Land Of The Prejudiced, Home Of The Bigoted: America’s Long History Of Hatred Continues
KITCHENER, Ontario, Canada — Over the past year or so, and accelerating in the last several months, there have been numerous events wherein Muslims have been targeted for assault or abuse simply because of their religion. For example, on Aug. 14, 2014, Andrea Tantaros of FOX News said this regarding Muslims:
“If you study the history of Islam. Our ship captains were getting murdered. The French had to tip us off. I mean these were the days of Thomas Jefferson. They’ve been doing the same thing. This isn’t a surprise. You can’t solve it with a dialogue. You can’t solve it with a summit. You solve it with a bullet to the head. It’s the only thing these people understand.”
And this was only the start. On May 4 of this year, Pam Geller, of the oddly-named American Freedom Defense Initiative, organized a “Draw Mohammad” event outside a mosque in Dallas. Any pictures or renditions of the Prophet Mohammad are considered blasphemous by most Muslims. Two people were killed at this event.
This disturbing trend continued on May 29, when Tahera Ahmad, director of Interfaith Engagement and a chaplain at Northwestern University, was on a flight on which she was denied an unopened can of soda. The flight attendant advised her that she was unable to provide an unopened can because it could be used as a weapon. A man sitting near Ahmad was, however, given an unopened can of beer. No one came to Ahmad’s defense when she protested, but one man told her to “shut the fuck up.”
The following day, Jon Ritzheimer organized an anti-Muslim demonstration at a Phoenix mosque. Armed demonstrators surrounding the mosque carried signs denouncing Islam in the vilest terms and shouted at pro-Islam counter-demonstrators. This required families going into the mosque to attend services to be exposed to this hatred. The demonstration continued during the service.
One wonders why any of this is acceptable. What would the media and public reaction be if a Muslim sponsored a “Draw the Pope” event outside a Catholic church during Mass? Armed people would be encouraged, at this event, to draw pictures mocking the pope, perhaps showing him surrounded by naked little boys. Would this be acceptable?
Or what would the reaction be if a news commentator said that the only thing Jews understand is a bullet to the head? Would not that commentator immediately be fired, as a firestorm of protest erupted on social media?
No, today it is perfectly acceptable to criticize Muslims and Islam in the most shocking and blatant terms. Muslims, sadly, are the latest in a long line of people against whom prejudice is perfectly acceptable in the United States. Let us look at just a few earlier examples, keeping in mind that the constraints of time and space prevent a truly in-depth study.
The myth of the early settlers finding a mostly unpopulated land when they arrived in the New World has long since been shattered. Millions of indigenous people inhabited what is now the U.S., but from the start, their needs were not considered. After the American Revolution, the government stepped in to deal with people who were considered savages and thus given few rights, which could be removed at any time. One example of the abuse of the Native Americans is seen in the establishment of the first federal “Indian” policy in 1783. Some highlights of this are as follows:
- “Whereas by the ninth of the Articles of Confederation, it is among other things declared, that ‘the United States in Congress assembled have the sole and exclusive right and power of regulating the trade, and managing all affairs with the Indians…’”
- “That although motives of policy as well as clemency ought to incline Congress to listen to the prayers of the hostile Indians for peace, yet in the opinion of the committee it is just and necessary that lines of property should be ascertained and established between the United States and them, which will be convenient to the respective tribes, and commensurate to the public wants, because the faith of the United States stands pledged to grant portions of the uncultivated lands as a bounty to their army, and in reward of their courage and fidelity, and the public finances do not admit of any considerable expenditure to extinguish the Indian claims upon such lands; because it is become necessary, by the increase of domestic population and emigrations from abroad, to make speedy provision for extending the settlement of the territories of the United States.” (Note that Native lands had been promised to soldiers and were needed by more European immigrants. Therefore, the Natives simply had to leave.)
