America: Saving the last great hope of humanity from insanity

Alemayehu G. Mariam

Elie Wiesel, the Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize laureate said, “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”

I would add, “There must never be a time when we fail to protest the madness of politician wannabes and the lunacy of politicians in office.”

US Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump last week said he would “implement a database system” that would “absolutely track Muslims” in the United States.

That was not all. “There should be a lot of systems, beyond databases. We should have a lot of systems” to monitor and control Muslims in America.

Trump also wants “surveillance of certain mosques if that’s OK” and would “strongly consider shutting mosques.”

Insanity?

The other Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson would read Muslim American straight out of the U.S. Constitution.

Carson said the Founding Fathers would not have trusted or approved of a Muslim president. “I would have problems with somebody who embraced all the doctrines associated with Islam.”

(I wonder if Brother Ben thought the Founding Fathers would have trusted a Black president?!)

Carson wants Muslims in America “to reject sharia and all the portions of it that are talked about and subject themselves to American values and the Constitution.”

I am just curious. Isn’t there some language in the U.S. Constitution that says, “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”? (Art. VI.)

I guess that article of the Constitution does not apply in the “Land of Americarsonia”.

Carson also said, “We should monitor anything — mosque, church, school, you know, shopping center — where there’s a lot of radicalization going on.” Monitor anything and anybody!

But not gun sales! Even to people who are on the terrorist “watch list” because “I am a big supporter of the Second Amendment and I don’t want to deprive people unnecessarily of that. There needs to be better due process.”

Double insanity?

Carson was not done. He compared Syrian refugees to dogs. Carson said, “For instance, you know, if there is a rabid dog running around your neighborhood, you’re probably not going to assume something good about that dog, and you’re probably gonna put your children out of the way. Doesn’t mean that you hate all dogs by any stretch of the imagination?”

Amplifying on his analogy, Carson compared the screening of refugees to processing dogs at the Humane Society to separate the rabid dogs (“radical Muslims”) from the (“lap dogs” (?)” Syrian refugees.

Carson said, “By the same token, we have to have in place screening mechanisms that allow us to determine who the mad dogs are, quite frankly. Who are the people who wanna come in here and hurt us and wanna destroy us? Until we know how to do that, just like it would be foolish to put your child out in the neighborhood knowing that that was going on, it’s foolish for us to accept people if we cannot have the appropriate type of screening.”

Strangely, Carson’s statement reminded of two lines from Noel Cowards song, “Mad Dogs and Englishmen”: “The natives grieve when the white men leave their huts,/Because they’re obviously, definitely nuts!”

Is Brother Ben definitely nuts!?

Syrian refugees are not dogs. They are human beings like us created in the image of God, in the image of Allah.

Brother Carson’s words bring back to life deeply buried painful memories of colonialism in Africa.

In colonial Africa, it was not uncommon to see signs hanging in front of public facilities reading: “Europeans Only” and “Africans and Dogs Not Allowed.”

During the first half of the 20th century, African Americans were not wanted because of their skin color. Jews for their religion.

That message of total rejection was communicated to African Americans and Jews in signs that read, “NO NIGGERS. NO JEWS. NO DOGS.”

African Americans are not dogs. Jews are not dogs. Syrians are not dogs.

Hearing such deeply wounding words from a highly accomplished African American simply crushes my spirit, decimates my willpower.

But it is not only Trump and Carson who are spewing fear and loathing.

Republican presidential hopefuls Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush also joined in pleading for the admission of Christian Syrian refugees only.

Cruz assuringly declared, “There is no meaningful risk of Christians committing acts of terror.”

Republican presidential hopefuls Marco Rubio, Rand Paul and others piled on with essentially the same message. There is no place for in America for Syrian refugees.

Republican presidential hopeful Chris Christie said not even Syrian “orphans under 5 should be admitted into the United States at this point” because “I don’t trust this administration to effectively vet the people that they’re asking us to take in. We need to put the safety and security of the American people first.”

Obama tried to make light of Christie’s reckless political posturing. “First they were worried the press was too tough on them in the debates, now they’re worried about 3-year-old orphans. That doesn’t sound very tough to me.”

