A House Divided: How Hatred Aimed At Any Group, Is an Assault On Us All

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I’m sorry, but you have no credibility when you preach faith and scripture out one side of your mouth, and then horrid, intolerant, bigoted, and racist rhetoric out the other. Over the past several days, I have seen nothing but vitriol and hateful fear-mongering in countless memes posted by people I once knew in high school, relatives, and even people I thought I knew better than that. Words matter. Facts matter. Hell, even spelling and grammar matter! These hastily assembled Right-wing propaganda screeds are sloppy, factually inaccurate, full of grammatical and spelling errors, and solely designed to work the faithful flock into an absolute frenzy.
 
Make no mistake, these posts are racist, bigoted, intolerant, uninformed, and hateful, and yet those who spew this garbage somehow justify their offensive behavior by claiming it’s for the good of the country, about national security, their God-given right to bear arms and their last defense against a tyrannical government, or about the very preservation of the Christian values and principles this country was built on. As they see it, only THEY are the true Americans, and somehow, groups of people who may have been here for years (generations), and are loyal and assimilated citizens are outsiders. Outsiders in their own country! They point to homegrown terrorists to prove that even the most seemingly assimilated Muslim families can produce radicalized Islamic terrorists, and no American is safe, with Muslims amongst us. They strenuously object to letting in any Syrian refugees, for fear there will be Islamic extremists among them. Of course, they fail to account for the other 99.9% of homegrown domestic terrorism, perpetrated chiefly by radicalized white Christian males, and compromising the hundreds and hundreds of mass shootings that have occurred increasingly at an average rate of one a day, since 9/11. It is far more likely that an American will be killed by someone who looks like them, than they will of becoming a victim of Islamic terrorism. But that doesn’t fit their narrative. You see, the inconvenient truth is that many of those lone gunmen who shoot up abortion clinics, black churches, schools, and peaceful protests are one of them, and come from out of their ranks….their churches…their anti-government separatist movements, etc. And the rest are severely mentally ill individuals, who somehow fell through the cracks and we failed to see the signs and the writing on the wall.
 
However, it’s important to remember that many in the GOP and Religious Right fail to take responsibility or even recognize their culpability in those ideologically driven shooting sprees, because they fail to see the connection between their angry, divisive, and reckless rhetoric and the actions of those who are undeniably influenced and radicalized by their uncompromising, polarizing and extremist views. Many of these killers are motivated by irrational fears and a sense of duty to avenge and fight on behalf of combatting abortion, protecting gun rights, reversing Obamacare and death panels, targeting blacks and POC in America’s race war, preventing immigrants from entering this country and deporting those already here, and punishing sinners who live gay and alternative lifestyles, among many other sinful and secular offenses.

Those in the far Right media have made careers out of spewing vitriol, hate, and indoctrinating generations of conservatives to hate liberals and progressive, and distrust academics, scientists, environmentalism, the media, Hollywood, those dedicated to social justice and progressive causes. While I agree that there is certainly a liberal bias in the media, at least there is diversity and degrees within that viewpoint. Whereas the Right has a small handful of extremely biased and skewed news sources, starting with the “fair and balanced” Fox News, and heading Right on the spectrum towards bombastic and wildly inaccurate methods of reporting and unapologetic propaganda, with the likes of the Drudge Report, Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and others. They know full well that their loud and hateful rhetoric is hyperbolic and provokes and stirs up their viewers and listeners, and the more sensational they get, the more it seems their followers…follow.

The problem is, much of this language is inflammatory and incendiary, and potentially very dangerous. It often gets so hateful and strident, it walks a very fine line between inspiring the faithful in common cause and downright inciting a riot and a literal call to arms. This kind of reckless language is perfectly protected by the First Amendment — as it should be — but responsible journalists and media personalities would know there are limits not only to good taste, but to ensuring heated rhetoric doesn’t rise to the level of violence and vengeance. Sadly, there are undoubtedly many unstable followers who don’t have the mental wellness and capacity, nor the tools to decipher talk from action, and right from wrong. With conservative candidates using harsh and antagonistic language, and decrying the Left for its decadent and permissive ways, the GOP dehumanizes their opposition, and paints liberals in very broad strokes. Perhaps the most dangerous aspect to such vitriol and demonizing, is that it doesn’t allow for compromise or negotiation, but rather, sets up the Left as an immoral and devious straw man, who must be stopped and defeated at all costs. This is where the dangerous rhetoric of religious dogma comes into play, and political disagreements and differences of opinion become cast in the much more black and white world of good vs. evil, and the righteous and the wicked. Liberals are cast as the sinful and decadent libertines, awash in their luxuriant lifestyles of sex and permissiveness, and it is these very unbelievers who are the root cause of all of society’s moral decay and the undermining of fundamental Christian values and a virtuous way of life.

