In taking a trip to the US yesterday, I was on the edge of a conversation with mature (25-40) American males when the topic got around to the Army and Iraq. “You know why there aren’t any Arab speakers in the army?” One said, in all seriousness, “it’s because of their...gay...I mean, bisexual nature, so they get kicked out. (referring to the belief that men of middle eastern descent like having sex with boys, when they can get it).”
“Yeah, that must be tough for the army,” another replied, “they have to kick them out because of their nature, but need them for their skills.”
I was the only one who found the comments to be jaw droopingly offensive, it seemed. But the conversation highlighted the difficulties of a 9/11 world, where the pre-existing prejudices against Muslims and those of middle eastern descent have been allowed free reign, assisted by government policy and attitudes; policies like profiling which ensure that all know, when it comes to certain ethnicities or religions, equality in America is secondary.
This may not be news to anyone, but every time I pick up a US newspaper I am reminded by how “out of touch” I have become. Due to the November Elections, the Republican candidates have been hitting the scare issues hard: Muslims and gays. One half page ad in the Seattle paper stated that the candidate should be sent to the Senate because their democratic opponent was “soft” on torture and “proactive interrogation techniques”. They on the other hand, were not “soft” and wanted stronger interrogation techniques, more tortures for a “safer America.” I thought this highly unusual as a campaign promise (sort of like pre-WWII German politicians campaigning on “more efficient death camps”), and mentioned it in conversation to the Americans I talked to, universally receiving the “And? What’s the problem?” look. See, very out of touch.
Another example of how out of touch I am was my surprise to find out that so far, no muslim has been elected to Congress or Senate, though in November Keith Ellson may change that. I mean I knew that the US is the one western country where the leader MUST for reasons unclear be married, openly Christian, white and male (in some European countries, the leader saying that God is telling them what decisions to make would indicate to the population to get a new leader; in the US it indicates probable re-election). And I know that female representation in the two houses is far below that of the rest of the Western world, but I was unaware that Congress has de-facto religious limitations; but it does, and not just limited to excluding Buddhists and Muslims (check it out for yourself here at Religion of the US Congress). Sadly (typically?) the Republican candidate facing Keith Ellson has sent pamphlets out to 100,000 voters telling them that Keith Ellson election is funded by terrorist groups, specifically CAIR, (you know the whole Muslim groups=terrorist groups thing), a group the Republican states “is a clear and present danger to our Constitution and our way of life.” CAIR is a Muslim American Advocacy group which catalogues the levels of Anti-Muslim harassment in the US (up 30% last year). Both the FBI and President Bush have and continue to meet, liason and photo op with CAIR.
Ironically, the most recent challenge to the American “way of life” has been the misunderstanding of Muslim taxi drivers that the movement across the US to demand “faith based choices” in workplaces applies to them. For Christians, there is the ongoing movement to try and pass laws (37 bills in 14 states last year) to allow health workers and pharmacists to act according to their beliefs in the workplace. These are backed by a broad band of Christian groups from the Christian legal Council to Pharmacists for Life. Illinois, Mississippi and Wisconsin all passed laws (Wisconsin’s vetoed by the Governor) allowing any medical personnel to deny treatment based on their religious beliefs, including refusal to treat gays and lesbians. Meanwhile several organizations in other states, including California have sued to maintain their “right” to deny medical or other services to LGBT people, again under their religious (Christian) beliefs. Not only are Pharmacists refusing to sell birth control, morning after pills and condeoms but for example a Texas Pharmacist refused to fill a woman’s Ritalin prescription for her son (what part of the bible was that in again?). In Illinois, the “religious belief” opt out has spread to an EMT ambulance driver who refused to transport a patient on the belief they were going to get an abortion, to a health employee translator who refuses to translate anything regarding abortion.
In this turnabout, the Muslim's taxi drivers in Minneapolis-St. Paul, among other areas, are refusing to take passengers carrying alcohol from the airport, citing their religious beliefs. This has also spread to the refusal to take blind seeing-eye dogs (which are religiously “unclean”) and transgendered individuals, again due to religious belief. Minneapolis Airport Commission is enacting a system of lights on roofs, denoting who would or would not take certain passengers (after a flight attendant was refused transport by five different taxi’s due to her carrying alcohol for example). The reaction to this proposal has been strong and quick: over 500 messages all saying NO. The reasoning is that if this is started, who knows what further demands of accommodation Muslim workers might demand. There is some dark irony about that in a country where in just over a month, massive boycotts will be enacted and threatened (as they are every year) to organizations which say “happy holidays” instead of the explicit and Christian affirming, “Merry Christmas.” Oh, where will it end? Will no one think of the children!
As for those who will be denied rides this coming holiday season due to carrying some duty free liquor, please try to remember what the majority of people in almost every state told gays and lesbians while rewriting their constitutions last election: they don’t have anything against you, they simply aren’t willing to acknowledge or assist what their faith clearly shows is a dangerous and destructive lifestyle choice.
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