Triple, quadruple insanity?

“Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?”
“The Shadow knows.”

It is not just national politicians and politician wannabes who have been spreading fear and loathing of Muslims.

There have been quite a few state politicians preaching hate against Islam and Muslims.

A Republican state senator in Oklahoma said, Islam “is a cancer in our nation that needs to be cut out.” He added Islam’s whole purpose is “the destruction of Western civilization from within.”

Doesn’t that sound like something the leaders of Boko Haram, the terrorist group in Northern Nigeria or ISIL/ISIS would say of Christianity and the destruction of Islam by “crusaders”?

But it is not just Republican politicians and wannabe politicians that are demonizing Islam and Muslims.

Jokers and democrats (did I just repeat myself?) also joined the insanity bandwagon.

The celebrated comedian (?) and iconoclast Bill Maher said American’s “don’t want to recognize” that many Muslims, including Syrian refugees, have “values that are at odds” with those of Americans. He added, “This idea that somehow we do share values, that all religions are alike, is bulls**t, and we need to call it bulls**t.”

Well, I am entertained by Bill Maher, but he is full of “bulls**t.”

But some notable Democrats are not joking. They are promoting the insanity.

Former Democratic presidential candidate and General Wesley Clark proposed the idea of internment camps for “radicalized Muslims” who do not share American values.

Clark said, “If these people are radicalized and they don’t support the United States and they are disloyal to the United States as a matter of principle, fine. It’s their right and it’s our right and obligation to segregate them from the normal community for the duration of the conflict.”

Are “segregation centers” “enhanced detention techniques” for “radicalized Muslims” ?

Segregation is to concentration camp as a little-bit-pregnant is to pregnancy. Segregation centers soon become concentration camps.

How do we even “segregate” the “radicalized and disloyal Muslims” in America from the patriotic and “loyal” ones?

Do we establish a “Grand Inquisition for the Defense of Sacred American Values”?

Will every American Muslim have to come before the Grand Inquisition and declare his/her allegiance to the true faith of “Sacred American Values” or be shipped out to “segregation” camps?

We actually tried segregation camps in 1942 after Imperial Japan attacked Pearl Harbor.

We called it “relocation camps” (a gentler and kinder word for concentration camp without the usual accouterments) to protect “real” Americans from Americans of Japanese ancestry.

President Roosevelt ordered the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans on the West Coast because he believed all of them were disloyal and secretly sworn to support the Emperor of Japan.

More than 110,000 Japanese Americans on the West Coast were forced into in “relocation” camps. Not one of them was convicted of a crime! Not one!

In 1944, the U.S. Supreme Court validated that outrageous mistreatment of Americans of Japanese ancestry in its shameful majority opinion in Korematsu v. United States:

“We cannot reject as unfounded the judgment of the military authorities and of Congress that there were disloyal members of that population, whose number and strength could not be precisely and quickly ascertained. We cannot say that the war-making branches of the Government did not have ground for believing that in a critical hour such persons could not readily be isolated and separately dealt with, and constituted a menace to the national defense and safety, which demanded that prompt and adequate measures be taken to guard against it.”

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Owen J Roberts protested and condemned what was done to the Americans of Japanese ancestry:

“Much is said of the danger to liberty from the Army program for deporting and detaining these citizens of Japanese extraction. But a judicial construction of the due process clause that will sustain this order is a far more subtle blow to liberty than the promulgation of the order itself. A military order, however unconstitutional, is not apt to last longer than the military emergency. Even during that period a succeeding commander may revoke it all. But once a judicial opinion rationalizes such an order to show that it conforms to the Constitution, or rather rationalizes the Constitution to show that the Constitution sanctions such an order, the Court for all time has validated the principle of racial discrimination in criminal procedure and of transplanting American citizens. The principle then lies about like a loaded weapon ready for the hand of any authority that can bring forward a plausible claim of an urgent need.”

Does General Clark now want to point that loaded weapon on American Muslims and pull the trigger?

On various occasions over the years, I have visited the “Manzanar War Relocation Center” set up for the “unascertained number of disloyal members of the group” of Americans of Japanese ancestry in a remote desert area in California.