How was it possible to rob an entire people of their lands, livelihoods, and their very existence? Colonists and those who followed couldn’t do that to “people,” so they had to view the target population as inferior. Although there was some admiration for Native Americans, as harkening back to a simpler time, it was not this view that took precedence. As Francis Paul Prucha wrote in the Prologue to his book “The Great Father: The United States Government and the American Indians,” the view of Native Americans was that of the “’ignoble savage,’ treacherous, cruel, perverse, and in many ways approaching the brute beasts with whom he shared the wilderness.” Prucha also notes that, “[C]ountless descriptions of Indian life noted the squalor, the filth, the indolence, the lack of discipline, the thievery, and the hard lot accorded Indian women. Not a few Englishmen saw the Indians with their superstitions and inhuman practices as literally children of the Devil.” Viewed through this lens, it became acceptable to take their lands, kill them, and destroy their culture.
Catholics, too, were once singled out for prejudice in the U.S. Following the Protestant Reformation, anti-Catholic sentiment in much of Europe was strong, and this attitude was exported to the New World. In the mid-19th century, some believed that the Catholic Church was the “whore of Babylon” as described in the Book of Revelation, according to Fr. David J. Endres, writing for Homiletic and Pastoral Review last year. He also noted that there was a fear that, as Catholics became more numerous, and therefore politically powerful, the Bible, or at least the King James Version, would be removed from schools.
In his book “Catholics in America: A History,” Patrick W. Carey wrote:
“The rapid increase of Catholic immigrants, the geographical spread of Catholicism, the
manifestations of institutional strength and stability, the emancipation of Catholics in England and Ireland in 1829, and traditional Protestant-Catholic theological antagonisms brought about a virulent hostility toward American Catholics, particularly after 1830.”
In 1835, prominent Presbyterian preacher Lyman Beecher encouraged their exclusion from Western settlements. The burning of Catholic buildings, and the murder of Catholics, became rampant.
Irish Catholics who had immigrated to the U.S. were also singled out. In 1855, The Chicago Tribune reported:
“The great majority of members of the Roman Catholic Church in this country are Irishmen. … Who does not know that the most depraved, debased, worthless and irredeemable drunkards and sots which curse the community, are Irish Catholics?”
Catholics weren’t the only religious group to suffer persecution in the U.S. In 1830, a young farmer in Upstate New York founded a new religion called The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Joseph Smith and his followers were persecuted for claiming he had divine visions, and that new scripture, known as the Book of Mormon, had been revealed to him on gold plates. As a result, the “Saints,” as they called themselves, relocated to Kirtland, Ohio, where they built their first temple. The rapid increase of Mormons, many of them very poor, coupled with the failure of a church-owned bank, heightened tensions between the newcomers and those who had lived there for years. Persecution there drove the Saints to Independence, Missouri.
In Missouri, the church population grew quickly again. The members built up a healthy economy, and there was fear that Mormons would be elected to government offices. Alexander L. Baugh, writing for the church’s Ensign magazine in 2001, reported of “the Missouri Period:” “Their growing presence and the cultural, social, political, religious, and economic differences between the local settlers and the Latter-day Saints fostered tension until conflict became the natural outgrowth.”
After a skirmish between Mormons and the Missouri National Guard, Gov. Lilburn Boggs issued in 1838 what came to be known as the “Extermination Order.” It reads, in part: “The Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the State if necessary for the public peace—their outrages are beyond all description.” Between 8,000 and 10,000 members of the church were driven from Missouri as a result.
Arriving in the desolate swamp known as Nauvoo, Illinois, the church members drained the swamp, started construction on another temple, and built Nauvoo into the second largest city in Illinois.
However, differences in doctrine between the LDS Church and other churches, with polygamy being particularly explosive, caused church members to be driven out of Illinois, their temple burned to the ground, and Smith murdered, along with his brother, in 1844. The Saints fled beyond what was then U.S. territory, and relocated to what is now Utah.
Jingoist zeal always takes a toll, and it certainly did during World War II, when 110,000 to 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry were held in internment camps. They lost their homes and incomes, and were ostracized for years.
