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.”
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, 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.