It is at a crossroads, where the Religious Right demonize and blame liberals for all the ills of the world, and suggest that the only way to return America to greatness again is to defeat those on the Left, where the real danger lies. It’s in their epic and inflammatory language, the summoning of religious and moral tropes, and a calculated incitement of terror that promises a proverbial (if not literal) apocalyptic end of days if liberals continue to pollute society, where those unstable individuals among us might find fuel for their fires. When liberals are depicted as grotesque murderers of innocent babies, and accused of harvesting fetal tissue for profit and unethical scientific experimentation, what kind of message does that send to the party faithful? Sure, the reasonably well adjusted and sane may be able to condemn such actions without resorting to violence, but what about that small percentage who simply don’t have the capacity to separate committed political action from overt acts of physical violence and bloodshed?

What about that minority of viewers and listeners who are emboldened by inflammatory rhetoric and such savage and self-righteous condemnation from the Right? The lines become blurred in such cases, and those are the instances where the language has simply become too combative and threatens public safety. In no way am I suggesting we curb free speech, but I’m simply pointing out that this divisive language is part of the problem, not part of the solution. It has no place in a civil society. Just because you CAN say something, doesn’t mean you SHOULD. What kind of world do these individuals want to live in, where every chance for compromise and bipartisan cooperation is met with scorn, contempt, and scorched earth defiance and an unwillingness to meet half way? Do they wish to vanquish all Democrats, minorities, and dissenting opinions? It sure seems like there is no end game here, apart from absolutely obliterating the opposition or converting all wicked foes. It’s literally my way or the highway.

There’s a tricky and seemingly intractable obstacle when dealing with those who are fundamentally motivated by faith above reason, fear above facts, exclusion over inclusion, vengeance over forgiveness, exacting justice and punishment over rehabilitation, are distrustful of science, have uncompromising attachments to personal freedoms and civil liberties over the needs of the many, prefer cultural homogeneity to plurality and diversity, and have an unwavering belief in their own righteousness and higher purpose. The most daunting and challenging aspect of dealing with individuals guided by an inflexible — and often misguided — reading of the Bible is that they are convinced to their core that their beliefs are divine and infallible, and any variation from the text is the path of the wicked and dissolute. For example, if we were talking about logic, reason, measurable and quantifiable science, or fact checking and deduction, we would have to necessarily allow time and empirical evidence to dictate the course of our research and the theories we draw. Facts and figures may seem finite and immovable, but in practice, truth and reason are incredibly fluid and compromising. As a general rule, with knowledge and exposure to cultural diversity, it becomes a lot harder to fear, distrust, demonize, oppress, or mistreat our fellow human. Reason, experimentation, and research lead us to such conclusions. However, for those who are compelled by faith alone, we might as well be speaking a different language. That is where the difficulty lies. Their capital T-Truth is unyielding and often quite literally writ in stone. How can you argue with faith? You can’t. It seems we’ve yet to discover the Rosetta Stone that translates between Faithful obedience and science and reason. We are quite honestly speaking two different languages. It’s no wonder we cannot come to a consensus.

Having said all that, I have a faith of my own, and value my own personal spirituality. I think that if there’s a place for science in our society, there should certainly be a place for the metaphysical and divine. Religion can play an invaluable role within a community. I begrudge no man or woman for having deep faith and personally held beliefs and values. In my immediate family, I have several Evangelical Conservative Christians, whom I love dearly, and who I respect and cherish. At the same time, I also fundamentally disagree with about 85% of their beliefs and how they choose to vote and envision a better society. I think many of their views on topics such as immigration, homosexuality, women’s reproductive rights, the death penalty, and others are uninformed, backwards, and sometimes even bigoted. The difference is, it doesn’t mean I love them any less. Nor do I go out of my way to belittle their deeply-held beliefs. Their faith is important to them, and gives them much peace and solace. It would be selfish and hypocritical of me to condemn them for something that guided their life in meaningful and purposeful ways. There’s no science that can account for faith in something greater than one’s self. It’s human nature. If my mother’s devout Evangelical faith gives her comfort and makes her life better and easier in any way, than why would I ever want to deny her that? My version of God and spirituality may not be as rigid or parochial as hers, but it is worthy of respect and consideration. Science-minded and overly-educated liberals often belittle faith and religion, and ridicule those who have it. That kind of behavior is no better than those who would deport all Muslims or make homosexuality illegal. It’s intolerance, plain and simple. We liberals must hold ourselves accountable, and always strive to take the higher road. We must not meet bigotry and contempt with the like, but must model and be the change we wish to see in the world.

