Monday, October 20, 2008

Powell On Religious Freedom

[The mother of Cpl. Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan grieves at his grave. Kareem Khan, a 20 year-old Muslim American, died in Iraq last year. Image credit: The New Yorker.]

General Colin Powell isn't at the top of my list of heroes these days. He lied for the Bush Administration about the threat Iraq posed prior to the war. He might have helped avoid a tragic war by telling the truth, or by refusing to tell a lie.

Nevertheless, he said something yesterday that bears repeating, as quoted by Juan Cole:

I'm also troubled by, not what Senator McCain says, but what members of the party say. And it is permitted to be said such things as, "Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim." Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he's a Christian. He's always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer's no, that's not America. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president? Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, "He's a Muslim and he might be associated terrorists." This is not the way we should be doing it in America.

Powell's Finest Moment

[emphasis mine]

My friend Lotus over at Folo was upset at how little notice that statement of Powell's has received on lefty blogs. Taylor Marsh has written a good article examining the political implications, and mentions the idea that this country isn't just for Christians. For my part, I was busy, although I've written on this issue before:

The last few years have seen the kind of ugliness that unreasoning fear causes in the form of useless restrictions on freedoms, unnecessary wars, and acquiescence to, and sometimes celebration of, torture. On a more personal level, people seem less inclined to trust their neighbors, particularly if they are somehow "different". The rhetoric against immigrants, Muslims in particular, has grown alarmingly ugly. It's considered a slur to imply that a Presidential candidate is a Muslim.

Fear And Loathing At Midnight

I have very little use for religion. It seems to do as much harm as good, on balance. Whatever civilizing influence it may have on people seems to be balanced by the bigotry and rancor that it often inspires or exacerbates. If one excepts the more obviously harmful cults, one religion seems scarcely different from another to me.

Whatever my feelings about religion, I have no use at all for the sort of attitude Powell refers to. Anyone who is a citizen of this country, obeys its laws, and tries to make it a better place is welcome here. He (or she) should be given the same consideration no matter what his religious beliefs. Being a Muslim, or any other religious minority, must never be viewed as cause for suspicion or scorn. The majority religion doesn't get to dictate to anyone else what their religious beliefs ought to be, nor what religious beliefs are required for full citizenship. I've written about that before, too:

There is plenty of reason to wonder if the United States hasn't gone off the deep end concerning religion and its role in politics in this country. Every time I hear or read someone saying that this country was founded on "Christian principles", I want to scream. This country was founded on the principle that no church or religion should run the government. If you don't believe me, have a careful look at this document. Pay special attention to Article VI and Amendment I. They're the only place religion is mentioned.

More Diversity

If you are someone who thinks that your religious beliefs give you the right to decide who is and is not a worthy citizen, you have views that have no place in a free society. As Christians like Taylor and Folo commenter Lilaruby have demonstrated, you couldn't even be bothered to find inspiration in your own religion's teachings for tolerance and compassion. Please do yourselves and the rest of us a favor by moving to some theocracy and leave the rest of us in peace.

UPDATE: Lotus pointed out this article by Ta-Nehisi Coates:

That Muslim answer [of Powell's] was incredibly, incredibly, incredibly strong. Stronger than anything Obama's ever said. That was just beautiful. That part should be everywhere. It was really moving. So what if he is, indeed. More later, I need to grapple with that answer. It was heavy. I imagine a lot of Muslim cats (I'm thinking Keith Ellison) are like, "Finally."

Colin Powell endorses Barack Obama

Quite a few of we secularist cats are like "Finally", too.

UPDATE 2: Glenn Greenwald, discussing Powell's endorsement of Obama, writes this:

A major enabling factor in convincing the population to support unnecessary and brutal wars -- and to perceive the "need" for endless expansions of federal surveillance and other police powers -- is the demonization of large groups of people both inside and out of the country. The Right's ongoing, intense obsession with demonizing Muslims and Arabs is, for that reason, not only repulsive but also quite destructive. The core of the Republican Party has degenerated into the unrestrained id of its worst impulses, and it was good to see Powell specifically cite (and condemn) those elements as a principal reason why he is turning away from the party he has served for so long, and instead supporting the Democratic nominee.

Colin Powell condemns the ugliness of the Republican Party

I might add that there's another motivation, which is that nothing seems to unite people like a common enemy. That's especially true, if history is any guide, when that enemy is largely powerless. In Muslims, who are a small minority in this country and whose ancestral homes mostly exist in some of the poorest regions on earth, they have an especially powerless bogeyman.


HopeSpringsATurtle said...

Powell's stock went up a little but I believe his help lying us into war will continue to weigh heavily on his soul. If nothing else, his religious beliefs keep him tethered in shame at what he did to his own country.

Cujo359 said...

It should weigh on his conscience all right, but for reasons any secularist would understand. His career began in Vietnam, which was a war that we started based on lies. Powell undoubtedly lost friends there. To have done the same to another generation of soldiers, not to mention the rest of his country, ought to be enough to bother anyone.

Still, I have to give him credit for starting a necessary conversation. As Taylor pointed out, he has to have known what kind of reaction he'd encounter.