Gerson: Trump is the Real Threat to Religious Liberty

Omar

Here is Gerson–an evangelical, former Bush speechwriter, and Washington Post columnist–on Trump’s response to recent statements by Minnesota representative Ilhan Omar:

By all the evidence, Trump is an anti-Muslim bigot. At one campaign event in 2015, a member of the audience stated, “We have a problem in this country, it’s called Muslims.” And he went on to ask, “When can we get rid of them?” Trump responded: “We’re going to be looking at that and plenty of other things.” Imagine a normal politician on the left or right being asked about the possibility of getting rid of all the Christians, or getting rid of all the Jews. They would likely use such a moment to clarify that they aren’t, in fact, insanely prejudiced monsters. Trump used such a moment to affirm the instinct of mass deportation and to promise a range of other anti-Muslim actions.

Could this have been a slip of the tongue? No, it wasn’t. Trump has a long history of animus — raw animus — against one of the Abrahamic faiths. He has said, “We’re having problems with the Muslims.” And: “There is a Muslim problem in the world.” And: “The United Kingdom is trying hard to disguise their massive Muslim problem.” And: “Islam hates us.”

Read the entire piece here.

Trump Does Not Think White Nationalism and Islamaphobia is a Problem

eight_col_pshooting

POTUS Donald Trump could have gone one of two ways today:

He could have used the murders in New Zealand to provide comfort to American Muslims and to remind them that they are United States citizens who have every right to worship freely and participate in the life of American society.  I am imagining that many American Muslims are anxious today after the attacks on the Christchurch mosques.  Trump, as their president, could have calmed their fears, but this would not have played well with his base.

Instead, Trump denied that white supremacy and Islamophobia is a problem.  Here is a piece at CNN.Com:

President Donald Trump said Friday he does not regard white nationalism as a rising global threat in the aftermath of mosque terror attacks in New Zealand that left at least 49 people dead.

“I don’t really,” Trump said in the Oval Office after being questioned about whether he views white nationalism as growing. “I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems, I guess.”

Three people were arrested in connection with the shootings. They include a 28-year-old man who was charged with murder and was due to appear in court Saturday. The other two remain in custody. New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush said authorities were investigating their ties to shootings that occurred as Muslims convened for Friday prayers, the busiest time for many mosques around the world. The suspected shooter livestreamed video of the attack and posted a manifesto online. In the manifesto, he identifies himself as a white man, born in Australia, and lists the white nationalists who have inspired him.

“If you look at what happened in New Zealand, perhaps that’s the case,” Trump said on white nationalism. “I don’t know enough about it yet. They’re just learning about the person and the people involved.”

Calling the attack “terrible thing,” Trump said he’d not yet seen the manifesto the mosque shooter wrote.

“I did not see it. I did not see it, but I think it’s a horrible event, it’s a horrible thing,” he said, adding he was first updated on the attack early Friday morning.

Trump referred to the attacks at a pair of New Zealand mosques as “terror attacks” during remarks, the first time the President had done so himself publicly.

Earlier Friday, Trump expressed over Twitter his condolences to the people of New Zealand.

“My warmest sympathy and best wishes goes out to the people of New Zealand after the horrible massacre in the Mosques. 49 innocent people have so senselessly died, with so many more seriously injured. The U.S. stands by New Zealand for anything we can do. God bless all!” Trump tweeted.

As I type this I am watching an imam on CNN calling Muslim moderates around the world to condemn the extremism and terrorism.  Despite the blanket statements about moderation being made by some American progressives, sometimes moderation is needed.  In other words, moderates are not always “meh.”

Beinart: Will the GOP Stand-Up to Roy Moore’s Anti-Muslim Prejudice?

