Sep 19, 2008

A history lesson. . . . or a black comedy

It is difficult when loved ones send xenophobic, racist diatribes to you. What can you say?  The latest I received from a far away relative was a piece called "What Thomas Jefferson Learned, a History Lesson."  I don't need to excerpt it. The argument can be summed up easily:  the Barbary War had a lesson for Americans: all Muslims are bloodthirsty interested only in killing, especially killing good Christian Americans. Keith Ellison, the Congressman from Minnesota is a Muslim, and don't be deceived: he is a secret terrorist and swore his oath of office on a Koran that belonged to Thomas Jefferson.

That was too much for me, and I lost my composure--it was late in the evening, my eyes were tired--and before I knew it had flung back to the loved one my own anger, trying to convert him to the correct and liberal, democratic, progressive, tolerant, human, rational way of thinking.

I pointed out that  Ellison is an American citizen, Catholic educated, and from a family who has lived in the US longer than ours. Look at this information from Wikipedia, I said:

Ellison's family has been in America since 1742. Keith Ellison, the third of five sons, was born and raised a Roman Catholic in Detroit, Michigan by his parents Leonard and Clida Ellison, a psychiatrist and a social worker respectively.  Ellison and three of his siblings became lawyers while the other became a doctor. One of his brothers is also the pastor of the Baptist "Church of the New Covenant" in Detroit, and the family has been involved in the civil rights movement, including the work of his grandfather as a member of the NAACP in Louisiana Ellison's youth was influenced by the involvement of his family in the civil rights movement, including the work of his grandfather as a member of the NAACP in Louisiana. He graduated from the University of Detroit Jesuit High School and Academy in 1981 where he had been active in sports and the student Senate. At age nineteen, while attending Wayne State University in Detroit, Ellison converted from Catholicism to Islam. 


I found it interesting that Ellison could have left the very faith that we--my relative and I--had been brought up  in and that my relative still wholeheartedly embraced.  I reminded him that the Constitution of the United States requires that "no test"of religion be a requirement for public office. See article 6. Furthermore, the same amendment says you do not have to swear on a bible, only that you have to take an oath "or Affirmation." 

I wanted my relative to get real, to stick to the issues instead of these paranoid fantasies of fear. His email presumed that a particular Muslim personage in the 18
th century spoke for all of Islam back then and still speak for all of Islam today, and presumes that chosen phrases from some of the Barbary pirate's statements reflect current Islamic thought. All of which is to say that the writer of this piece knew very little about Islam and assumes that the most radical voices like Bin Laden, who have been rejected by mainstream Islam, especially in the United States, represent all Muslims. 

 On this basis of that paranoid thinking, as Ellison himself pointed out, Christians are terrorists because Timothy McVeigh was associated with a fundamentalist Christian sect. I asked if he had ever read anything by Keith Ellison.  Had he ever heard him speak?  I pointed out that  Ellison was just another politician from the liberal side of the spectrum, from a fairly liberal state, who's most concerned about the abuses of power that this current administration has perpetrated. [I should tell you here that he never responded to any of this information.]

What was of more concern to me was this: did my relative really think that terrorist criminals will be able to take over this country, rape our women, marry our little girls, and carry out a radical Muslim coup?  

Did he think that,  if the United States forces and their coalition of the willing in Iraq find it impossible to take over a country of 26 million (less 2.5 million refugees and 2.7 million internally displaced) with a force of 160,000+ troops and 100,000 hired mercenaries, that a few thousand criminals hiding in Pakistani caves had  their tanks and airplanes poised in Mexico and Canada and readying  for a takeover? Did he truly think that the conquest  would succeed?

And I told him that if he truly feared that a Muslim conquest of this country was a possibility, I questioned his hold on reality. The terrorists were criminals, I said,  and we have wasted 7 years and many many lives trying to fight them as if they were a belligerent country. I questioned Bush and Cheney's hold on reality as well.

Just prior to receiving this fantasy of Muslim conquest,  I had sent him something rational and relevant from a conservative writer. Maybe, I suggested,  he could send me some real political argument sometimes, like a conservative piece in support of McCain? or a rational argument from somebody in the middle or on the left why Obama will be bad for this country. Those I would gladly read, but not this stuff.

The more I read articles by writers on the far right of the political spectrum and so called "independent" white voters, the more I understood that some  folks just don't want some "uppity Negro" as president. In other words, too many Americans are being motivated by racism rather than reason.

And as I wrote I thought that until our generation finally died off  the United States will never be able to overcome its racist attitudes. 

[But as I think about it now, I believe that even the death of our generation will not rid the nation of racism. This doesn't bode well for any American.]

The paranoia is almost cartoonish. Certainly it is black comedy, the new remake of the sixties movie:  "the Muslims are coming, the Muslims are coming!"  The problem is, my relative wants to bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran, heh heh, just like his candidate.

I realized that all too many Americans, my  close family relation being included, need an enemy outside of us. Once that enemy is established, they enter their bubble. 

Well, of course, my passionate email reply  didn't help at all. My relative just got angry and insisted that we would never see eye to eye.  He still sends me xenophobic things. Racist things. Sentimental things from the fifties. Quizzes about Buffalo Bob and Howdy Doody.

 A good friend of mine tells me to just let it go, not to read the emails from the loved one far away. To understand that I am the one in control of my anger. True, true, I say. And yet--I think I want to proselytize.  My relative thinks I am blind to the danger of the Muslim conquest of America and the illegal alien hordes flooding into this country. And I ?  Well, I am no longer a religious person, but I can understand missionary zeal. 

I know that he is worshipping a false idol.  A missionary zeal indeed. But I don't believe in the power of prayer to convert him. And the religious metaphor is probably a bad one to use. But this does make me understand missionaries.  And so we will always be at loggerheads. 

It doesn't do either of us any good to rant. I should just have posted my thoughts on the blog and let it go, let it go . . . into the ether of the internet where probably no one will read this anyway,  rather into the inbox of the relation so far away.

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