Regardless of how accepting I am of various faiths and religions, I am still unrelenting in my insistence they be held accountable for their words and actions, and strive to be a positive force of good in this world, rather than a hateful breeding ground for intolerance and bigotry. And although many conservatives think that all liberals give a free pass to Islam, I am an equal opportunity enforcer of human rights, social justice, charity, empathy, equality, and all of the other egalitarian principles that should comprise any successful civil society.

There is A LOT not to like about some aspects of Islam, and particularly violent and seemingly savage passages of the Koran. It would be disingenuous to suggest that Islam is solely a peaceful religion, and divorce the text from its more ruthless and merciless underpinnings. There are many contradictory and questionable interpretations that one could make, when studying Islam. But by and large, the 99.9% of peaceful Muslims who espouse Islam as a religion of peace are also right. A text is only as useful and just as the people who use and shape it.
Every questionably point I brought up in regards to the Koran can as easily be made about the Bible. The Christian and Jewish Bible is full of numerous contradictions, ambiguous meanings, questionable decisions, far fetched allegory rather than literal truth, a sometimes wrathful…sometimes peaceful divinity, and lots of dictates that are confusing and easy to misread and well open to interpretation. And LOTS of violence and merciless punishment. The Bible can be cruel and savage itself, and again, it all depends on the people wielding that text. My best friend’s father is an Antiochian Priest, and he is very liberal, moderate, inclusive, accepting, compassionate, and uses the Bible as a tool to build bridges, not burn them. This is a man of reason, of science, and of rational dialogue. His faith and convictions are no less deep and committed as, say…a Ted Cruz…but unlike the Texas Senator, he uses his faith to bring people together, not divide them. He celebrates diversity, not condemns it. I only wish the Right had more good-faith brokers of peace and reconciliation for us on the Left to bargain and deal with. I know for a fact that the extremist, divisive, bigoted, and intolerant views of the Religious Right comprising the current crop of Republican Presidential nominees does NOT represent a vast majority of moderate, reasonable, and compassionate Christians and Jews. It says a lot about how broken our system is when a group that once numbered over 20 had essentially the same radical beliefs and ideology. Where is the diversity within the Republican party? It’s increasingly hard to find. 

Getting back to the danger of demagogues and their ability to incite violence, although I would never suggest these shock-jock provocateurs and blustery talking heads are purposefully inciting violence and strategically targeting a cadre of unstable foot soldiers to do their dirty work, and shoot up abortion providers, execute black churchgoers at a Bible study, or blow up a federal government building, that may very well be the unintended outcome. Their language is reckless, dangerous, and irresponsible, and we must hold them accountable for their lies, distortions, and demonizing of those on the Left.

I’m fully aware that the facts are being skewed on both sides of the aisle, and liberals are sometimes spewing all sorts of distorted numbers about guns, blaming firearms outright, and seemingly apologizing for Islam and tiptoeing around the reality that some Muslims are extremists and often susceptible to homegrown radicalization. Naturally, liberals are often victims of their own demagoguery and radical agendas too. The blame goes all around. However, it’s very hard to deny the fact that one side seems to be coming at it from a place of love, inclusion, and social justice, while the other is working from a place of deep pathological fear, distrust, and intolerance.

Surely we can balance national security and the safety of American citizens with the promise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for EVERY American, regardless of religion, creed, race, gender, orientation, etc. You wouldn’t know it from the Right though. It’s about my guns, my taxes, my land, my religion, my…my…my. That’s not the ideals this country was founded on. The Constitution is bigger than just the Second Amendment. If I can respect your right to own guns, surely we can meet somewhere in the middle to discuss how to keep them out of the hands of criminals. It doesn’t matter that these particular guns were obtained legally. The last ones weren’t, and perhaps the next ones won’t be either. And yet, this reasonable discussion can never take place, because a solid third of this country refuses to even listen to reason, and trust that we’re not even remotely suggesting we take anyone’s guns away. It’s like trying to reason with a child screaming at the top of their lungs with their fingers  stubbornly stuck in their ears.

