You’d have to have your head pretty far up your theological lower colon not to acknowledge that Islam confronts America with a refutation of our fundamental principles. Many of the conflicts center on the First Amendment: the prohibition against the state-endorsed establishment of a religion or interference with the exercise thereof; abridgment of free speech and the free press, the right to peaceably assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances (a process known more familiarly in South Dakota as whining). More basic conflicts deal with liberty, equality, and equal justice. The Islamic status accorded women is counter to the principles of equality as they have developed in our country and much of the free world.
Islam rejects the fundamental principles on which America was formed and has developed. The fundamentalist sects conceive that rejection as an obligation to declare holy war on America. Faisal Shahzad, the would-be Times Square bomber, illustrates the dilemma. He became a U.S. citizen last year. The obvious question he raises is, if you don’t like America and what it stands for, why are you here?
The answer, apparently, is he liked the opportunities America afforded him, but he does not like the freedom and opportunities it affords people who do not subscribe to his beliefs and values. He has that attitude in common with many in America’s right wing. The radical Islamists believe that it is the obligation of women to submit to dominance, to obey the rules set for them by men, and to suppress any individual aspirations and thoughts they might have. The penalties for not submitting are severe, including death. The videos of old, Muslim men beating burka-clad women with canes for some infraction of their rules come to mind. Countries seem to be subject to the same rules that are applied to women: if they don’t obey personal and sectarian commands to conform to Islamic dictates, punish them, behead them, or rain mass destruction down on them. The basic issue in our confrontations with militant Islam is the total lack of respect for life, unless it is lived under complete subjection to whatever rules some imam is espousing at the time.
When puritan minister Roger Williams was banished from his Massachusetts pulpit to go live among the Indians in what became Rhode Island, he set the principles on which our First Amendment and the concept of separation of church and state was formed. He stated:
First, that the blood of so many hundred thousand souls of Protestants and Papists, spilt in the wars of present and former ages, for their respective consciences, is not required nor accepted by Jesus Christ the Prince of Peace.
Sixthly, it is the will and command of God that (since the coming of his Son the Lord Jesus) a permission of the most paganish, Jewish, Turkish, or antichristian consciences and worships, be granted to all men in all nations and countries; and they are only to be fought against with that sword which is only (in soul matters) able to conquer, to wit, the sword of God’s Spirit, the Word of God.
Militant Islam obviously disdains that notion which came to define our concept of religious freedom. Our application of those concepts has created a dilemma. The plots to attack America with acts of violence which kill indiscriminately and with a hateful viciousness have often been hatched and developed in mosques, and advocated by Muslim clerics. When some political group, such as some communist or fascist organization, comes to America to declare war or engage in sedition, we are unequivocal about treating them as enemies who must be dealt with according to our laws. When Muslim groups practice war and sedition against us, we get terribly equivocal because the First Amendment asserts the freedom to practice religion. And we are loathe to restrict people who peaceably assemble to worship, even if such worship includes a liturgy of violent sedition and the evangelizing of terrorists. We apply what might be described as theological correctness.
We Americans are for the most part so culturally removed from the mindset possessed by Islamic terrorists that we cannot comprehend their motives. We find it hard to conceive of the thoroughness of operant conditioning in the Muslim system which overrules any critical thinking and provides mindless violence as the way to avenge personal frustrations and prejudices. The behavioral pattern is evident in the actions of Faisal Shahzad and Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter. They were radicalized. We have come to understand the “radicalization” of people under Marxist systems, as portrayed by Manchurian candidates, but we have little understanding of how this same kind of operant conditioning has such an effect on Islamics.
My own experience with Muslim students has puzzled me. In the past Northern State had many students from Middle Eastern countries. It was a destination for Saudi Arabian students who generally came to Northern to finish degrees that they started at a community college in Minnesota. They were competent but undistinguished students who clearly relished American freedoms and culture, and had a particular attraction to the sexuality of American women.
An experience with a Pakistani pre-medical student, however, was the most puzzling. It was at the time that Iran’s Ayotollah Khomeini had issued a death warrant on author Salmon Rushdie for his novel Satanic Verses which portrayed gross hypocrisies within the Muslim religious establishment. The young man felt compelled to stop after class to inform me why Rushdie deserved such a death sentence because he had profaned the Muslim religion, and no rights took precedence over the divine right to seek vengeance over an insult to the Muslim faith. A number of students had lingered after class to hear what the young man said, and later even came to my office to discuss the matter. I solicited information on the matter from those who knew and understood the Muslim faith more than I.
The professor who had the office next to mine at the time was from Pakistan, educated in Canadian universities, and was a professor of English literature, so he well knew the principles that operated in our system and our culture. He seemed to practice a more liberal version of the Muslim religion, if he practiced at all. I was puzzled by his response, which was that someone who brought ridicule on the Muslim religion deserved a death sentence for such a heinous act.
