Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

On February 13, members of a faith-based charitable organization gathered in Yorba Linda, California to raise funds to support women’s shelters, help the homeless and combat hunger.

This same organization is active in interfaith outreach. One of its leaders offered the opening prayers at the recent inauguration of the governor of Illinois, and it will be holding its annual banquet in Chicago this weekend, the theme of which is “Fighting Fear, Teaching Tolerance.”

You can understand why, then, on February 13, a handful of elected officials — specifically: Yorba City councilwoman Deborah Pauly, US Congressman Ed Royce, and US Congressman Gary Miller — joined a group of a few hundred protesters (shouting such things as “Go back home!” and “USA!” and, for good measure: “Fuck you!”), in order to declare the faith-based philanthropic event “pure, unadulterated evil.”

Oh wait. Perhaps that’s actually utterly incomprehensible — nay: batshit crazy.

By now, of course, you’ve understood that — oh! It must have been Muslims! Because if it had been Christians or Jews or Hindus gathered to do social justice work, at this point in American history, there would have been no angry, spittle-flecked faces.

No, no, it must have been Muslims, because Muslims — men, women, little boys, little girls, all of them dressed in their finest, hair brushed, party shoes on little feet, come together to help those who cannot help themselves — are clearly, unequivocally, “evil.”

Natch.

What red-blooded American elected official would not, under such circumstances, declare her pride in her 19 year old son, a Marine, and suggest — I’m sorry, not suggest, but rather, say flat out — that there are “quite a few Marines” like her son who “will be very happy to help these terrorists to an early meeting in Paradise” (to the delighted laughter of the crowd).

What group of self-declared “patriotic Americans” who announce that they “love our Constitution” wouldn’t yell at Americans of faith on their way to a social justice event: “One nation under God, not Allah!” (patriotic Americans can’t be expected to know that the word “Allah” is simply Arabic for “God,” like the Hebrew “Yahweh,” a word patriotic Americans often use in Christian rock ditties).

What patriotic Americans wouldn’t yell at these other Americans (still on their way to help battered women and the homeless and the hungry): “Your hands are bloody! Your money is bloody! Get out!”

Indeed, what sitting member of this nation’s legislative branch wouldn’t reach out to a group of patriotic Americans screaming (and I do mean screaming) curse words at children and parents on their way to a charity event in order to say to the screamers: “I am proud of you, I am proud of what you’re doing.”

It was, after all, Muslims.

What do they expect, what with their headscarves and their beards and their belief in one God and the imperative to do good and their American citizenship and their trust in this nation’s founding documents, including that one bit that talks about freedom of religion? How dare they think they can just walk on into some building in California and raise funds for those in need? How dare they think they can bring their children and expect their children to learn about a life of good deeds and holy behavior? How dare they think that their government representatives (local and national) might not suggest that they are ripe for killing — I mean: ripe for being sent by members of their own military to “an early meeting in Paradise”?

How dare they.

The simple truth of the matter is that I’m ashamed to share citizenship with those protesters, and yet more ashamed to know that Deborah Pauly, Ed Royce and Gary Miller have any power, of any kind, in the nation that is my home.

But this isn’t the first time we’ve seen these spit-flecked maws and the venom they spew. We saw them in 1943 when they joined Lt. Gen. John DeWitt in declaring that “we must worry about the Japanese all the time until he is wiped off the map”; in 1951, they provided names of the innocent to Senator Joe McCarthy as he and the House Un-American Activities Committee destroyed American lives; in 1960, they stood on sidewalks howling “Nigger!” at six year old Ruby Bridges, as she crossed the color line to go to school; in 1979, they savagely assaulted Sikhs and Mexicans for looking like Iranians, and again in 2001, for looking like Arabs.

They are the worst that this country has to offer. They are the dross of our society, the black hearts and empty shells against which the Framers sought to protect us in our founding documents. They are ignorant, they are dangerous, they are a blight and a stain — and they are, whether we like it or not, us.

I might not want to call these unholy miscreants “American” — but American they are. They are American, they are human, and however much I would set walls between us, I can’t.

