Seventeen hours after an alleged white supremacist opened fire in a Sikh temple, killing six people, someone set fire to the Islamic Society of Joplin in Missouri, burning it to the ground.
It was the second fire set at the center in five weeks. The first fire, on July 4, caused minor damage, was shown to be arson and the FBI offered a $15,000 reward at that time. This second fire totally destroyed the center. Imam Lahmuddin, the leader of the mosque, said in a phone interview, “I’m still in front of the building looking at the damage and nothing can be saved. But since we are people of faith we just can remember that this is a thing that happened because God let it happen, and we have to be patient, particularly in the month of Ramadan, control our emotions, our anger.”
The Imam doesn’t want to be angry. Well, I’ll be angry for him.
My mother’s family came here from southern Germany in 1780. They were part of an immigrant group called the Salzburgers, Catholic Germans who were being discriminated against in Lutheran Germany and Austria. So many German Catholics came to America that there is a myth that at one time we considered using German as our language instead of English. Though the one in the suburbs of Philadelphia is the most famous, there were dozens of Germantowns throughout the original thirteen states.
My father’s mother came here from the Dominican Republic, where civil law was based in Catholic canon law, and she could not divorce the husband who abandoned her and their son. Hubby didn’t care. He was an American, of French Huguenot stock. He eventually landed in South America and founded a second family. Abuela, like Evita Peron’s mother, became the mistress of a married man and when pregnant with her third son by him, my father, asked to be brought to America on one of his business trips. She stayed, moving from their apartment when my grandfather was in the Caribbean, and reinventing herself as a World War I widow. She went from being the ward of a Chilean ambassador to Great Britain to scrubbing toilets to support her children, but she was free – free of the religion-based laws that had enslaved her, made her dependent on her relatives and on my grandfather.
Americans talk about how their ancestors came here for “religious freedom.” Well, they would not have needed religious freedom in their home countries if those countries had not had state religions.
For the first 1500 years of Christianity, groups fought for supremacy, with Rome eventually winning the war to be the pure Christian Church through little actions like the massacre at Carcassonne and the purging of the Templars. Then, Martin Luther nailed his thesis to the church door and the second war began, between Catholics and Protestants, a war that has barely wound down at long last in Northern Ireland. We talk about the sectarian wars between groups of Muslims, but Christianity has suffered through 2,000 years of our own sectarian wars and we conveniently forget that.
Our ancestors who came here for religious freedom did so because they belonged to the wrong sect. It’s that freaking simple. They were Protestants in Catholic countries or Catholics in Protestant countries. And the men who wrote our Constitution knew that. They knew that our French and Indian War was an extension of one of those sectarian wars in Europe. So, they wrote the First Amendment. They promised us that first and foremost, Congress would write no law establishing an official religion, and second, that we would all be free to practice our individual faiths.
Muslims who have come to America, those not driven by purely economic reasons just as some of our ancestors were, came here because they belonged to the wrong sect. They were Shia in Sunni countries or Sunni in Shia countries or Sufi in either. They came here for freedom from a state religion and from state imposition of religious laws that did not fit their beliefs. People who believe in strict fundamentalist Sharia do no immigrate from a country that imposes strict fundamentalist Sharia. Those people are where they want to be. It is those who do not wish to live under someone else’s interpretation of the Qur’an who come here or go to Europe to escape.
9-11 was not about religion anymore than the sectarian wars of Europe were about religion. It was about power. The European sectarian wars literally have names like The War of Spanish Succession. They were about who would sit on a throne and who would control the man on the throne. They were about power. The Crusades were not about religion. They were about controlling the trade routes from China, about economic power. Religion is the means by which strong men recruit weak men to be cannon fodder. Religion incites greater passion than nationalism. Religion can convince people that they deserve to be poor or deserve to suffer on earth for a reward in the afterlife.
An ignored statement from Osama bin Laden explained what 9-11 was all about. He saw himself as the means by which there would be a new Caliphate, with himself as the new Caliph. 9-11 was about his power, about proving that he should lead a revolution that would place Al Qaida in control of Mecca, Medina, Damascus, Jerusalem and Baghdad – the five core cities of the medieval Caliphate. Anyone who heard that interview knew that the allegation that bin Laden was in league with Saddam Hussein was a crock. Bin Laden wanted Hussein dead and himself in control of Iraq.
Islam has been at war with itself almost since the day the Prophet died. The Shia-Sunni rift involves who was supposed to inherit the Prophet’s power as the leader of the Muslim world. Religion is just a veneer put on an ancient human ritual of establishing more power than the next person. All across the Muslim world there are people who are tired of the wars, tired of the repressions, tired of the very human quest for power over their lives. So, when possible, they emigrate. And they have come here, to America, to the first place on this planet that promised all her people they would be free of state religion, free of repression because of their faiths, free of assaults and attacks because of the nature of the God or Goddess they worshiped.
We haven’t always kept that promise well, but for a while it looked like we had matured, that we were learning tolerance or at least learning to hide our bigotry. Bill Clinton’s election taught us how wrong we were. Anti-government and anti-minority militias mushroomed, hate was more easily spread through the new medium of the internet. Oklahoma City showed us just how wrong we were. Then, it subsided during the Bush administration. We had an outside enemy to focus on again. We could stop hating each other for a while, but only for a while.
From the 1960s on, the only open bigotry that politicians and those who support politicians got away with was racism in its black and white terms. Even that was diluted over time. But the election of Barack Hussein Obama has unleashed every imaginable prejudice lurking in the hearts of Americans. George W. Bush may have been my least favorite of all time president, but he managed to keep the anti-Muslim sentiment under control. Now, it is loose, and growing increasingly violent, and stupidly impacting those who aren’t Muslim but wear turbans and head scarves. It is now somehow acceptable for people to express a belief that all mosques should be burned, after they are packed with innocent Muslims. It is considered “cute” for hater to find ways around comment stream bans on certain words so they can call the President a “knee ger” or a smelly muzzie. They call the Prophet a child molester, claim that all Muslims live by a creed of kill or convert, aver that the goal of Islam is to overthrow our government and establish Sharia. The haters have resurrected the Cold War and World War II to label those who are not card-carrying “patriots” commies, socialists, Nazis, Maoists – too damned stupid to know that the Nazis were fascists, proponents of that political ideology its founder Benito Mussolini called “the perfect merger of corporate and government power,” and communists, socialists and union organizers were sent to the death camps.
And the Republican Party, who are benefitting at the polls from this bigotry, this blind hatred, this open disavowal of everything this nation has stood for, flatly refuse to denounce it even in their own elected officials. They will not punish Michele Bachmann or Alan West for their hate speech. They will not exclaim loudly and purposefully that such hatred is not welcome in their party. They are enabling the murderer and the arsonist, the destroyer and the vandal, the hater and the slanderer. They are so consumed by their own quest for power that they parse their words when talking about the President’s religion, never fully acknowledging that he was raised without formal religion and is a Christian by choice.
The Republican Party is so consumed with their own quest for power that, like the medieval European kings, they will prey on the religious to advance their power, justify their wars of conquest. They, like the factions of Renaissance Europe, will use religion to rally their forces, creating political issues based purely in religious belief, knowing that religion is the most powerful driving force known to mankind. Republicans used to talk about how their party was a big tent that had room for all. They have become the party whose tent welcomes hate, suspicion, fear, oppression, repression, and exclusion from the blessings of our Constitution, all in the name of Christ, the Prince of Peace.