Roy Moore,Patricia Jones

The Republican nominee for Jeff Sessions’s vacated Alabama Senate seat is a Christian nationalist who appears to see Muslim-Americans as second-class citizens.  Writing at The Atlantic, Peter Beinart wonders why Moore’s fellow Republicans are not condemning his views.  Here is a taste of his piece:

In his hostility to Islam, and his belief that American Muslims should not be allowed to serve in office, Moore stands firmly in the tradition of Cain, Bachmann, Carson and Trump. In 2006, when Muslim Congressman Keith Ellison swore his oath of office on a Koran, Moore comparedit to taking an “oath on Mein Kampf” in 1943, and said Ellison should not be seated in Congress. This July, he called Islam a “false religion.” In August, he said, “There are communities under Sharia law right now in our country. Up in Illinois. Christian communities.” He later acknowledged that he had no idea if that was true. (It isn’t.)

What’s new isn’t what Moore has said. It’s the way leading Republicans have responded. There has been virtually no criticism at all. When CNN asked Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson how he felt about Moore’s claim that Barack Obama was a Muslim, Johnson responded merely that, “no two people agree 100% of the time.” When asked by the Toronto Star about claims that Moore was anti-Muslim, the Chairman of the Russell County, Alabama, Republican Party replied, “I’m anti-Muslim too.” (He later explained that, “I don’t have any problems with anybody’s religion as long as it’s Christian.”) When Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel declared in an interview on Fox News that, “the voters did the right thing,” Moore’s anti-Muslim comments didn’t even come up. In the age of Donald Trump, most Republican politicians are now too afraid to condemn anti-Muslim bigotry. And increasingly, journalists no longer expect them to.

And where are the court evangelicals?  Why aren’t they speaking out against Moore?  I assume they are too busy petitioning Donald Trump for more religious liberty legislation.

Khizr Khan Has Introduced the Idea of Empathy Into Our Democratic Culture

Khizr Khan, the father of American military hero and Purple Heart winner Captain Humayun Khan, has been all over cable news this week after his moving speech at last week’s Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

Here is the speech:

A lot has been said about the speech and Khan has taken his fifteen minutes of fame to send out a powerful message about American identity.

As a historian, I am always struck whenever Khan uses the word “empathy” in his criticism of Trump.  I like this term.  Not only is the concept of empathy essential to the survival of American democracy, but it is also vital to the discipline of history.  The study of history requires empathy.  Thus, if my logic is correct, the study of history might also be useful to a robust and thriving democratic life in the United States.

As the readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home know, I have been making this argument for several years.  I most recently wrote about empathy in a Christian Century piece on the recent police shootings in Dallas, Minneapolis, and Baton Rouge.   But since I am the proprietor of this blog, and we are always getting new readers, I reserve the right to make it again.

Here is what I had to say about empathy in my Why Study History: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past:

As historian John Cairns notes, empathy “is the passport to gaining a genuine entry into the past as a foreign land, and something distinct from our time.”  Empathy requires the historians to step into the shoes of historical actors in order to see the world as they did, to understand them on their own terms and not ours.  Historian John Lewis Gaddis writes, “Getting inside other people’s minds requires that your own mind be open to their impressions–their hopes and fears, their beliefs and dreams, their sense of right and wrong, their perception of the world and where they fit within it.”  The practice of empathy may be the hardest part of being a historian.  This is largely because our natural inclination, or, as Sam Wineburg calls it, our “psychological condition at rest,” is to find something useful in the past.  We want to make the past work for us rather than enter into it with an attitude of wonder about what we might find and the kinds of people and ideas we might encounter.  Historical empathy thus requires an act of the imagination.  The practice of bracketing our own ways of seeing the world in order to see a strange world more clearly requires discipline on the part of the historian.  It demands a certain level of intellectual maturity.  It requires a willingness to listen to the past…

Empathy differs from sympathy.  Empathy is all about understanding.  It is an attempt to discover why a particular individual in the past acted in the way that he or she did.  It might even mean exploring such actions in an attempt to grasp how he or she reflects the mentality of all of those living in that time and how such a mentality differs from our own.  Sympathy, however, carries a deeper moral component than empathy.  The sympathetic person develops an emotional attachment–such as a desire for the other person to be happy–that can sometimes make empathy difficult and might even get in the way of an accurate historical interpretation.