There’s one particularly telling exchange between California Attorney General Earl Warren and Illinois Congressman Laurence F. Arnold, in testimony before the Select Committee Investigating National Defense Migration in February 1942, as documented by the Earl Warren Oral History Project:
“When Congressman Arnold of Illinois asked, ‘Do you have any way of knowing whether any one of this group is loyal to this country or loyal to Japan?’, Warren responded, ‘Congressman, there is no way that we can establish that fact. We believe that when we are dealing with the Caucasian race we have methods that will test the loyalty of them, and we believe that we can, in dealing with Germans and Italians, arrive at some fairly sound conclusions because of our knowledge of the way they live in the community and have lived for many years. But when we deal with the Japanese, we are in an entirely different field and we cannot form any opinion that we believe to be sound. Their method of living, their language, make for this difficulty. … ‘“
“‘I had together about 10 days ago about 40 district attorneys and about 40 sheriffs in the State to discuss this alien problem. I asked all of them collectively at that time if in their experience any Japanese, whether California-born or Japan-born, had ever given them any information on subversive activities or any disloyalty to this country. The answer was unanimously that no such information had ever been given, to them.
Now, that is almost unbelievable. You see, when we deal with the German aliens, when we deal with the Italian aliens, we have many informants who are most anxious to help the local authorities and the State and Federal authorities to solve this alien problem. They come in voluntarily and give us information. We get none from the other source.’”
There is one prejudice, at least, that has spanned the centuries of the United States’ existence. Countless volumes have been written, and countless more could be produced, without ever even scratching the surface of the ugly and pervasive prejudice against blacks.
Racism against blacks is deeply engrained in the U.S. psyche, from the enslavement of African people, to the “three-fifths compromise,” in which the Continental Convention of 1787 declared that a person of African descent would be counted as three-fifths of person in determining political representation in the House, to the lynchings of blacks in the South, to the nearly wholesale police slaughter of young, unarmed black men today, whose only crime is wearing a hooded sweatshirt. The prattle sometimes uttered that the American people can’t be prejudiced because they twice elected a black president is the worst kind of nonsense. One must look at President Barack Obama’s opponents, and consider his unique oratorical gifts, before making such an unsupportable statement.
Michael Brown, unarmed when he was shot and killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2014, and Eric Garner, also unarmed when he was strangled by police in New York City the previous month, are only two of the more prominent names from the last year alone. Dontre Hamilton in Milwaukee, John Crawford III, in Dayton, Ohio, Ezell Ford in Florence, California, are just a few of the many others in this hall of police infamy. Few police officers are ever charged with a crime after shooting an unarmed black man or woman, and very few of those charged are ever convicted.
What happened to the Great Melting Pot?
Like the Native Americans, who today are relegated to despair-filled reservations as the government continues to administer their affairs; Catholics, whose churches were once burned and their priests killed; Mormons, whose extermination in one state was actually legal; people of Japanese descent, whose loyalty to the nation was questioned simply because of their ethnicity; and black Americans, who are harassed, arrested, shot and killed with near-total impunity by the white governing forces today, Muslims today are targeted because they somehow don’t fit with the image that the U.S. conjures up as typically “American.”
Once known as the “Great Melting Pot,” implying that all immigrants could be absorbed into U.S. society, the country has now established itself as welcoming only to those who are white and Christian, Jewish or atheist. Candidates for president proclaim the need to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, and one, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, has even said that such a wall between the U.S. and Canada must be considered.
Like some, but not all, religious and ethnic groups before them, Muslims may eventually be tolerated and then generally accepted by U.S. society. But how much suffering must they endure before that point is reached? How many innocent Muslims will die because of hatred born of ignorance and nurtured by a corporate-owned government needing an enemy to fight, and a corporate-owned media willing to fan the flames of jingoistic prejudice?
In 1905, philosopher George Santayana warned: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” For generations, far too many people in the U.S. have seen anyone who doesn’t share their religion and/or ethnicity as both dangerous and inferior, and have striven to drive them from their midst. It is a tragic history, and one that shows no sign of abating soon.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Mint Press News editorial policy.
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