers for believing such angry, violent claptrap.
Now, I should reiterate here that in general, I don't care what you believe. I don't care if you think the earth sits on a giant turtle or that it's possible to base a society on unfettered laissez-faire free market capitalism. I might think you're an idiot, but we can still get along just fine. It's when you begin to impose those weird, pointless beliefs and taboos on the rest of us, and when you get violent and coercive about it, when you start describing who should live and who should die and who should have what rights because it says so in a book you got for $3.95 at Walmart, well, that's where you and I have a problem.
So I struggle with Islamic people. They're no more stupid and obnoxious than any other religious group, so they shouldn't be singled out for abuse or discrimination, but being as how so much of their worldview is structured on a bizarre mythology, they still deserve an appropriate level of concern and mockery. I mean, come on - a rule that if you draw a picture of their imaginary super-being they get to kill you? There is a line that is the demarcator for civilization, and stuff like this is well across it.
But in the end, bigotry is always unacceptable. Sam Harris was one of my favorite thinkers, ever since I read his book "The End of Faith". But he's gone pretty far down the line in calling for discriminatory practices against Muslims. Now, it's not that any of his arguments are necessarily wrong, in the sense of being incorrect. It's that they are wrong, in the sense that a civilized, democratic society will have a strong set of values that prevent that sort of profiling from ever being an option. I would be happy to take on some additional level of risk in order to have the society in which I want to live. This is the sad truth we've discovered in post 9/11 America - it is a very short path from institutionalized fear to violent hatred. And far from calming the roiling madness, religious doctrine just adds fuel to the fire.