To illustrate the differences between empathy and sympathy, let me relay a conversation I recently had with my fourteen-year-old daughter.  Allyson had just finished reading Harriett A. Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself, in her eighth-grade American Studies class.  Published in 1861, the book tells the story of how Jacobs was physically and sexually abused by her master and, in an attempt to escape the torture, hid for roughly seven years in a storeroom crawl space.  Allyson returned home from school emotionally shaken by Jacob’s story.  This was her first exposure to such a graphic slave narrative.  Her response was outrage, anger, and sadness.  She sympathized with the plight of Jacobs, but she was unable to empathize–to rid herself of what she perceived as the moral injustice done to this slave woman.  She failed to fully understand the world of the nineteenth-century South in which Jacobs lived.  My daughter developed an emotional connection with Jacobs, and I was glad that she did.  She grew as a moral being through the reading of the narrative.  But she was unable to understand Jacobs historically because sympathy kept getting in the way.  This, of course, should be expected from a fourteen-year-old.  Historical thinking of this nature, as I noted above, requires intellectual maturity.

And this:

The sixteenth-century writer Montaigne once said, “Every man calls evil what he does not understand.”  Our everyday lives will always be filled with disagreements and misunderstandings, but a democratic society will survive only if we are able to live civilly with them.  We are correct to believe that in the United States we have a “right” to our opinions and beliefs, but there are also times when we must rise above private interests and temporarily sacrifice our rights for the greater good of the larger community.  Such a view of the common good, which the late Pope John Paul II called “solidarity,” requires that we see others, even those who we may believe are “evil,” as neighbors and “sharers on part with ourselves in the banquet of life to which all are equally invited by God.”  To put an alternative spin on Montaigne’s quote, “The more you know about another person’s story, the less possible it is to see that person as your enemy.”adbb2-why2bstudy2bhistory-baker

Because we all have our own views and opinions, civil society requires conversation.  We may never come to an agreement on what constitutes the “common good,” but we can all commit ourselves to sustaining democracy by talking to and engaging with one another.  As author and activist Parker Palmer puts it, “Democracy gives us the right to disagree and is designed to use the energy of creative conflict to drive positive social change.  Partisanship is not a problem.  Demonizing the other side is.”  The inner working of this kind of democracy is described best by the late historian and cultural critic Christopher Lasch in his book The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy.  His description of the mechanics of democratic conversation is worth citing in full:

“The attempt to bring others around to our point of view carries the risk, of course, that we may adopt their point of view instead.  We have to enter imaginatively into our opponent’s arguments, if only for the purpose of refuting them, and we may end up being persuaded by those we sought to persuade.  Argument is risky and unpredictable, therefore educational.  Most of us tend to think of it…as a clash of rival dogmas, a shouting match in which neither side gives an ground.  But arguments are not won by shouting down opponents.  They are won by changing opponents’ minds–something that can only happen if we give opposing arguments a respectful hearing and still persuade their advocates that there is something wrong with those arguments.  In the course of this activity, we may well decide that there is something wrong with our own.”

Empathy.

In Case You Missed What Obama Said at the Islamic Center of Baltimore

Obama at mosque

He penned an op-ed for Religion News Service.  I think this may be one of those primary source documents that will soon be assigned in American religious history courses.  It also may be another reason why some of us will miss Obama.

By the way, when Obama says that the founders defended religious liberty, but also thought that religion would help “strengthen our nation,” he gets it right.

(RNS) This past week, I had the privilege of visiting the Islamic Society of Baltimore, a mosque that serves thousands of Muslim American families, as well as neighbors of different faiths. Like houses of worship across our country, it’s a place where families come together to pray, but also a school where students learn and a health clinic that serves those in need. My visit was a chance to celebrate the contributions that Muslim Americans make to our country every day and to reaffirm our commitment to freedom of religion.

Our Founders knew that religious liberty is essential not only to protect religion, but because religion helps strengthen our nation. From our Revolution to the abolition of slavery, from women’s rights to civil rights, men and women of faith have often helped move our nation closer to our founding ideals. This progress is part of what makes us a beacon to the world.