I cannot wish them away. I cannot impose holiness upon them. I cannot force them to take on the mantle of the American values they currently trample with such glee.

I can only confront them with the truth, push the ignorance into the smaller and yet smaller corners, and build on the certain knowledge that they will not win the day.

Today, Japanese-Americans serve in the Administration of a black President, and the name “McCarthy” is shorthand for a time universally recognized as one of the darkest in American history.

Today, Americans of good will, of all colors and stripes, are horrified by the events in Yorba Linda. Across the country, across the airwaves, on the internet, in homes and in conversation, we are raising a hue and a cry, declaring our loyalty to our Muslim brothers and sisters in solidarity and faith.

Our union is not yet perfect, and it will likely never be.

But as we face down the remains of centuries of bigotry and hate, and bring our better angels to bear against the underbelly of American society, we make the union better. Stronger. More perfect.

“We the people” means all the people — and if a few hundred ill-informed bigots and their spectacularly un-American elected officials don’t know that, then it’s up to us, Muslim and non-Muslim Americans of good will, to let them know.

This is a moment on which our children will look back, and boggle at what innocent people had to face. It’s a moment in which some will shine as heroes, and others will go down in ignominy. It’s a moment that will help define our nation and our future, and it’s in our hands to decide if we will act in support of the American Idea, or stand idly by.

This is it. There’s work to be done, and we’re the only ones who can do it.

*****************

The event I describe above can be seen in the following video. It’s infuriating and more than a little disturbing, but I urge you to watch it — there’s something to hearing the tenor of the hate, and seeing the dignity with which people under verbal assault go about their business, that clears the mind and sharpens the senses.

Click here to learn about some of the many, many responses of Muslims categorically rejecting terrorism; click here to hear the words of a Muslim 9/11 first responder; click here for a ideas [update: including sample scripts and letters] on how to respond to America’s current rash of Islamophobia.

Crossposted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles.

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21 Comments

  1. Shadow's Mom

     /  March 3, 2011

    Emily,

    I’m horrified. As always, thank you for communicating about a very sensitive issue with tolerance and balance. I feel dirty and saddened at the narrowness of perception demonstrated by the protesters and the elected officials who supported them.

  2. I finally made myself watch the video. The hatred, ignorance, fear, intolerance, and rage sickened me, frightened me, saddened me, and angered me. This cannot be allowed to stand, and the fact that elected officials participated in this awfulness is beyond contempt.

  3. Sulayman F

     /  March 4, 2011

    You put into words what I’ve been feeling. That video is so outrageous, it’s like the country is going back to the days when Little Rock integrated its high schools and protestors gathered to scream racist insults.

  4. Welcome to the reality that the Westboro Baptist Church is not all that unusual; organized intolerance and bigotry are everywhere. What is most deplorable about this incident, is that elected government officials participated in their capacity as government officials and made no secret of it. When one is elected to a position in government, personal biases and feelings no longer enter into the equation; you are required, by oath, to support and uphold the Constitution or charter of whatever government you have been elected to, and no such compact, from the local to the Federal level, contains words to the effect that “all Muslims are terrorists.”

    It is deplorable that we should have to live among such narrow-minded and bigoted people, but that is what citizenship in our nation entails. Each and every one of us has the right to their opinion. This means that they have the right to be hateful, and that we have the right to call them on it. I only hope the people of California get wise to this, and vote all three of them out of office, because to have that kind of intolerance represent them would be a black mark on their town and their state.

  5. Persia

     /  March 4, 2011

    I started the video and couldn’t make it through. The dignity and, dare I say, American-ness, of the good people walking past that wall of hate was amazing, but I couldn’t stand the screaming. What cowards, to make such a farce out of a good cause. And how disgusting that many of those elected officials — the ones screaming at little children — dare call themselves ‘pro-family.’ They should be ashamed.

  6. Joe Rizzo

     /  March 4, 2011

    When it comes to controlling groups, it’s always an easier sell to blame an outsider than to take responsibility.
    + Homosexuals are destroying marriage.
    + Muslim’s are attacking America.
    + The rich are destroying America.

