by Stephan Zimmermann
October 6, 2010
AFRAID IN AMERICA?
PRESQUE ISLE, Me. -- To judge by the blogs and local and national media, America has regressed and succumbed to an irrational fear of the Muslim religious faith.
Still burning brightly in the world's memory are the harrowing days of 9/11.
Less brightly and more recently ring the words of an ostensibly religious person, an ordained Christian minister, capturing the headlines by threatening to burn a Qu'ran, Islam's holiest religious book.
Both are undeniable facts. The hatred that incinerated thousands at the World Trade Center was a direct violation of law; the idea of burning the holy book of Islam was an outpouring of personal religious hate and ignorance.
They made more understandable are the words of a young Islamic woman refugee i MET, who asked with genuine worry, "Do I have to fear living in America?"
The battle of words and deeds revolves about more than the dastardly events a decade ago or the planned building of a mosque in downtown New York.
It calls into question the very foundations of freedom of religion and privilege of law in the United States.
Americans wear religion on their sleeve more than any other culture in the world. Unfortunately, they tend to confuse the essential facts of law and the foundations of philosophical religious freedom, usually to suit their own convenience, interpretations and purposes.
Any self-righteous religion should be as distasteful to most thoughtful people as the Inquisition of five centuries ago.
America's fundamental law, embodied in the U.S. Constitution, has endured more than two centuries. It protects freedom of religion as well as freedom of politic expression in the United States. That is true for all Americans, native-born or new immigrants.
The events of 9/11 were as tragic and criminal as any. They were a clear violation of American, international and human law, whether carried out with religious convictions or not.
Nonetheless, the unleashing of a decade of war by the United States should be just as incomprehensible to thoughtful individuals everywhere, to Moslems, Christians and Jews alike. Yet it is a question of law and politics, not religion.
Simultaneously, too many Americans have fallen under the spell of xenophobia and cultural isolationism. Some exhibit religious ignorance in the very name of religion.
Too many adherents of Christianity - including its ministers and spokespeople - have forgotten the fact that Jesus Christ just once acted in a violent fashion, when he threw the moneychangers out of the temple. But he never advocated violence.
If perpetrators commit an illegal act inside the United States, they will be punished, no matter their religion.
Similarly, all religions must remain free from political or social persecution in America.
Without those two fundamental freedoms of religion and politics, America will be just another ephemeral myth.
If Americans act in lawful fashion and allow all people who follow a different religious thought enjoy their personal belief, they should not have to fear living in this country, despite the despicable acts of a few individuals.
Should the young Islamic woman be afraid to live in the United States because she believes in the faith of Islam, amid prejudice and the present Islamophobia?
One would hope not. Religious tolerance and freedom of beliefs are two of the hallmarks of the American way of life.
I would offer a few suggestions to all Americans: American blacks do not live in the past, when the ignominy of slavery was the accepted institution. It was practiced, usually without question, by the greatest leaders of the young country. Yet now we have a black man as President of the United States, lawfully and popularly elected. American Poles, Italians, Irish and millions more who came to this country in search of freedom, do not live in the past - when they suffered the neglect and prejudice of most immigrants.
Like the Asians, Latin Americans, the Jews, or the Russians, all came to America to enjoy the breath of personal freedom and the promise of benefitting their lives.
Do not forget about your cultural and political history ... but do not live in the shadow of past events in which you as an individual had no direct or indirect part. At one point, many of our ancestors were either perpetrators or victims.
As a child, I was taught to hate all Soviets, since my father had been killed by the Soviets.
Later, I met Soviets who had also escaped their country's dictatorship. As soon as I learned the difference between Russian people and their leaders, we became lifelong friends! Even in my early years I discovered the ugliness of prejudice - and the kindness of true friendship. I always try to remember the good, and not dwell in the insufferable pre-judgment of an entire people because of their color, their beliefs, their different manners or customs.
You do not have to succumb and fall victim to being what you choose not to be.
Violence in retaliation for real or imagined injustices does not solve any answers for humankind.
With freedom of religion allowing you to choose what, or even whether, to believe, you can walk freely and assuredly practice your own beliefs, and your acts of faith and worship. If you personally do not break the laws of the United States, you need not harbor unnecessary fears.
We are fortunate that we can draw on universal human kindness and understanding as well as the strength of just law to protect the innocent. That includes those millions of the Islamic faith who do not subscribe to the outrages of a few.
If we exercise the strength within ourselves to appreciate the good in all people, we can lead free, productive, laudatory lives in this country.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt suggested that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Prejudice results in irrational fear. Harboring prejudice is not in the spirit of being a just individual.
I say to that worried young Islamic woman, you too can walk with your head held high, proud of your faith. You can teach by the example of understanding, kindness and charity. You do not have to submit to the prejudice fueled by the ignorant or the popular media's profit-driven dissonance and distortion.
Do not fear America!
Educated at Cambridge University and UC Berkeley, Stephan Zimmerman is a novelist fascinated by religion and politics. His most recent books are "No Repture" (Panaxus) and "The Christmas Strike" (Panaxus), both available at Amazon and on Kindle. He lives in the Great North Woods of Maine. Contact him through his Website.