This much we know: America needs its demons. We need our enemies, our menacing and dark-eyed nemesis, that foreign and terrifying thing we do not understand and against which we must rally and wail, push and pule, fight and destroy.
This is, as the legend goes, how we define ourselves, how we give our tribe and its happily flawed capitalist/Christian system meaning, purpose and a reason to kill anyone who dares to disagree. Too young as a country to know ourselves at any depth, too mal-educated to have any real and lasting confidence, we just lash and burn, too afraid to shut up and hear the quiet roar of our own grand irrelevance. Same as it ever was? Like you even have to ask.
Communists. Arabs. The Japanese. Blacks. Native Americans. Hippies. Gays. "Gooks." Immigrants. Chinamen. The poor. Women. Teenagers. Vegans. Science. What's the problem with this nation? What's really eating at our soul and threatening our honest love of an angry God, apple pie and giant homoerotic firearms? It ain't us. It's them. They're trying to mess with our heads, steal our freedom, impregnate our virgins, poison the water supply. Damn them to hell, and where's my shotgun?
It's in this fine American tradition that we devolve yet another notch, as we can't help but notice, on this recently passed anniversary of 9/11, yet another wretched legacy of the Dark Days of Bush, another scar, another sickness, another sociocultural STD left to us during our nation's bleakest period in modern history, a hateful little nodule of moral cancer known as rampant anti-Muslim sentiment.
Have you heard? It's the latest thing, the easiest target. Islam is now the most convenient demon available given the notable absence of all those tangible demons of yore. As evidenced by the New York furor over a proposed Islamic center to be built near Ground Zero, the tiny, rabid sects of radical fundamentalists who orchestrated the 9/11 attacks are just not good enough anymore. There simply aren't enough of them, and they live way over there, in caves, in mystery, in places we cannot spell. Plus, most of them are probably dead.
We need to expand. Why not believe the panicky media, Glenn Beck, the Tea Party dinkbuttons? Why not ignore all common sense and nuanced understanding, and instead broaden our hate to include an entire ancient religion, over a billion believers strong? That way, we'll never run out of evil. Hey, we're nothing if not resourceful. Most Republicans believe our own president is one of Them, despite how he's been a Christian his entire life. Neat!
See, in the new American mindset, all Muslims are secret Al Queda sympathizers. All lovers of Allah want America to burn, Christians to suffer and innocent white children to be stoned to death for dancing in public while eating a Happy Meal. All swarthy foreign types, even if they've lived here since birth, even if they are your nicest possible neighbor, even if they smile at you every day, actually believe violence is the truest way to heaven, where hordes of nubile virgins await and everyone can finally eat a ham sandwich. Hey, Muhammad said so, right there in the Koran! Someone should burn that damnable thing
No matter what Obama says in his impassioned plea for empathy and tolerance
, the very last thing America needs is subtle thinking, a deep understanding that we are, by definition and Constitution, a great melting pot of multiple religions and faiths, that in any given urban apartment multiplex you'll find not only multiple Muslims but also Jews, Catholics, atheists, Jainists, Hindus, Buddhists, pagans, Wiccans, recovering Mormons, even silly Scientologists and their funny little hats. To hell with that. Far too confusing.
By the way, if you would like to pause and offer deep thanks to the source of this anti-Muslim rage, you may now bow in the direction not only of Bush, but of one Dick "Black Soul" Cheney and his flying monkeys led by Karl Rove, who planted the seed during the time of the Axis of Evil, all about fake WMD and the bogus demonization of Iraq, effortlessly manipulating the panicky media and turning America's deepest tragedy into a seething outpouring of mistrust not merely for a handful of extremist dirtballs, but for all members of one of the great religions of the world.
The sentiment has since grown in fits and farts and boozy burps, fanned by Rush Limbaugh's moron Dittoheads, Glenn Beck's gullible simpletons
, and of course, the Tea Party, perhaps the first significant political movement entirely dependent on our failing educational system to survive. Truly, the Tea Party might just be the dumbest gaggle of humans ever to rally around a nonsensical, as-yet-unstated worldview no one can quite spell out. Because they have no clue what the hell it is.
But they do know one thing. They are against a general Islamic takeover of America, Wal-Mart and NASCAR. They do not want their wives forced to wear a burka. They do not want to have to walk all the way to Mecca. Where is that, like, in Peru or something?
And of course, they are dead-set against the construction of that Islamic community center three blocks away from Ground Zero, on the site of a former Burlington Coat Factory, right next to skanky strip clubs and Subways and camera shops owned by, uh, Muslims and Jews and the Chinese. Because all Muslims are the same, is why. Sort of like you and I protesting, say, the construction of a Catholic church within a mile of an elementary school.
Did you know there was a Muslim prayer room
inside Tower #2? Did you know many practicing Muslim-Americans died when the towers came down? It's OK. Neither did the Tea Party. Far too confusing.
Do not misunderstand: the Muslim faith, being enormous and multifaceted and therefore home to millions of beautiful, mild-mannered, humble practitioners as well as some of the most ridiculous, violent, hateful extremists in the known galaxy, is plenty deserving of scorn and derision. It is, in this way, no different than any dogmatic organized religion throughout time and history. Why let Mormons, Christians and the Catholic Church have all the fun?
Wait, did I say this enemy-invention thing was an American tradition? Far from it. Demonization of the Other as a means to boorish, violent nationalism is universal to nearly all cultures, all nations worldwide. We are, you can say, a planet of self-righteous, petulant tribes, claiming this or that strip of dirt, crying that God chose us as his most favorite, flinging feces at each other like deranged monkeys, signifying nothing. Ain't it grand?
Maybe in this greater truth, we can find a hint of reassurance. This too shall pass. The Islamic center will or won't be built, the media frenzy will die down, the Tea Party will self-flagellate itself through the mid-term elections, and suddenly no one will care about Muslims anymore because, well, we are an ADHD culture. We grow bored so easily. We gotta keep it fresh. We gotta feed the voracious 24-hour news cycle. No one can hold the title of Enemy No. 1 for very long. Praise Allah for that.