    Which conveniently turns into a way to obtain power.
    In reality, when the news or a politician is presenting a story with a clear cut villain and hero – the one thing you can put money on is that the story is clear cut fabrication.

  7. dmf

     /  March 4, 2011

    it’s relatively easy to be liberal/generous in times of plenty but that bubble has burst for U.S. and we need to come up with some new ways of being in relationships/communities, new communal projects that tie us together, and not just virtually, and not just in reaction-ary ways to insults/injuries.

  8. k___bee

     /  March 4, 2011

    Ugh ugh ugh.

    • dmf

       /  March 4, 2011

      hey k_bee, LSE’s sycophantic Libya connections aside have you checked out their cities grad-program?

      • k___bee

         /  March 5, 2011

        I did look at it! But I am sort of skeptical, because I really want to increase my design skills in grad school, and I’m not seeing a design focus in the program at LSE.

        • dmf

           /  March 5, 2011

          that’s always the problem finding a balance between context/reflection and skills/know-how, your certainly right to lean towards know-how in terms of higher-ed. does this mean that you may be heading stateside? if you’re still looking to talk D&G and such perhaps good ee will pass along my email, either way nice to have talked with you again.

  9. WM Rine

     /  March 4, 2011

    Emily,

    Having grown up in the next town over (and then escaped at 18), I can tell you that this isn’t confined to the few hundred fools who showed up. (People in Orange County don’t tend to show up for things.) Remember that this is Dick Nixon’s hometown (and home of his presidential library). It’s in the state Assembly district formerly occupied by Sen. John Briggs, author of the antigay Briggs Amendment now more generally known because of the movie “Milk.” When I was growing up there in the 70s there were people who would admit to being John Birchers. Our then-assemblymember William Dannemeyer (later a far-right lunatic from the Reagan-era House) came to my senior-year civics class and the description of the US, the world, our government, our constitutional legacy that came out of his mouth was so warped, unfactual, and paranoid at its roots that I was horrified. One of the most education half-hours I had in high school.

    The only antidote to this is to do exactly what this faith-based organization was doing — engage in peaceful, interfaith outreach. A few years ago, when I lived in Denver, Operation Rescue held a convention there and as part of their week they went and picketed and terrorized various liberal faith-based organizations around town. (Actually they did more threatening of this than actually showing up, but it worked — they had a lot of people on high alert.) The liberal and socially active church of which I was then a part (whose mission is very similar to the group in Yorba Linda) was one target. That Sunday was nerve-wracking, as a group of us worked out how to get out our disabled and elderly parishioners if there was a picket near the front of the church, how to keep our kids safe, and so on. My anger was high, just as it was reading this. A few days later they targeted the city’s large Muslim center, and about a hundred of us from an interfaith group went out at set up a human chain around the Muslim center. The Operation Rescue guys never showed up, but I can tell you that being together in that chain, standing together and talking rather than staying at home getting angry, really helped me let go of all the anger. I think there’s some wisdom about not brooding over things that aren’t right, do something about them. It’s definitely the remedy to this.

  10. WAknight

     /  March 4, 2011

    “…and the name “McCarthy” is shorthand for a time universally recognized as one of the darkest in American history.”

    Mind you, a decent number of those in the crowd would probably argue that McCarty was a patriot whose efforts against communist subversives like General George Marshall saved our republic from the enemy within (at least until we elected a marxist radical muslim Kenya to the oval office). Normally it would be uncharitable to put words in people’s mouths, but frankly that’s a charity these folks no longer deserve.

  11. Russell King

     /  March 9, 2011

    This is exactly the sort of shit that tests my resolve to be non-violent. Violence is never the answer, of course, and it’s morally unacceptable most of the time, but I can’t say for certain that had I been there I would have been able to resist the urge to punch a few mouths.

    • I hear you. The looks on their faces, as children walk by. If ever there were mugs that seemed to call out for a thumping…. Rising above – not always easy.

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