I TRY TO BE CALM. BUT THE MASSACRE in Oak Creek, Wisconsin this week makes me sick. I’m sick of the Wade Michael Pages of this world, I’m sick of the haters, and I’m sick of people who lean in that direction and hide their intolerance behind the Bible, the U. S. Constitution, the American flag, or all three.
It’s sad and twisted, really. But Page was a member of several white-supremacist bands, including one called Definite Hate. In a song called “Welcome to the South,” the lyrics focused on the coming “race war” and wondered:
“What has happened to America/That was once so white and free?”
I’m sick of killers and their silent allies. I’m sick of those who intentionally or unintentionally stir up intolerant fools.
Here in Cincinnati, you might start with Bill Cunningham, the host of a daily radio talk show on WLW. He’s not a true hater. He’s no Wade Michael Page. Still, like many of the loudest voices on the right today, he’s careless, and his language is dangerous. When a caller agrees, Cunningham usually replies, “You’re a great American.” The implication is that those “others” out there, who don’t think the same way, are not. In four years, for example, Mr. Cunningham has never missed an opportunity to call the president by his full name: “Barack Hussein Obama.”
Why? What is Cunningham’s point? It’s simple, of course. It’s a veiled appeal to bigotry, to the worst in listeners, not their best. It’s not like the “good old days,” when you could spew toxic hate in public and call human beings “niggers,” and no one was shocked. Still, it’s the same smell. “Hussein.” Why not say it straight?
Tell listeners they have to vote against President Obama, first, second and third, because he’s a Muslim.
Cunningham isn’t guilty of Neo-Nazi thinking. I don’t mean that. But he leans ever so dangerously in the same direction–he’s dealing in dehumanization–and that has never been what makes America great. Bigotry isn’t one of the cherished ideals set forth in the Declaration of Independence. Those on the right might prefer to believe they alone love this country and honor the Founding Fathers. Those of us on the left realize that the Founding Fathers made sure to list all Americans’ rights, not just because they feared government, but because they knew human beings have always needed to be protected from one another.
Sadly, Page isn’t the first deluded “patriot” to go after Sikhs. Only days after the 9/11 attacks, a man named Frank Roque drove up to a gas station in Mesa, Arizona and shot the owner, who wore a turban and beard. Roque told police that he had wanted to kill “a Muslim” and tried to wrap his unreasoning hate in red, white and blue, saying, “I am an American.” According to his birth certificate, that might have been true. But his victim, Balbir Singh Sodhi, was a Sikh, a reform branch of the Hindu faith.
No Sikhs were in involved in the 9/11 attacks.
Still, on the right, there seems to be no concern, whatsoever, about fostering delusional thinking. How scared are patriotic fools? In a recent poll, 30% of Republicans said that President Obama is a Muslim and the numbers among conservative Republicans were worse, at 34%. And how does fear mongering play out? Not long ago a conservative fellow told me all Muslims are terrorists. I tried to explain why he was wrong but he was a fan of Rush Limbaugh and had a case of the “Sarah Palin Disease.” Palin probably isn’t a true hater, but she still loves to play up the “us” vs. “them” theme. If you’re out there on the right today, like Palin, you believe you are a good American, a “real American” as she put it at campaign stops all over the country in 2008. Then you warn the audience that Obama pals around with terrorists and listeners believe what you say.
Is President Obama a Muslim? No. He is not.
And let’s be clear about something else, too. You can be conservative and make perfect sense. You can oppose Mr. Obama’s efforts at health care reform. You might fairly disagree with his stance on gay marriage or what we need to do about Iran. But you are a chock-a-block fool if you think he reads the Qur’an for spiritual guidance.
Worse yet, it is inherently un-American to assume that if he did, he would be disqualified from running this country.
Let’s try to do a little public service and set a few confused right-wing thinkers straight. In 2010 there were at least 2.6 million Muslims living in the United States, most of them citizens, protected by the same U. S. Constitution that people like Rush and Sean Hannity say they revere. And if the fear mongers were right, those Muslims would be blowing themselves (and the rest of us) up, left and right. Yet, they aren’t. The shooter in Wisconsin wasn’t carrying a Qur’an. The shooter in Aurora, Colorado who murdered all those people in the theater wasn’t wearing a turban and beard.
Sikhs aren’t Muslims and President Obama isn’t, either. If you know your First Amendment, though, it wouldn’t matter if he was. Not all Muslims are terrorists. Some few happen to be; and they’re sick haters, too.
That’s why we have law enforcement. To protect all Americans, from dangerous individuals, from rapists and murderers and Neo-Nazis and fanatics in planes.
IN THE END, THERE’S A REASON LIBERALS ARE LIBERALS. It’s not because they don’t love America. It’s because they love what American has always meant and still means today. They know that Catholics were once feared, when waves of Irish immigrants began coming to these shores in the 1840s. Liberals who know their history remember that “Know Nothing” politicians stirred up hatred and fear towards those who were “different” even before the Civil War.
Liberals now know the Irish fit in, making our nation better in the end. In fact, it’s some kind of sad irony that the cop who nearly died trying to save the Sikhs in Oak Creek was named Patrick Murphy.
In the end, like sensible conservatives, liberals often fear big government, only in different ways. A liberal is more likely to remember that fear of other people is often the gravest threat to individual freedoms and rights. A liberal remembers that 110,000 Japanese-Americans were locked up in 1942, after other people, who looked like them, flew other planes during an attack on Pearl Harbor. A liberal remembers that when hate and fear and intolerance swept over our nation seven decades ago thousands of U. S. citizens ended up in internment camps.
A liberal remembers when women–half the U. S. population–were considered inferior, too delicate for sports. A liberal watches the Olympics and is proud of what U. S. women accomplish today. A liberal sees Sanya Richards-Ross, born in Jamaica, who moved here when she was 12, win gold for Team USA in the 400 meters and remembers when colleges down south, like the University of Texas, from which she graduated, didn’t want dark-skinned students enrolled. A liberal knows that Megan Rapinoe, a star on the U. S. women’s soccer is gay, and still gets excited when her two goals against Canada propel our team into the gold medal game. A liberal sees Danell Leyva, born in Cuba, whose parents defected and came to the United States when he was young, on the men’s gymnastics team and is proud of what this country has always meant. Hope for all humanity.
Not just some white humanity. Not just straight humanity, or male humanity, or conservative humanity.