Imagine that a couple of Muslim clerics go on TV a day or two after the September 11 attacks on America.
Imagine one of them says that because America is so wicked, God has allowed its enemies to finally give America exactly what she deserves.
And that the other says, “That’s my feeling.” And that they continue to denounce America as a land that has “insulted God” by tolerating paganists, feminists, gay and lesbian people, abortionists and abominations like the ACLU.
Do you think such a performance would make the streets safer for American Muslims? (Not to mention the clerics themselves. You wonder how they’d make it home from the studio.)
Bulletin: It wasn’t Muslim clerics who said any such thing. It was Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson.
They blamed the attacks on women. On gay people. On religious minorities. On the ACLU. On People for the American Way.
They blamed it on Americans. They blamed America. They even blamed God.
I ask myself what could be worse than price-gouging, jacking up the price of gasoline and flags to profit from disaster, or using it for cover to close businesses and lay people off just when they’re feeling most vulnerable, and the answer comes.
It is this.
It’s not just the blame-the-victim attitude. It’s not just the bigotry. It isn’t even the bald-ass wide-open contempt for America it shows.
It’s not just the ignorance. It’s the use of what is holy to support hatred and intolerance that makes me think we need to worry about our own Taliban, right here, right now.
And it’s not just Falwell and Robertson. I am getting reports of similar remarks made by other ministers in different parts of the country.
Would anyone who understood one word of scripture dare — dare! — to use it to justify fomenting prejudice and hatred?
Would anyone with the remotest acquaintance with a Higher Power think that God did this to America? What part of JUDGE NOT don’t these people understand?
If a “real American” heard a minister say that God was responsible for the attack on America, would he put money in the collection plate? Or get up and leave right then?
Like the one in Afghanistan, our home-grown Taliban is always quick to issue denials and pro forma denunciations. “Of course we oppose racial discrimination and so-called hate crimes. Naturally we condemn the bombing of abortion clinics. Murder is wrong.”
The deeper you go into this, the worse it gets.
Imagine that a terrorist bombs a building in, say, Birmingham, Alabama. And that the bomb kills a policeman and puts a woman who works in the building in a wheelchair for life.
Imagine that the terrorist hides, not in Afghanistan, but in, say, North Carolina. And that the people who live where he’s hiding refuse to help the FBI find the terrorist. And that years later he’s still on the loose, a folk hero to some.
As most readers will recall, this story is not hypothetical. The terrorist in this case is an American. People who call themselves Americans helped him get away with it.
How would you feel toward Americans who helped terrorists get away with bombing the Pentagon or the World Trade Center, or any other location in this country?
Does it make any difference whether the terrorist is foreign or native-born?
After Falwell and Robertson spoke, I was glad when the White House said that “the president does not share those views.”
When the president says we won’t just get the terrorists, we’ll get the people who harbored them, should we start the training in rural North Carolina, just for practice?
I know we have to do something about international terrorism right now. I know we have to do what we can to protect our country and the world from attacks orchestrated from elsewhere.
But a terrorist is a terrorist is a terrorist. I don’t care where he comes from.
And hatred is hatred, I don’t care who speaks it. And I’ve heard enough of it.
David Vest is a writer, poet and piano player for the Cannonballs. A native of Alabama, he now lives in Portland, Oregon. Visit his webpage for samples of the Cannonballs’ music and other Vest columns: http://www.mindspring.com/~dcqv