I sure wish these same people cared as deeply about the other nine amendments as they do the Second, because maybe they’d be holding rallies to ensure the First Amendment protected its citizens from a government impeding their free practice of religion or choice not to practice, rather than erecting Biblical monuments preaching Mosaic Law or calling for prayer in schools. How do they not understand that such measures impede on other people’s freedom of religion? They can worship how they please in the comforts of their own homes and in their houses of worship. The public and municipal setting is a shared space, and one that should be inclusive of all Americans.

Yet somehow I suspect that’s the very sticking point right there. From their actions and words, it’s hard not to conclude that a good number of those on the Right simply believe themselves to be the very successors of liberty and the embodiment of all that is American. Yet, the Constitution would suggest otherwise, protecting all citizens equally under the law, and over time, refining and redefining its protections, to ensure that we are all treated equitably. Republicans are not any more American than that Muslim family who settled in America just last year. If those Muslims are naturalized citizens, they are just as American as a tenth generation white Christian from the south. America is not any one thing, it is a lot of different things, and at the moment, they are all getting mixed together, and we are in a massive state of upheaval. But it takes all kinds, and the sum of our parts must be greater than any one part. That’s what will ultimately unite us as a country. As Abraham Lincoln so eloquently wrote, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Perhaps more than at any time in history, we are a country divided. The Civil War may have been fought on the battlefields of Antiedam and Gettysburg over 150 years ago, but we are still deeply divided, and the wounds are still fresh. We are currently fighting vicious and long overdue religious wars, cultural wars, race wars, gender wars, sexual orientation wars, and everything else, at a time in history where it seems one half of our nation longs for the past while the other dreams of the future. One half of America wishes we could return to an idyllic past and simpler way of life, where white Christian values dominated, and people shared similar life stories and beliefs, and the other half recognizes that that America never existed, because it wasn’t fair and just for everyone, as minorities, women, gays, and non-Christian faiths were subjected to intolerable cruelty, slavery, oppression, and worse. For this latter group of people, America is now only starting to deliver on the promise of our forefathers and those immortal words enshrined in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that ALL men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness,” and the nation’s best years are actually ahead of us. This is the very nature of progressivism and the liberal movement. It is exactly that…a movement…forward, whereas the Right always seems to be looking back, always trying to recapture that elusive period when “America was Great”…just not for everyone.

 
Some liberals may have resisted calling the recent attacks terrorism, but if so, it’s not because of some conspiratorial love for those who attack America and hate freedom. Why must we hurl those unjust words at each other? Obama doesn’t hate America. Obama is not a Muslim. He is an American President, whose responsibility is to look out for all his citizens, including Muslim Americans. And blacks. And Mexicans. And White Christians. If liberals are reluctant to immediately brand a shooting Islamic terrorism less than 48 hours after the event, it’s only because it’s irrational and unproductive to jump to conclusions without having all the facts. You may recall how quick we were to pin the Oklahoma City bombing on middle eastern terrorists, only to later find out it was perpetrated by a white, agnostic, anti-governent separatist. It’s dangerous to even assume that because someone has an Arab name, they are automatically a Muslim terrorist. I have many Arab friends who are Orthodox Christian. And yet, they are STILL the victims of this anti-Muslim/ Arab witch hunt.

What I particularly hate about this macho and reactionary knee jerk finger-pointing is that it’s crass and undisciplined, and says more about the terror and insecurities of those doing the pointing, than those caught in the crosshairs. It’s not sissy or weak to wait for all the facts, and make well-informed decisions. That’s what those in science and law enforcement do every day. It should also be a virtue found in members of Congress, but one sorely lacking, I’m afraid. After all, politicians on both sides of the aisle profit from a nation gripped by terror and always looking over its shoulder. Rather than appear soft on terror, or explore the complex nuance and narrative of extremism in our world, it’s often easier for politicians to exploit America’s fears of terrorism and Islam, and evoke the specter of 9/11 to prove their own relevance and usefulness. If there ever was a country so blithely unaware of its own post traumatic stress disorder, it’s America – never able to fully forget and never able to fully recover from all that we lost that day. Our innocence was taken from us so cruelly and abruptly, and all we were left with was terror, no closure. Never one to overthink a solution, Bush Jr. struck boldly and blindly at those who we thought were our enemies, but only added thousands more casualties, trillions more debt, and destabilized a region so recklessly, we actually drove bitter and angry Muslims underground and allowed for ISIS to be born. Although we never could have anticipated it then, our unprovoked invasion of Iraq bred more radical Islamists than any mosque or imam could ever do. We are now painfully living the costs of war fought in haste, and decisions made rashly and without all the facts. There were no weapons of mass destruction, but there was a once-mighty and invincible nation reeling from attack, licking its wounds, and grieving its dead and wounded. And in no uncertain terms, fueled by the need for revenge and looking for someone to punish. Sadaam was as good a target as any, and WMD or no, Iraq was a nation long overdue for regime change. 

