Tuesday, February 22, 2011

"to bigotry, no sanction; to persecution, no assistance..." Congressman King vs the American Ideal

The words printed above were written by George Washington to the leaders of one of America's oldest synagogues in Newport, Rhode Island, as part of his assurance to the Jewish citizens of Rhode Island that this experiment in democracy would be something hitherto unheard of on this earth: a nation, by law, in which religious favoritism and bigotry would have no place. That promise, however imperfectly implemented throughout our history, has shone like a beacon of hope to persecuted people all over the world- people who have, by their contributions to our shared history proven beyond any doubt what diverse peoples can do together, in a society in which liberty,dignity and opportunity are available to all. When we have allowed racism, religious bigotry, or any form of prejudice to influence our behavior as a nation, from slavery, to Jim Crow to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, we have ultimately and always come to repent of that betrayal in bitterness and shame.

Unfortunately, political and personal opportunism as demonstrated by the likes of demagogues like Father Coughlin, Governor George Wallace and Senator Joseph McCarthy, has always been part of the public life of this nation as well. There have always been voices in our country, as in every other, making their bones or their careers by fanning the flames of prejudice against those whose race or faith or ethnicity or political views place them in the minority. Congressman Peter King of Long Island appears poised to become on of those demagogues with his plan to hold congressional hearings clearly designed to cast suspicion on the patriotism of Americans who happen to belong to the Islamic faith and to link them to terrorism. Despite public statements by law enforcement officials, including the FBI that Muslim Americans have and continue to assist them in combating terror, despite the fact that the trend toward terrorist acts in this country is increasingly found among domestic right-wing groups, rather than Islamists, King is focusing only and entirely on Muslims in genuine McCarthy style, calling as his witnesses, politically motivated individuals with particular axes to grind with the religion of Islam, none of which have anything to do with terror.

By doing what he is doing, Peter King is not simply demonizing the religion of Islam, or persecuting one group of people, he is attacking the principle of equality before the law, a foundational principle of our American democracy, and he is doing it by sanctioning bigotry on religious grounds. There is nothing more un-American and all of us, whatever our faith or political views should be outraged. If Congressman King believes congressional hearings are an effective means of combating terrorism and not just a political side show aimed at furthering his own career, then he should be looking at all forms of terrorism aimed at our country and considering the opinions of those who are on the front lines of the battle against terrorism, the FBI, Homeland Security and other law enforcement officials whose opinions he has thus far ignored. As people of faith, as patriotic Americans we must not stand by while our fellow citizens have their dignity stripped away and their commitment to this nation questioned simply because of their religious faith. The only way to stop this kind of pandering is to make it politically unprofitable for people like King. Please join us and stand up for America and Americans!