Do Unto Others focuses on the Middle East, (nonviolent) social movements, and how I make sense of my place in the world. I'm currently based in Cairo, Egypt doing peacebuilding and community development.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Fear based suspicion

Nicholas Kristof's new column is worth a read. Kristof touches on the recent mosque controversy and the rise of Islamaphobia in the country. It's not difficult to make the connections between the marginalization, suspicion, and fear of Muslims today, and the fear seen towards many other people groups in history:

Suspicion of outsiders, of people who behave or worship differently, may be an ingraineda element of the human condition, a survival instinct from our cave-man days. But we should also recognize that historically this distrust has led us to burn witches, intern Japanese-Americans, and turn away Jewish refugees from the Holocaust.

Perhaps the closest parallel to today’s hysteria about Islam is the 19th-century fear spread by the Know Nothing movement about “the Catholic menace.” One book warned that Catholicism was “the primary source” of all of America’s misfortunes, and there were whispering campaigns that presidents including Martin Van Buren and William McKinley were secretly working with the pope. Does that sound familiar?

Critics warned that the pope was plotting to snatch the Mississippi Valley and secretly conspiring to overthrow American democracy. “Rome looks with wistful eye to domination of this broad land, a magnificent seat for a sovereign pontiff,” one writer cautioned.

Historically, unreal suspicions were sometimes rooted in genuine and significant differences. Many new Catholic immigrants lacked experience in democracy. Mormons were engaged in polygamy. And today some extremist Muslims do plot to blow up planes, and Islam has real problems to work out about the rights of women. The pattern has been for demagogues to take real abuses and exaggerate them, portraying, for example, the most venal wing of the Catholic Church as representative of all Catholicism — just as fundamentalist Wahabis today are caricatured as more representative of Islam than the incomparably more numerous moderate Muslims of Indonesia (who have elected a woman as president before Americans have).

In the 19th century, fears were stoked by books written by people who supposedly had “escaped” Catholicism. These books luridly recounted orgies between priests and nuns, girls kidnapped and held in secret dungeons, and networks of tunnels at convents to allow priests to rape nuns. One woman claiming to have been a priest’s sex slave wrote a “memoir” asserting that Catholics killed boys and ground them into sausage for sale.

I can't but help of think of my recent post about the 'Green Prince' when I read about the strongest critiques and the most fearful sentiment being brought by those who had 'escaped' their previous religion.


Anonymous said...

There are some really great Muslims there is no doubt about that, but the god they worship is the biggest terrorist in the universe and their prophet was a murderer and a womanizer. There is enough poison in Islam that it will continue to degrade societies and spurn murder and ignorance. It's so sad. Hats off to Mosah Yousef. May there be a million more like him!
Barak Aviv

Samuel Nichols said...

How can a God be a terrorist? I mean theologically speaking, how is something that is non-material carry out a terrorist attack; and, has that ever happened in history?

Anonymous said...

How does Hamas justify murder, Samuel? I mean "theologically speaking" of course!? Do ideas materialize, can they?
Barak Aviv
p.s. "...because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness." (The Jewish Rabbi Apostle Paul) 2 Thess 2:10-12