Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Cal Thomas Offers Truly Xenophobic Ideas

In today's issue of The Indianapolis Star, columnist Cal Thomas offered his opinion on the events in Mumbai and how those events relate to Muslim immigration to Britain and the United States. On one level, Thomas' essay can be seen as simply a call for vigilance by western governments to be sure that they are not allowing terrorists to immigrate and to try to prevent terrorist breeding grounds from sprouting up amongst Muslim immigrants. But then Thomas goes off the proverbial deep end:
At the very least, all non-Western immigrants to Britain and America should be told prior to their arrival that our intention is to westernize them. They must learn English, study and embrace the history of their host nation and, if they are Muslim, they will be allowed to worship only in existing mosques. No new ones should be built. Existing mosques must be monitored to make sure that hate is not taught and aggressive behavior toward their host countries is not promoted. If such behavior and speech are detected, the mosques should be closed and the imams arrested or deported.

It appears that Thomas forgot why many of America's original settlers immigrants found their way to our shores: They wanted religious freedom. Apparently, Thomas is not willing to extend that right to certain religious groups and is not willing to allow other "non-Western immigrants" to retain their own cultures. While most of the terrorists that we've seen blowing up buses or attacking hotels or flying airplanes into buildings have been Muslim, it is also fair to say that there are are large number of Muslims -- both worldwide and in the United States -- who are not terrorists. Yet, because some Muslims are terrorists, Thomas would deign to tell new immigrants which mosques they can worship at, would "monitor" the sermons of imams, and would arrest or deport those who don't have nice things to say about America?

If someone engages in speech that rises to the level of incitement to violence, that speech is probably punishable (if I recall, that is one of the areas where courts have found an exception to the First Amendment). And I have no problem with the idea of allowing investigative authorities (be it the police or FBI or whomever) to follow up leads and probable cause to see if incitement to violence is occurring. But I'm curious to know how Thomas' monitoring would work. Would an FBI agent have to attend each and every service at each and every mosque? Should we plant listening devices at each and every mosque? Maybe Thomas would prefer if we just rounded up each Muslim and threw them out of the country or into a detention camp like we did with the Japanese during World War II.

To tell immigrants that they cannot worship where they want or to censor critical speech (so long as it doesn't amount to an incitement to violence) is simply not among the core values that have made America great. There has to be a better way to lessen the threat of domestic-bread Islamic terrorism.

But I think that it is important to recognize a few more things as well. Not all terrorism directed against Americans has been carried out by Muslims. Timothy McVeigh killed hundreds in Oklahoma City, abortion foes have killed dozens (hundreds?) in bombings of clinics where abortions were performed, and white racists have been responsible for bombing black churches. Perhaps we should also monitor evangelical Christian churches (or even mainline Christian churches) and prohibit the construction of any new ones so that we can be sure that preachers aren't inciting their parishioners to violence against the United States government or abortion providers or blacks. In India, some Hindus have carried out terrorist acts against Muslims, so we should obviously be limiting the worship rights of Hindus as well, shouldn't we?

And it isn't just religious groups that we should watch out for. G. Gordon Liddy has talked on the radio about his plans to kill journalists and has advised his listeners on how to kill federal agents. I doubt that Thomas thinks that Liddy's show should be taken off the air. In the past, certain Native American groups have advocated or engaged in violence against the US government. Perhaps we should be sure to monitor all Native American religious celebrations and prevent them from holding unauthorized prayer events. Maybe we should restrict the civil liberties (oh, such as free speech rights) of racists like Cal Thomas.

And I'm not sure how Thomas equates his concern for safety and protection from terrorists with the notion that we must try to "westernize" non-Western immigrants. Is he suggesting that Japanese and Chinese and Korean immigrants should not be allowed to retain aspects of their respective cultures? Is he suggesting that immigrants from Africa give up their culture, too? As I read Thomas' suggestion, he is essentially saying that America is a place for European whites and that if you're not "one of us" then you are only welcome if you are willing to act like "one of us". I'm curious to know if Jews fit into Thomas' view of America. In any event, the suggestion that "non-Western" immigrants should sacrifice their culture for the privilege of immigrating to America is both un-American and racist.

Look, I understand that, right now, the primary threat to our safety comes from Muslim terrorists and that we need to take steps to keep ourselves safe from that threat. But I don't think that, in the name of keeping ourselves safe, we need to sacrifice one of the core values that makes our nation great and I don't think that we need to become a nation of xenophobic racists. We should continue to investigate, as vigorously as possible, potential threats to our safety and our nation (better inspections at our borders and ports might be a good starting point...). And there is no reason that we can't perform more vigorous and thorough background checks on those seeking to come to our country legally. But to tell one group that they are under a cloud of suspicion solely due to their race and to then limit their religious freedoms is simply wrong.

I think that we can find the balance to keep ourselves safe without destroying civil liberties and without denigrating the diversity of cultures that have made America great.

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