It's Not Them
In the aftermath of the shootings in San Bernardino, the leading Presidential candidate of a major U.S. political party called yesterday for barring members of a particular religion from entering the country. The statement is ignorant, and I feel compelled to explain why.
It is ignorant because the ban would violate the U.S. constitution, which states, in exactly these words, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
It is ignorant because it is unworkable. A red-haired, green-eyed lass from Ireland could as easily be a member of any particular religion as someone from China or Nigeria or India or Israel or anywhere else. Irish passports do not identify the religion of their holders. What then? Ask? Do we think terrorists would never lie?
It is ignorant because it is based on one particular incident in which it appears that the perpetrators might have considered themselves members of that religion. Less than a week earlier there was a mass shooting in Colorado Springs that does not seem to have had anything to do with that religion. The mass murder of children in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012 had nothing to do with that religion. The bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, resulting in 168 deaths, had nothing to do with that religion; neither did the bombing of Centennial Olympic Park in 1996. When the King David Hotel in Jerusalem was bombed, killing 91 people, it was also not by members of that religion.
Worst, it is ignorant because it singles out a particular group for scorn, and there’s no reason to believe the scorn would stop at the U.S. border. Millions of people have been killed because they were made objects of scorn by politicians.
So the statement by that Presidential candidate was ignorant. The current President also made a speech about the incident. It appropriately called on “all Americans — of every faith — to reject discrimination. It is our responsibility to reject religious tests on who we admit into this country. It is our responsibility to reject proposals that [that religion’s] Americans should somehow be treated differently.”
Unfortunately, that same speech did treat that religion’s Americans differently. It called on its leaders, but no other religion’s leaders, “to reject… hateful ideology” and “to speak out against not just acts of violence, but also those interpretations of [that religion] that are incompatible with the values of religious tolerance, mutual respect, and human dignity.”
Restricting those sentiments to the leaders of a particular religion is also ignorant. A headline in The News & Observer in Raleigh, North Carolina on July 21, 1998 was “Clergy Split Over Fugitive.” The fugitive in question was Eric Robert Rudolph, later convicted of the Centennial Olympic Park bombing and also of other bombings. He admitted religious motivation for his bombings, but it wasn’t the religion to which the current President or Presidential candidate referred.
The News & Observer story noted that some local religious leaders “would not condemn anyone who helped the 31-year-old suspect in the bombing… escape.” The words I’ve removed from that quote refer to the location of a deadly bombing, which killed a police officer but was the sort of violence that those religious leaders apparently condoned. Again, their religion is not the religion to which the current President or Presidential candidate referred.
I do not belong to any religion. But I reject hateful ideology and am writing this to speak out against not just acts of violence but also those interpretations of any ideology that are incompatible with the values of tolerance, mutual respect, and human dignity.
There is no “them.” There is only us.