The idea that religious sensibility holds precedent over the very laws which enable the practice of religions is incomprehensible to Americans. We conclude that when people take the Oath of Allegiance to become U.S. citizens some of them must lie outright when they affirm that they accept the terms of the Oath as the condition of their citizenship:
I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.
Those Islamics who are American citizens and turn to random violence in the name of jihad are troubling in the degree of their betrayal and treason. But we forget that our most successful terrorist bombers were not Muslim The most successful, Timothy McVeigh, seemed to have no faith other than a deep hatred of the American government, the one thing he shared with Islamic terrorists. The same seems to be true with the Unabomber.
And then we have shooters like the Columbine boys, the Virginia Tech shooter, and the one at Northern Illinois University. The trait they all shared was a sense of being demeaned and alienated from the society around them and a rage that meant lashing out against it with a vicious violence, knowing and planning that the acts they committed would end their lives, too. Some were under treatment for mental illness, and some should have been, according to reports on them.
Another aspect of violence in American life that receives mostly tabloid-like coverage in the press is that conducted by skinhead gangs, street gangs, and motorcycle gangs. And the constant shootings and killings of young people in Chicago are reminders of something that is deeply wrong. A significant portion of America is living out the society of The Lord of the Flies with an energy that shapes the life of the community. The problem is met with platitudes about holding criminals, not society, responsible for their acts, and so we have a prison system filled with two million who are getting advanced degrees in violence and criminality.
The denial of problems in America is a symptom of a deteriorating society. As suggested by the 47 million people who do not have health care access, there are millions of people for whom the American dream is a living nightmare. They are excluded not just from the advantages of American life but from any regard as humans of equal status and worth. The conclusion has been reached that our schools, which show a a need for improvement, can be improved only by the expeditious firing of teachers. No one wants to look seriously at the social formations of student bodies, which are the salient feature of school life that defines it for students. For many students, school is an oppressive, destructive experience on which parents and teachers exert little influence. Adolescents and young adults are a market particularly vulnerable to ploys that tamper with their sense of identity. Young people tend to define their sense of worth by those over whom they can exercise a pose of distinctive superiority. The rules of the dog pack and pecking order, what sociologists call social stratification, prevail. Adolescent society left to its own devices is viciously cruel and destructive. Nothing raises the reactionary hackles more effectively than to suggest that adolescent society is a reflection of the general society.
Self-criticism is regarded as Marxist, unpatriotic, America-hating — a subversive activity of the liberals. Denial has become a political platform. It is important for a segment of Americans to deny that their political agenda is driven by racial attitudes. When Arizona passed the law requiring police officers to ask for the citizenship papers of anyone stopped for an infraction of law, minority people interpreted this as a form of racial profiling. The state legislature hastily modified the law in an attempt to mitigate the appearance of racial motives, and the problem of Arizona being an entry point for illegals had credence. But when the legislature passed a law banning ethnic studies in the state’s schools, it codified accusations in the legal code that are patently false. The law:
Prohibits a school district or charter school from including in its program of instruction any courses or classes that:
•Promote the overthrow of the United States government.
•Promote resentment toward a race or class of people.
•Are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group.
•Advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.
I have taught ethnic literature as part of study programs, and I have never come across an instance where any teacher promoted the overthrow of U.S. government, promoted racial resentments, where the classes were not designed to impart impart information about one culture to members of another culture, or where ethnic solidarity was an educational objective. It is true that in covering our past and practices in our present that students are confronted with some tough facts about how racism operates in our past and present society. But the reason for ethnic studies is to acknowledge and understand the contributions of the many ethnic elements in our culture, not to foment racial hostilities. Ironically, Arizona State University has maintained one of the most admired ethnic studies programs in the nation. The characterization of ethnic studies in the state law is a falsehood with defamatory purpose.
With laws on the books which prohibit the exploration and study of various ethnic cultures, many Americans rightfully see an official decree of alienation.
We look at the conditioning process involved in radical Islam and can point to those factors which bring violence to America. However, it is Marxist, ungodly, unpatriotic, and America-hating to examine why we are successful in creating so much terror, violence, and anguish right here at home.
America’s strength has been in being able to face up to its own transgressions against humanity and to take steps to rectify them. But now there is a political force that wants to take us backward where conciliation of differences is neither practiced nor desired. Bob Schieffer of CBS’ Face the Nation recently commented that for the first time in his memory, the staff of a politician who was appearing asked if the politician could be given a separate waiting room so that he or she did not have to be in the same room as members of the opposite party. On a local level, I have seen this attitude in people who have stopped going to church, dropped out of civic activities, and have eschewed cultural and social events because of the political tensions that are palpable in these situations.
But it is unpatriotic and an expression of America-hatred to bring it up. And so, let alienation and hatred ring. It’s patriotic.