My latest newspaper column:
One difference between ISIS and those American preachers who claim the Bible requires murdering homosexuals: none of our presidential candidates have attended an ISIS convention. The pastors represent Christianity the same way ISIS represents Islam; that is, for zealots who interpret their holy book literally, to whom progress is anathema and otherness intolerable, they absolutely do. At the fringes of humanity there have always been people whose projection of their own secrets and fears leads to attacking others. ISIS takes it to sickening, but not unprecedented extremes.
The mindset that leads Ben Carson to call evolution a lie planted in Charles Darwin’s head by the devil, or to Ted Cruz saying that we must never have a president who doesn’t begin each day on his Christian knees, or has Michele Bachmann suggesting rounding up Jews and converting them to Christianity because end-times are nigh, is merely a less fully devolved form of the self-righteous certainty that leads ISIS to do what they did in Paris. If preachers haven’t murdered here, they’ve fomented it in Africa. And danced, ugly, on the graves in Paris. “Conservatives” demand that Muslims speak out against “their” terrorists. When their would-be leaders genuflect before homicide-justifying Christian homophobes, they’re silent.
Now, just as we refused entry to Jews during WWII, so Republican candidates and Congress dwellers, along with, sadly, some Democrats, demand we stop admitting Syrian refugees. Are Japanese-American style internment camps unthinkable? Not to everyone. Forced wearing of special I.D? Jawohl! Between childish insults of his competitors because that’s what makes America great, Donald Trump claims that if Parisians had been weaponized, the attacks wouldn’t have happened. Right. A fanatic wearing a suicide vest would see an armed concert hall and say, “Geez, a guy could get killed in there.” Far from turning off his followers, Trump’s bombast has increased support among brave American exceptionalists, abandoning our values with astonishing ease. They call Obama “weak.” What is it when they cave on our most basic principles? Claiming patriotism, they deny the power of America’s ideals. We’ve become the ‘fraidest generation.
Terrorism won’t stop anytime soon, nor will terrified reactions to it, including discarding the standards that have actually made our country great, Mr. Trump. Turning our backs on all Muslims is exactly what ISIS wants from us. Against those governors, Republican patriots all, afraid of welcoming women and children, they’ve already won. These are people fleeing horrific fanaticism, people who fear ISIS more than we do. Screening is already rigorous, and not just, per Jeb and Ted, ironically, for Christians. Here’s a braver response, from the husband of a woman murdered in Paris. It puts us and our politicians to shame. So does this. And these ill-informed, fully Foxolimtrumpified Texan bullies disgrace us all.
For its depth and detail, this comprehensive article about what ISIS wants is worth your time. Because their goal is to maintain a caliphate, holding territory is critical to their movement, which means that taking back their land is, indeed, of strategic importance. But done by whose troops? Not ours, the article suggests; our presence in Iraq spurred the creation of ISIS, after all. Plus, in the same way certain evangelicals who can’t wait for the end of this life see conversion of Jews as the path to the Apocalypse, so ISIS sees their death, along with ours, in war, on a battlefield convenient to their land. Which raises the central question: would American troops in Syria really prevent people from exploding their suicide vests here? Maybe the answer lies in recalling the results of our invasion of Iraq in the first place.
Without doubt, the battle with radical Islam requires military action, and although the foot soldiers in Syria should be from that region, American power is indispensible. But in the end, it’s a battle of ideas. When we divest ourselves of our beliefs that might properly be called exceptional – religious freedom, diversity, education, generosity, our Constitution – we lose not just ourselves, but the very war we’re fighting. Letters to the editor, of late, display fear and claims that our president, choosing smarter ways to fight terrorism, is a traitor. We’ll never learn.