Likewise, generations of Muslim Americans have helped build our country. They’re the teachers who inspire our kids, and the nurses and doctors whom we trust with our health. They’re the champions we cheer for — from Muhammad Ali to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. They’re the police and firefighters who keep us safe, and the men and women in uniform who have fought and bled and died for our freedom.

Since 9/11, however, and more recently since the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, some have blamed the horrific acts of a few on the broader Muslim community. Right now, many Muslim Americans are worried because threats and harassment against their community, are on the rise. We’ve seen Muslim Americans assaulted, children bullied and mosques vandalized, and we’ve heard shameful political rhetoric against Muslim Americans that has no place in our country.

When any part of our American family is made to feel isolated or targeted, it tears at the very fabric of our nation. So we have to tackle this problem together, head-on.

First, at a time when others are trying to divide us along religious lines, we have to reaffirm that most fundamental truth — that we are all God’s children, all born equal with inherent dignity. Mere tolerance of different religions is not enough. Our faiths summon us to actively embrace our common humanity. Muslim Americans can keep reaching out and sharing their faith to help more Americans understand Islam’s tradition of peace, charity and justice. Americans of all faiths can reach out to their Muslim American neighbors — perhaps even visit the nearest mosque — to help break down stereotypes and build understanding.

Second, as Americans, we have to stay true to our core values, and that includes freedom of religion for all faiths. An attack on one faith is an attack on all our faiths, and when any religious group is targeted, we all have a responsibility to speak up. We cannot be bystanders to bigotry. We have to reject any politics that targets people because of religion. We have to make sure that hate crimes are punished, and that the civil rights of all Americans are upheld.

Third, as we protect our country from terrorism, we should not reinforce the ideas of terrorists themselves. Groups like ISIL are desperate to portray themselves as religious leaders and holy warriors who speak for Islam. We must never give them that legitimacy. They’re not defending Islam or Muslims — the vast majority of the people they kill are innocent Muslim men, women and children. America could never be at war with Islam, or any other faith, because the world’s religions are a part of our national character. So we should never play into terrorist propaganda or suggest that all Muslims, or Islam itself, is the problem. That betrays our values. It alienates Muslim Americans. It helps our enemies recruit. It makes us all less safe.

Finally, just as all Americans have a responsibility to reject discrimination, Muslims around the world have a responsibility to continue to push back against extremist ideologies that are threatening some of their communities. This is not some clash of civilizations between the West and Islam; it’s a struggle within Islam, between the peace-loving majority and a radical minority. That’s why across the Islamic world, Muslim leaders are not only roundly and repeatedly condemning terrorism, they are also speaking out with an affirmative vision of their faith. America — and I, as president — will continue to help lift up and amplify these voices of peace and pluralism.

I want every Muslim American who may be wondering where they fit in to know that you’re right where you belong — because you’re part of America, too. You are not Muslim or American. You are Muslim and American. And I want all Americans to know that across our country and around the world, Muslim communities are standing up for peace and understanding as well.

We are one American family. And I’m confident that if we stay true to our values — including protecting the right of all people to practice their faith free from fear — we will stay strong and united. We are, and must always remain, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Islamophobia: An American Tradition

If you think the Islamophobia that Chris Gehrz lamented yesterday at The Pietist Schoolman is a new phenomenon in American history, think again.  Gehrz mentioned Thomas Kidd’s excellent American Christians and Islam: Evangelical Culture and Muslims from the Colonial Period to the Age of Terrorism to show that the fear of Muslims has a long history in America.

Over at the History News Network, a site that has been offering some very good history-related coverage on this topic, Karine Walther, a history professor at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar, reminds us that Islamophobia played a major role in U.S. foreign relations in the 19th century.  Walther is the author of Sacred Interests: The United States and the Islamic World, 1821-1921.

