On the political right, where Michele Bachmann is taken seriously as a presidential candidate, the story is told that disgraced ex-congressman Anthony Weiner "most likely" is a secret Muslim convert because his wife, Huma Abedin, is Muslim. Weiner, of course, is Jewish. But according to Robert Spencer, described by Salon magazine as "the go-to Islam expert for the right-wing," Shariah law bars the marriage of a Muslim woman to a non-Muslim man.
And, the story goes, there's even more reason to think Abedin would yield to Shariah law—her mother, a devout Muslim, "would almost certainly have insisted" that Weiner convert, Spencer says—than to believe that other right-wing meme, that Abedin was Hillary Clinton's lesbian lover when she worked in Clinton's presidential campaign.
So what exactly do we expect Muslim-Americans to conclude as they listen to these fables? What a wacky, wonderful country we live in, where such lunacy is protected as free speech? Or perhaps: These people are too stupid to survive?
No, what Muslim-Americans must conclude—as the LGBT community concludes—is that such fraudulent "reports" by Fox News and the like are despicable attempts to marginalize people who don't answer to their conservative, supposedly Christian doctrine.
The treatment of Muslims, gays and immigrants is something to consider as the Fourth of July approaches and we prepare to celebrate America's—America's what?
Our existence? Is that all we've got?
Some would agree with Congresswoman Bachmann—a Christian gay-basher—and the other newest flavor in Republican presidential prospects, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, that we celebrate America's founding as a Christian nation. Perry said recently that our tanking economy is "happening for a reason." The reason, he said, is that God wants us to stop "asking Pharaoh for everything"—that is, stop looking to government for help. "God wants us to see the limits of government."
God has also been talking to Herman Cain, Rick Santorum and Bachmann, telling each of them to run for president. Or so they report. Mike Huckabee, though, says God told him not to run. Hmm.
Remember, though, that England was a Christian nation when the Puritans fled to Massachusetts. The Puritans were Christians, too, when Roger Williams left Massachusetts for Rhode Island, where his flock could be, uh, Christians (Baptists).
And so it went in colonial American history, with the Catholics fleeing to Maryland and the Presbyterians to North Carolina in search of freedom from other good Christians. Until finally, having declared in 1776 that they were independent from England, America's Founding Fathers—Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin—wrote two documents setting out their first principles of self-government and religious freedom.
One, the Declaration of Independence, states that all men are endowed by their creator with unalienable rights to life and liberty, and that government's purpose is to protect ("secure") these rights.
The other, the Constitution, guarantees our freedom to worship the creator of our choice or no creator (the First Amendment states that no "establishment of religion" can be undertaken by law). "We the People," it says, seek "a more perfect Union."
In short, the founders understood that religious strife is a sure way for a nation to splinter. On the other hand, a nation willing to welcome people of all beliefs would be free to pursue truth, which, as Jefferson's 1786 Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom states, is man's natural right and is common to everyone.
And make no mistake, the founders wanted everyone willing to pledge his allegiance to such a free-thinking nation to come and settle the vast territory between the oceans. They wanted immigrants.
In fact, among the English predations listed in the Declaration of Independence is this charge against King George: "He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners."
The founders wanted a DREAM Act, in other words.
The history of our nation since 1776 reads best as the realization of the founders' lofty aspirations in a series of revolutions still under way after 235 years. Slave rebellions, civil rights movements, women's rights, disability rights; a gay-rights revolution is going on now, as is a revolution for the rights of immigrants.
This steady progress of rights, though, has been resisted throughout by "angry minds ... mainly among extreme right-wingers," as the post-World War II historian Richard Hofstadter wrote. Hofstadter's 1964 book, The Paranoid Style in American Politics, tells of American regressives from the anti-Masons of the founders' era to the Ku Klux Klan, the anti-Catholics, the anti-Jews, the anti-Communists—there's always been an anti-something movement in America.
And always, Hofstadter found, right-wingers have claimed that they're on guard against a conspiracy to topple the American way of life—their way of life. By the 1960s, he wrote, they felt beseiged, believing they were in a war against "the final destructive act of subversion."
Medicare and the minimum wage (read: socialism) were in that category.
Today, it must be said, Obamacare is viewed the same way, along with gay marriage, the naturalization of immigrant children and, since 9/11, an inchoate threat from secret Muslim terror cells.
What these disparate enemies have in common, as Hofstadter said, is that they threaten an established social and economic order that is "biblical" (Gov. Rick Perry's term) in the sense that God must've ordained that some should have more and others nothing.
Fortunately for the defenders of the established order, God always sees that they are the ones with more. For, as Jefferson argued, an established religion "tends only to corrupt the principles of that very Religion it is meant to encourage by bribing with a monopoly of worldly honours and emoluments those who will externally profess and conform to it."
A shrinking economy, then, is an opportunity for those in charge to blame those who aren't for their incessant demands on Pharaoh. Thus, Bachmann, the darling of tea party Republicans, has moved to the top in polls of likely Republican caucus-goers in Iowa, a demographic dominated by Christian evangelicals. Bachmann leapt to fame in 2008 by questioning whether Barack Obama, whose father was a Muslim, was "anti-American." She called being gay "part of Satan," and she opposes a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
In a nation with great swaths of land and a crying need for younger workers to keep the Social Security system going, it would seem that willing immigrants would be welcomed with open arms. Instead, in North Carolina we have the sad tale of 44 men, women and children, members of a small Lumberton church, Iglesia El Buen Pastor, who were arrested by Border Patrol agents last Easter weekend as they were returning from religious services in Texas.
They were stopped, hundreds of miles from any border, not because they broke a traffic law, but because they "looked suspicious." Those without children were deported immediately. The others are fighting deportation because, as should be obvious, there was no legal reason to stop them—a violation of the Fourth Amendment's guarantee against searches without probable cause.
But Latino immigrants, legal and illegal, are stopped and hassled all the time because of the way they look. If some of them grow to not love America while they're living in America, we need to think about the cause and effect of the way we marginalize them.
Finally, there is the problem of our profoundly distasteful treatment of Muslim-Americans. It's become commonplace for Republican presidential candidates (Cain, Gingrich) to question their loyalty and demand that they sign an oath of allegiance. Allegiance? To a country where Islamophobia has gotten to the point that even the president's loyalty is doubted?
I visited the other day with Khalilah Sabra, who is executive director of the MAS Immigrant Justice Center in Raleigh, an arm of the Muslim American Society. She is distraught about what's happening to the Muslim community. They feel under suspicion. Their children are bullied routinely, called "bin Ladens" and worse. But if they complain, it only serves to bring them to the authorities' attention, and the authorities will want them to inform on fellow Muslims.
The result: "Discrimination, mass misinformation and stereotypes are building mistrust among members of the Islamic community," Sabra told me, "and make it difficult for us to feel connected to other Americans."
Since 2008, Sabra said, government agents have engaged in a sweeping assault on the religious and other rights of law-abiding Muslims, and the liberal community has been silent, failing to take it seriously.
Loyalty oaths? The truth is, it's the rest of us who should take an oath:
"I, _______ (your name here), do solemnly swear that I will stand up for the principles on which this nation was founded, and beginning this Fourth of July, I will do all I can to see that the founders' aspirations are realized for every person living in America. So help me ____ (name of creator optional)."