A Failed Catharsis

Jan 29, 2011 No Comments

By Daniel Osborn

2008 was a watershed election year. For the first time ever, Americans elected as President a black man, who, in historic fashion, contended with the most competitive and qualified female Presidential candidate ever.  In 2008, Hillary Clinton spoke openly and often about her gender, and Barack Obama spoke eloquently and candidly about his race.  For many who watched, the 2008 race was a catharsis, and acted as an opportunity to address cultural perceptions that, for generations, had been circumvented, sidestepped, exploited, or flat-out ignored.

That catharsis is over, and very much incomplete.  As it turns out, many people were not participating, and have indeed chosen to reject such progress.  The emergent Tea Party, for all of its anti-government and libertarian rhetoric, is exhibiting an extremism that goes beyond simple demands for fiscal restraint. What we often see as extreme, however, is often rather mainstream.

Take the “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy as an example. When Imam Faisal Rauf proposed an Islamic community center to be located two blocks away from Ground Zero, controversy quickly surrounded the project. The most mild criticisms of the project argue that the proposal is too close to Ground Zero, and that it should be moved further away. Of course, this criticism doesn’t explain the multiple mosques being protested all over the country. Is a proposed mosque in California, for example, still too close to Ground Zero?  Some of the more extreme attacks on the project have had the audacity to equate all of Islam with terrorism, and have blasted the project, in the words of Dick Morris, as “a terrorist recruitment, indoctrination, and training center.”

The national immigration debate is just as nauseating, and is shameful in its blatant anti-immigrant sentiment. The proposed immigration bill in Arizona, Senate Bill 1070, has fueled some of the most zealous rhetoric this country has seen. Even the requirements of the bill reek of discrimination by encouraging ethnic profiling and the harassment of Hispanics, who will be forced to carry papers on their person. In California, Meg Whitman’s proposal of a “guest worker program” is a tribute to exploitation. Apparently, Meg doesn’t know that indentured servitude went out of style before slavery did.

These kinds of extreme rhetoric are not carefully considered, measured, or thought out.  When tea-partiers attack Islam as a perversion of religion, and as a dangerous and violent cult, they are speaking of sentiments and beliefs that they hold in their hearts.  Logic should tell them that the 1.8 billion Muslims of the world aren’t bent on destroying the United States, but their hearts tell them it is so. When terms like “anchor babies” are used to describe innocent infants, infants who are legitimate citizens of the U.S., it is clear that rationality does not drive these claims. Instead, these criticisms are visceral reactions to cultural changes that they deem undesirable; they come from the heart, and are unfortunately far too common in America.

Just as unfortunate is the reaction of the Republican Party.  In the interest of winning an election, they have jumped on the bandwagon and decided to capitalize on this zealotry. Republicans found out in 2008 that issues like jobs and the economy were losing issues for them, which is why, in this election cycle, we see Republicans actively pushing this unfortunate rhetoric on America. They are counting on their new tea party base to vote not with their minds but instead with their visceral sensibilities.

We must react just as viscerally. We must hold the Democratic Party to a higher standard. I want to hear more of our leaders expose Meg Whitman’s “guest worker program” for what it really is, a new system of serfdom. I am proud of Jerry Brown for doing just that in the last debate. I want to hear more of our leaders stand up for the rights of Muslims to worship wherever they wish. We can’t allow our leaders to respond to the mosque controversy with feeble explanations that the project is not truly a mosque, but only a community center. Instead, we should demand that our leaders respond by to asking, “What would it matter if it was a mosque? Don’t we all have the freedom to worship in America?”  Instead, we should demand that the project be recognized for what it truly is; the consummate symbol of America’s unshakable commitment to the values of openness, pluralism, and the freedom to worship, even in the face of ruthless terrorism.

Fall 2010

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