Here is a taste of her piece:

When Republic presidential candidate Ben Carson made news recently by questioning whether a Muslim American could (or should) ever become president of the United States, his assertions recalled similar concerns raised by a political supporter of John McCain’s presidency at a rally seven years earlier. “I can’t trust Obama,” Gayle Quinnell told McCain, “I’ve read about him…and he’s an Arab.” Whether she meant Arab or Muslim, two identities often conflated in American understandings of Muslims, her fears revealed deeper concerns by some segments of the American public about the loyalty of Muslim Americans to the United States. McCain’s response was equally revealing. He did not challenge the idea that Arab Americans or Muslim Americans could and should be trusted to occupy the highest office of the land, but instead, he defended Obama against the “accusation” of being Arab. Obama was not an Arab, he responded, “he’s a decent family man, citizen” as if being an Arab or Muslim American prohibited decency or ties to family – or even American citizenship.

As Carson’s more recent statements have revealed, public expressions of hostility and distrust towards Muslim Americans have only become more prominent and normalized in American public discourse. This rise in public expressions of Islamophobia have undoubtedly been fueled by American governmental policies of targeted surveillance of American Muslim communities that emerged after 9/11 and have resulted in dire repercussions that move beyond just public discourse, including a dramatic rise in discrimination and hate crimes against people perceived to be Muslim or Arab
But it would be a mistake to assume that such sentiments are a recent phenomenon that emerged only after 9/11. Islamophobia has a long history in the United States that can be traced back as early as the colonial era when European settlers carried their antagonism to the Islamic faith with them to the New World.  Debates over the ratification of the U.S. Constitution included discussions over whether Muslims and other non-Protestants should ever be able to assume political office. Indeed, as scholars have demonstrated, anti-Federalists used the specter of a Muslim, Catholic or Jewish-American becoming president to unsuccessfully argue for religious tests in the U.S. Constitution.  Despite failing on the national level, religious tests banning non-Protestants from occupying political offices were integrated into several state constitutions. In this regard, American Islamophobia must also be understood alongside historical expressions of anti-Semitism, anti-Mormonism and anti-Catholicism. Of course, over the course of American history, fears of disloyalty have also extended to other minorities deemed potential fifth columns in American society. The internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, the majority of whom were American citizens, is only one of the most telling examples. 
But throughout American history, Islamophobia extended beyond just the domestic sphere.  In the nineteenth century, many Christian Americans saw themselves as a crucial leader of global Christendom. Fueled by the religious fervor of the Second Great Awakening, Christian activists saw it as their divine role to spread Christianity to the “heathens” of the world. When it came to the Islamic world, they portrayed the “Christian world” in a global battle of “cross against crescent.” Such feelings would rise to the fore when Americans witnessed revolutionary movements by Ottoman Christian subjects against Ottoman Muslim rulers. American support for revolutionary insurrections in Greece in 1821, Crete in 1866, and Bulgaria in 1876 drew the attention of thousands of Americans who rallied to their cause, based in part on their belief that such battles were part of this alleged global battle between Christianity and Islam. At these moments, Americans maintained that Muslims’ alleged religious fanaticism, political and religious decadence, and intolerance for other religions made their rule over Christian subjects, and to a lesser extent, Jewish subjects, an imperial, political and moral anomaly.  Such beliefs also pushed American to actively support the extension of European empire to lands ruled by Muslims, including the Ottoman Empire and Morocco.
Although it would be a mistake to trace an unbroken trajectory from the nineteenth century to the post–Cold War period and, more importantly, to the post-9/11 era, it would be equally erroneous to discount the ways in which hostility towards Islam and Muslims has persisted, albeit in varied forms. Indeed, American Islamophobia never fully vanished; it reappeared with force during the ideological and foreign policy vacuum that emerged after the Cold War. Whereas some political scientists advanced the notion that the end of the Cold War had brought about the “end of history” and the ideological victory of liberal, secular democracies, the late Samuel Huntington theorized an alternative vision of the world in his 1993 essay, “The Clash of Civilizations,” which he later expanded into a full-length book. According to Huntington, a simplistically defined “Islamic Civilization” would play a central role in a global “clash” against an equally simplistic construction of the “West,” broadly understood as Euro-American civilization. His theory resonated with many Americans not because it was accurate but because this particular kind of discourse has a long history of shaping how Americans identified itself against the Islamic world.  


Read the entire piece here.