by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
December 5, 2006
CASUAL OBSERVATIONS ON INTENSE TOPICS
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- I like to think I'm an observer, and an opinionated observer, at that. Yet I rarely write strong opinion pieces. I'm not a philosopher and I avoid political comments unless it's to defend a misstatement. I'm more an observer like our national treasure, Yogi Berra: "You can observe a lot just by watching."
Having said that, I'll offer a bit of verbal shorthand: "The
inmates have taken over the asylum." I was thinking about
Congressman-elect Keith Ellison, who is a born-and-bred American but
will, according to right-wing talk show host Dennis Prager, take his
oath of office with his hand upon the Koran, the holy book of his faith,
Prager's report is questionable, however; Congressmen take the oath en masse on the House floor, led by the Speaker, while standing with one hand at their side and the other in the air, not on the Bible. One of Prager's many critics, blogger Robert Paul Reyes of Vox Populi, noted that the U.S. Constitution forbids any "religious test" to hold office, and vowed that if elected, he would be sworn in using Darwin's "Origin of the Species. "We are not a Christian nation and the Bible is not the official book for swearing-in ceremonies," Reyes responded. "The Bible does not have any talismanic properties; any holy or unholy book will do.
But if I wanted to be sure that someone would be telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, I would want them to swear to all that's high and holy to them - not necessarily on the book high and holy to me.
I know absolutely nothing about Allah, but I defend any Muslim-American's right to practice the faith and worship Allah. I have read the words of Buddha and appreciate the wisdom but it's in the same way I appreciate the sayings of Confucius, a wise Chinese philosopher. Just because I know little about other religions is no reason for me to foist the teachings of mine on others, which seems to be what some are doing.
During an interview, Prager spoke about a column he wrote denying anyone's right to take an oath of office on any book but the Bible.
"Forgive me," he wrote, "but America should not give a hoot what Keith Ellison's favorite book is. Insofar as a member of Congress taking an oath to serve America and uphold its values is concerned, America is interested in only one book, the Bible. If you are incapable of taking an oath on that book, don't serve in Congress. In your personal life, we will fight for your right to prefer any other book. We will even fight for your right to publish cartoons mocking our Bible. But, Mr. Ellison, America, not you, decides on what book its public servants take their oath."
I find Mr. Prager's rant unseemly. The purpose of the oath is to swear to uphold the laws of America, and I most certainly do give a hoot that we can trust the person holding his right hand aloft to follow through. In many jurisdictions, when witnesses must take an oath to tell the truth, they can say: "I testify to tell the truth upon pain of perjury." That works for me.
How dare Prager say America is interested in only one book? How can he speak for all Americans? He says "if you are incapable of taking an oath on that book, don't serve in Congress." That harkens back to Sen. John F. Kennedy's asking an audience of Protestant ministers if his being baptized Catholic forevermore kept him and 40,000,00 other Americans from ever becoming President.
We promote brotherhood and then pit brother against brother time and time again. We have our popular media so greedy about ratings they trump up a story just to garner intense interest. Right now we have Michael Richards brought to his knees and as humble as they come, groveling before Jesse Jackson as he asks forgiveness for his rage against hecklers. Not long before this, Mel Gibson lost favor for anti-Semitic garbage he uttered while drunk.
Neither incident was worth the attention it received. The media blitz over issues that have always been part of the fabric of our lives here in America was out of line. Here, we snipe at each other. It has always been our way, I believe. Sometimes the snipes are in earnest and we mean every ugly word. Other times, it's funny and meant that way.
I think it's safe to say that no other country is as diversified as we are. If a man in Poland calls his neighbor a dumb Polak the neighbor can say the same thing back. They are all Polish. In Germany if you call your neighbor a dumb kraut, he'll call you a dumber kraut. For the most part, they are all Germans, nationally and ethnically. But here, neighbors are all different and, when provoked, we revert to our adolescent natures, forget we are all Americans and become as divisive as we can in the heat of that moment.
Comedian Richard Pryor had his first television appearance ever on the old Ed Sullivan Show. The slim young man took his place at the mike and by way of introduction said, "My Mother is Puerto Rican, my father is a Negro, I live in an apartment building owned by a Jew in an Italian neighborhood. When I go out my front door they yell, 'He's all of them, let's get him.'" The audience roared, warming to him immediately.
We know better than to use words that are offensive and we try to be politically correct. Yet, it happens, as with Richards and Gibson. However, some of the victims are able to turn it around and not take offense, as with Richard Pryor and his take on his own neighbors.
I liked how comedian-author Dick Gregory took the "N-word" to the limit. He titled his book "Nigger" and told his mother, "Mama, every time they say "nigger" they'll be publicizing my book."
AR Correspondent Constance Daley is based on St. Simons Island, Ga. She has just published her third collection of articles for AR, "Sidewalks and Sand," available from www.amazon.com.