I just finished Barbara Kingsolver’s excellent novel, The Lacuna. It’s about a good-hearted young man who grew up in Mexico, became a popular American novelist, and was then done in the House Un-American Activities Committee during the McCarthy era because as a teenager he had been a cook for Diego Rivera. It all seemed so odd. I wondered if Peru has a problem with Un-Peruvian Activities. I wondered what an Un-Italian activity would be? The story was about a historic oddity when we had panicked over the spread of communism to China and Eastern Europe. We look back and shake our heads in wonder.
But today I tuned in to see the House Commmittee On Homeland Security hearings investigating Muslims in America. This strikes me as more disturbing than McCarthy. Here the “association” that makes one suspect is a religious association – an association protected by the 1st Amendment’s “free exercise clause.” I can live with the intrusive searches at airports and the surveillance of all sorts of communications. I am grateful to the Department of Homeland Security for its remarkable success in stifling terrorism. But this action of the House Committee is a troubling intrusion of government into religious practice.
Bob Herbert’s editorial “Flailing After Muslims” in the March 8 New York Times expresses most of my concern. He says of our past instances of demonizing religions, races, or ethnic groups, “there have always been people willing to stand up boldly and courageously against such injustice. Their efforts are needed now.” Despite the committee chair’s claim that Muslims do not cooperate with law enforcement, Herbert notes that of the 120 Muslims accused of terrorist plots in the past decade, 48 were turned in by other Muslims. What he does not say is that targeting Muslims is fodder for anti-American propaganda and actually increases our risk of attack as well as diminishing our credibility in international relations.
So I am all the more struck by the generosity of spirit in Akbar Ahmed’s excellent article “Fair To Muslims?” also in the March 8 New York Times, in which as a Muslim he says, “The topic is urgent and the hearings overdue . . . . Muslims should embrace the chance to explain their beliefs fully and clearly.” Ahmed paints an honest and mixed picture of the situation today. Having traveled the length and breadth of our land studying the experience of American Muslims post 9-11, he has heard the stories of school children called terrorists, women attacked for wearing the hajib, and mosques vandalized. He has heard Bill O’Reilly compare the Koran to Mein Kampf.
But he has also heard Muslims say that America is the best country in the world to be a Muslim and heard a Nigerian Muslim say that Thomas Jefferson is “at the top of my heart.” Ahmed writes of the slow, steady process of reconciliation that has been achieved through interfaith dialogue over the years. So I will try to open my mind about the House Committee on Homeland Security hearings. God may bring good out of it. As Job said to his brothers, “You meant it to me for evil, but the Lord used it for good.”
I am very pleased to see strong Muslim participation in Las Vegas Valley Interfaith. Here Christians, Muslims, and Jews are not looking for bomb making materials in each other’s closets. We are working together to fight the sexual exploitation of children. Neither terrorists nor congressional committees will distract us from the real mission of mediating God’s love to a hurting world.