Last week, the Pope surprised the world when he exonerated Jews for the killing of Jesus. It was a nice gesture, though he was a little bit late to the party. Jews have endured thousands of years of turmoil as direct and indirect results of that accusation. In the Pope’s book, he outlines his rationale: though some Jews were to blame for elements of Jesus’ demise, the world cannot hold all Jews accountable for the sins of a few. It’s a logical realization that should have been recognized long ago.
Over the past few days, House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King (R-NY) has been on a quest with an unclear purpose. He and his GOP colleagues have begun to hold hearings to, in essence, uncover all the things that make it wrong to be a Muslim in the United States. King – once a staunch proponent of Muslim rights and opportunities worldwide – has declared that his views changed in the aftermath of September 11th when America’s Islamic community was “not responding the way they should have.” In short, Muslims didn’t measure up to the Peter King protocol.
Peter King is a Catholic. Accordingly, his sanctioned spiritual leader – the supreme representative of his system of belief – is the Pope. Anyone who knows anything about textual interpretation can deduce that Peter King is out of line with his leader’s rational principles.
But if King is not inclined to heed papal counsel, he need look no further than my high school classroom. Can an entire grade be suspended for the academic dishonesty of one student? Absolutely not. In that vein, neither can an entire ethnic people be held responsible for the barbarous actions of a few.
Benito Mussolini was a Catholic. He was also white. When was the last time you heard someone call the whites or the Catholics out on “not responding the way they should have” to Mussolini’s tyrannical rule? The people who bombed Pearl Harbor were Japanese. Did the United States government become unwarrantably suspicious of Japanese Americans? Yes, and many Japanese Americans were wrongfully locked up in internment camps for the remainder of the war. A group cannot be blindly held responsible for the actions of individuals.
Islamophobia takes an extreme perspective and applies it to one of the largest religious populations in the world. But the laws surrounding Islamic tradition – the customs that are practiced by billions worldwide – are no more rational than those of Kashrut (Judaism), or communion (Christianity). The Hajj is no less holy than the trip I took to Israel last summer. There are, of course, extremists in every facet of cultural life: The orthodox Jews in Meiah She’arim, Israel who would consider me – someone who eats ‘unkosher’ cheese – a sinner, the priests who rail against love that is different from their own, or the Farrakhans who marginalize Islam and thus give it a bad name. Radicalized Islam is a problem, no doubt. But radicalized anything is a problem.
It’s not naiveté that has led me to this conclusion; it’s simply the acknowledgement that we’re all humans – legitimate, thoughtful, and very, very flawed humans. Perhaps Rep. King would like to investigate the “radicalization” of the Catholic church, or the “radicalization” of the Republican party, or even the “radicalization” of the people who stand up in town hall meetings and blatantly suggest the killing of prominent public officials. Peter King is in no position to be accusing others of “not responding the way they should have.” There is an explicit double standard here – hypocrisy beyond hypocrisy, jingoism beyond jingoism.
The Pope is right: we must prosecute those who have committed a crime, but their sentence must not extend to those who are innocent. For that reason, Muslims in America must be treated as equals and – like all law-abiding citizens – must not be subjected to Peter King’s McCarthyist tirades.