The Functional Libertarian
In so many ways, one of the biggest civil rights issues of our day is the way we treat Muslims in our country. Yes, September 11 of 2001 was an act of war against our country, and yes, it was carried out by some radical Muslims. But it is our obligation to realize that it simply is not appropriate to stereotype classes of people, be them Muslims or anybody else.
Most people join me in feeling that some of the Muslim traditions are a bit strange to the rest of us, and thus it is natural to be somewhat fearful of them. But in that regard, we should note that in more than half of the dialects of the world’s languages there is no distinction between the word for “stranger,” and the word for “enemy.” As a result, in those places anyone who is a stranger is automatically an enemy. Imagine the amount of violence, misery and lost opportunities that has resulted from this short-sighted approach.
In a similar manner, throughout our history we have fallen into the trap of stereotyping groups of immigrants into our country, such as labeling Irish as drunks, Italians as Mafia and Chinese as unscrupulous. Even worse and in one of our darkest national civil rights moments, we also labeled the Japanese as potential spies and interned them in camps. So today it is the Muslims among us who are misguidedly being stereotyped as being terrorists or terrorist sympathizers.
As an example, one of my best friends is Iranian (actually they call themselves Persian to distance themselves from Iran’s present regime). He is now retired after being the chief engineer at one of the California state universities, and is one of the finest and most able and caring people I know. But a few years after the so-called Patriot Act was passed by Congress in response to 9/11, he told me that, due to his accent and Iranian name, he was generally being treated so poorly that he was thinking of changing his name. In response, I told him that if he did so I would never forgive him. But this is the atmosphere we have inflicted upon many Muslims in our country.
We are all Americans, and should act accordingly. As such, all people should be treated, and held accountable, as individuals, instead of members of a group. In fact, type-casting groups is simply an excuse to be intellectually and morally lazy.
As a further thought, you may recall that at the beginning of Barack Obama’s presidency quite a few people were arguing or gossiping that he was really a Muslim. The best response to those comments came from former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who said: “So what if he is?” That should have been the response from all of us.
It is long since time for us not to be fearful of, or even concerned by, another person’s religious faith. Many of us recall the fear and concern held by many people when President Kennedy was running for president in 1960 that, since he was Catholic, he would take his directions directly from the Pope. To my knowledge, those concerns no longer exist about Catholics running for office. The same is or should be true for those running for public office who happen to be Jewish, Muslim or Buddhist, or anything else.
In that regard, my perception was that during the 2012 presidential election, Governor Romney’s being a member of the Latter Day Saints was barely a factor at all. To his credit, President Obama himself did not make it an issue, and thus Governor Romney did not feel it necessary to address it either. So we are progressing. Good for all of us!
The same should be true for Muslims. In fact, we should all look forward to the day in which no one will vote against – or in favor of – any candidates simply because of their race, gender, national origin or religious faith. Those are true American values!
And for those people who have a special concern that Muslims are a special case due to various cited passages in the Koran, let us remember that for centuries many devout Christians all around the world cited passages in the Old Testament of the Bible to support violence against and the enslaving of people of the “inferior races.” But that fact does not provide a justification to be generally fearful or skeptical of Christians – then or now.
So what are the causes of the extremist actions of some Muslims around the world? They are the same now as they were throughout history: poverty, ignorance and manipulation of other people by some sociopaths and zealots. Let us never forget that those same factors brought into power tyrants like Hitler, Stalin and Idi Amin, and they are still at work today.
The antidotes to these conditions, in addition to having the best intelligence and military readiness that our government can provide, are free trade, the free-flow of people and ideas, and a genuine appreciation of other cultures. Throughout history it has been shown time and again that familiarity with and acceptance of other cultures bring peace, and further that people do not tend to shoot their trading partners.
Finally, we must understand that our military ventures in places like Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan have been portrayed by those same zealots as attacks upon the Muslim faith. And that, in turn, has helped those zealots recruit large numbers of adherents and amounts of money to their cause. So whether our actions in those places were appropriate or not, we must realize that those military actions have been a major factor in increasing the risks of terrorist attacks upon us.
So what do any of these problems have to do with the Muslims in our country? Nothing whatsoever. As we have seen, fear is a great tool. But we are better than that, because we are Americans. And that means that we put needless fear aside and treat people based upon their own merits, and not upon some groups to which they happen to belong, be them Muslims or anybody else.
James P. Gray is a retired judge of the Superior Court in Orange County, California, the author of “A Voter’s Handbook: Effective Solutions to America’s Problems” (The Forum Press, 2010), and the 2012 Libertarian candidate for Vice President, along with Governor Gary Johnson for President. Judge Gray can be contacted at JimPGray@sbcglobal.net.