There’s no shame in admitting one’s fear or uncertainty. These are scary and uncertain times. But that’s why we must be even more vigilant and resolved not to surrender ourselves to fear or let suspicion guide our hand towards violence and injustice. Muslims are not an inherently distrustful group whom we must watch, register, isolate, or deport. Muslims have lived in America for nearly as long as we’ve been a nation. Over 10% of Africans brought over on slave ships were Muslims, although most were forced to abandon their faith and convert to Christianity. During the 19th Century, thousands of Muslims settled in America, many fleeing the Ottoman Empire and the East. Many have been here several generations, and there is nothing to suggest that they are any less American than anyone else whose descendents made North America their new home. It’s shameful how easy it is for some of us to forget that we were all once immigrants to this great nation, and only the indigenous Native Americans can truly claim any territorial birthright.
To that end, Muslims are irrefutably just as American as you and me, and yet, they now live in a culture of fear and suspicion, and are constantly forced to prove their loyalty and trustworthiness in their own country. To most, this is the only home they’ve ever known, and yet, they are made to feel unwelcome and criminal, just for practicing their faith in peace. There has been a disturbing uptick in violence against Muslims, including threatening phone calls, becoming targets on social media, death threats, beatings, the burning and vandalism of mosques, harassment on planes, the subject of boycotts, protests, and sanctions, and of course, the suggestion that they should be forced to register or simply deported outright. For all the misguided fear that many on the Right have of Muslims, I guarantee, most Muslim Americans are far more fearful of those who distrust them and wish them harm. 
If we allow fear and ignorance to guide our hand, we miss genuine opportunities and solutions. Furthermore, we shut ourselves off from facts and reason. Not the made up statistics and fear-mongering claims being passed off as facts in the memes I’m seeing on Facebook. Actual facts. As painful as it may be for some to hear, the truth of the matter is, there is no greater risk of disgruntled Muslims becoming radicalized and violent then your white Christian next door neighbor, with his distrust of the government, stockpile of weapons, and hatred of minorities. In fact, it is far more likely that your neighbor will be the next mass shooter than Mohammad down at the local mosque.
Where are our priorities? Why are we demonizing all Muslims, when barely a fraction of all Muslims in the world will ever be drawn into radical Islam? Why are white shooters given a free pass, and their behavior chocked up to mental illness and their violence dismissed so easily? Why aren’t we rounding up all white Christian hate groups, in an effort to head off any future violence? Why is there a double standard? The hatred and vitriol I have seen in memes and posts over the past two weeks has been disturbing. At the risk of sounding elitist (an insult often hurled at the Left), these posts have been such baldfaced examples of ignorance and bigotry, it’s hard for me to hold out hope of ever finding a rational, reasonable, and committed partner on the Right, just as committed to compromise and bipartisan cooperation as I am. I can’t help but thinking about the very DNA of our two sides, and how fundamentally different we are from each other. Sure, we’re still humans, and all have hopes, fears, dreams, and insecurities, which guide us in life. I have to believe that our shared humanity will someday be enough to bring us together. But for right now, we are a house divided, and I fear we will fall hard before we stand tall again. This culture war is nasty and divisive, but I can only foresee it getting much worse before it gets better. For now, we are speaking different languages, and one seems to be led with the heart, while the other, led by the mind. Eventually, we must learn to be led by both.

Whether Christian or Jew, Muslim or Hindu, black or white, or any of the other infinite and joyous combinations we may be, we are first and foremost…Americans. The values set down in the Declaration of Independence and Constitution are egalitarian ones, and strive to provide liberty, freedom, and protection to every American. And when our Constitution failed to get it right, we improved upon it, and have amended it 27 times since it was first written. Because as it says right there in the Constitution’s Preamble, “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union…” We must heed those words….to “FORM a MORE perfect union.” Those words imply it’s not done yet. Perhaps it will never be. But with each new amendment, each new court case won for the side of equality and social justice, and each step closer to true equality and justice for ALL, we are one step closer to the America promised in our very charter. THAT is the true America, not some fabled past when America was “great.” It’s in front of us. The sooner we all realize that, the sooner we can heal our wounds and move forward as a nation. Let’s make America great for ALL! 

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