There are more stories about other groups that are part of the paranoia and fear that periodically rear their ugly heads among us to demonize the newly arriving stranger, the “other” in our midst, this time Muslims. And what distinguishes each movement is that charismatic leaders incite the worst in us.
From the beginning of the settlement of this North American continent, we have struggled with religion. On the one hand it was settled by many who were escaping religious persecution, attempting to move outside the mainstream of religious thought with new revelations from God. On the other hand, once they arrived they often fell into the same forms of persecution that they had left in regards to “other” groups.
As Shumacher suggests in his article, this persecution happened between Protestants and Catholics, and Christians and Jews. What he omits is the persecution of Baptists by the Puritans, the Quakers by the Congregationalists, and the Mormons by pretty much everyone. In a land that wants to claim the mantle of religious freedom, persecution based in religion has gone hand in hand.
Thus, the concerns raised about Muslim expansionism in recent weeks shouldn’t surprise us, for they are the extension of the John Birch Society raised concerns about the election of a Roman Catholic president during the election of 1960. While the media has focused on the Ground Zero mosque for it’s symbolism, the fact is that in places like Murfreesboro and Antioch, TN there are even more heated battles over the ability of Muslims to build community centers and places of worship. In these places there is no symbolic consideration, no hallowed grounds to protect. No, the concerns raised are blatant NIMBYism, driven by the same motivations that led Puritans to tie Baptists to dunking stools and hold them under water until they drowned. And as folks search for justifications for their fears, the rhetoric rises and political leaders co-opt those fears for political purposes.
Should we be surprised by all of this? Probably not, for history often seems to repeat itself. And yet, the student of history (such as Shumacher suggests) would be well advised to point out to others that today’s persecutions follow a trajectory that we’ve seen before, and we ended up learning that our fears were unfounded and that we had more common with the other than not.
When will we ever learn?