NPR’s recent firing of Juan Williams and the rhetoric of Bill O'Reilly that caused Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar to walk off the set of The View fan the flames of an unbroken theme in history where no other "belief" has arguably been as unifying, yet divisive, peaceful yet violent, as religion.
Although the proposed mosque at Ground Zero in Manhattan is widening the gap of intolerance between some Christians and Muslims, the tragedy of 9-11, which involved extremist Muslims, is no more a window into Islam than the Atlantic slave trade, which involved extremist Christians, is a window into Christianity. Extremists have historically slain innumerable others in the name of all three major faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
And just as there are doctrinal distinctions among the world's estimated 1.9 billion Christians, such as Mormons, Anglicans, Catholics and Coptics of Ethiopia in East Africa, there are likewise distinctions among the world's estimated 1.6 billion Muslims, such as Sunnis, Shias, Ahmadis and the Murids of Senegal in West Africa.
While the masses of Christians would never fathom blowing up a building as did Timothy McVeigh, the masses of Muslims would likewise never fathom flying an airplane into skyscrapers as on 9-11. But let's be unpopularly frank but true about something: Islam, in any form, has been historically depreciated by the American Establishment as being alien and adverse to the cultural and ideological makeup of Americanization.
Whether you agree or disagree with his comments or firing, this stigmatic view of Islam adds to why an otherwise cosmopolitan black man like Juan Williams is orientated to get spooked if he "sees people in Muslim garbs boarding airplanes."
Mosques and Muslims have long been viewed by the Establishment with national security concerns that predate 9-11, given that Islamic theology and practices reside mostly outside of Westernized input and influence. In a certain sense, Islam is classified somewhat as being a quasi political, judicial, and cultural system unto itself that competes with far more than it complements Americanization.
Contrary to the presumption of being a compassionate "welcoming call" to embrace "all religions," America was constitutionally founded with freedom of religion as a safeguard to prevent theocratic rule. It was never meant to be a call for all religions to come and culturally or ideologically saturate society. Hence, when it comes to religious freedoms, there have always been seeming breaches between "culture and constitution," as the mosque in question demonstrates.
The concept of freedom of religion is one thing, constitutionally. But, culturally, the Anglo-Saxon diaspora of this nation is wedded unequivocally to Protestant brands of Christianity that are nationalistically bundled with patriotism and militarism. Which is why Christmas, for example, is the only state-recognized religious holiday; why Congress decreed 1983 as the "Year of the Bible," proclaiming that biblical beliefs led to America's settlement; and why soldiers are mandated by the Oath of Enlistment to "solemnly swear to support and defend the Constitution of the United States . . . so help [me] God."
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who "interprets" the Constitution, remarked that "A religious-neutral government does not fit with an America that reflects belief in God in everything from its money to its military." As such, US Protestantism is politically allied with Judaism and Catholicism and, despite all the hype about religious freedoms, there has always been an unexpressed yet well-understood cultural expectancy and nationalistic thrust for all other Americans to conform accordingly.
In fact, another unpopular but frank truth is that African Americans are largely Protestant, not because of freedom of religion but because Euro-Americans are largely Protestant. Our style of worship differs but, because our enslavement was so complete, our religious precepts are mirror replicas of theirs, even though Christianity does have various doctrinal distinctions. Due to their rigors, if they hypothetically were Buddhists, the majority of us would no doubt be Buddhists too.
This same thrust of conformity and expectancy is precisely what pressurized President Barack Obama – after he seemingly expressed support for the mosque – to straddle the fuzzy line between culture and constitution by saying he wasn’t commenting on the "wisdom" but rather the "right" of Muslims to build the mosque.
With the looming tea partiers and Glenn Beck idealists, coupled with 20 percent of Americans thinking he's a closet Muslim, Obama is under a religious microscope like no other president. He must coat each word with caution whenever he speaks about Islam, Israel or Middle East politics so that he isn't perceived as being a Muslim sympathizer or veering from the long-held cultural traditionalism that politically synchronizes America's faith and foreign policy.
At core, the mosque controversy isn't merely about religious freedom. Nor is the Juan Williams matter merely about free speech. And certain criticisms against Obama aren't mere partisan differences.
On a deeper level, these issues are indicators that the conformed ways of the original paradigms of Americanization are colliding with today's multi-ethnic paradigms, causing the erstwhile boundaries of freedom and equality to be stretched to limits that Thomas Jefferson and his contemporaries never imagined or intended.
Ezrah Aharone is the author of two political books: Sovereign Evolution: Manifest Destiny from Civil Rights to Sovereign Rights (2009) and Pawned Sovereignty: Sharpened Black Perspectives on Americanization, Africa, War and Reparations (2003). He is a founding member of the Center for Sovereignty Advancement. He may be reached at Ezrah@theCSA.org.