It is today a historic site and one of ten camps where Japanese American citizens and resident Japanese aliens were interned during World War II.

Every time I go to Manzanar, I stand alone on the west side of the facility and try to imagine what it would have felt like to be discriminated because of one’s ancestry, dispossessed of everything one owned, degraded because one belongs to a persecuted minority group, humiliated because one is prejudged as disloyal and traitorous without a shred of evidence.

I wonder how it must have felt to be forced, pushed and shoved into cars, buses, trucks, and trains and sent to a camp in the middle of nowhere, literally.

Each individual and family sent to Manzanar and the other camps was assigned an identification number transported under military guard to facilities in Washington, Oregon, California, and Arizona. (I did not say the identification numbers were tattooed. That was done at Auschwitz-Birkenau, Buchenwald, Dachau, Treblinka and other places.)

It is always depressing to me to walk around the Manzanar site.

But as I leave the parking lot of Manzanar, I shake my head and almost want to laugh at the irony of the words written on the hanging sign: “Manzana War Relocation Center”.

“Relocation Center” for American citizens who committed NO crime whatsoever?

Not one of the individuals sent to the “relocation centers” was charged with the commission of a crime.

All of them were innocent.

I wonder what George Orwell might have said if he had seen the sign. “Political language… is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

“Relocation Center” for a concentration camp with machine gun towers in the middle of Owens Valley, CA is pure wind.

Are “They” today thinking about a modern day Manzanar for “radicalized Muslims”?

Perhaps even reopen Manzanar as “Abu Zar Peacetime Relocation Center”?

Definitely, the 1500 people who attended the “39th Annual Pilgrimage to Manzanar” do not agree.

The list of politicians using code words to fear monger and demonize all Muslims is growing.

It is almost becoming fashionable to preach Islamophobia and fearmongering against Syrian refugees.

There are some who parade alleged “poll data” showing that massive numbers of Muslims in America and throughout the world are secret sympathizers with the aims of radical Islamists.

They say these Muslims want “Sharia law” and a purge all traces of Western civilization from the “Islamic world”. It is said they would prefer to live under a calipahate, the rule of the self-designated successor to the Prophet Mohammed and ruler of the Islamic world.

This nonsense about Muslims is not much different than the alleged polls showing more Americans view blacks as racist than whites and Hispanics or the majority of white Americans, particularly young ones, are hidden racists.

What is tragic is the fact that such nonsense is rarely challenged and exposed for what it really is: Fear mongering, race baiting, Islamophobia stoking and xenophobia purveying.

Regardless, I have absolute faith in the decency, fair-mindedness and good nature of the American people. This is the time to protest the violation of cherished American values against demagoguery.

If I could, I would personally apologize to each and every Syrian refugee fighting to just survive another day for Brother Carson’s mean-spirited statement and Carson’s manifest inhumanity.

I would tell each one of them Americans are not like that – that hateful, hurtful, vengeful, disgraceful, disrespectful, dreadful and pitiful.

I would tell them Americans don’t believe in kicking a man, a woman, a child who are down on the ground, down on their luck, drowning down at sea, drowning in despair, hungry, hopeless, helpless, defenseless and powerless.

That is not what Americans are. The American character to me is defined by liberty, dignity, generosity, fraternity, equality, charity, amiability, amicability, authenticity, civility, comity and community.

I cherish the words inscribed on the bronze plaque in the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty as the quintessential definition of the spirit of America:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

Those words were taken from the sonnet “The New Colossus” written in 1883 by Emma Lazarus, an American Jewish poet in New York City.

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.” I would say the same thing about not losing faith in Muslims.

Albert Einstein joined in: “Remember your humanity and forget the rest.”

“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”

I am powerless to prevent injustice against Muslims, but never powerless to protest against that injustice!

I protest!

I protest but I do not have the words to express my outrage against those who use, abuse, misuse their positions, status and wealth to demonize, dehumanize, criminalize, anathematize, banalize, fanaticize and generalize about a group of people because of a few evil individuals who commit the most unspeakable barbaric acts in the name of a particular faith.

I tremble in fear when I contemplate the world thinking all African Americans are like Ben Carson and all white people are like Donald Trump.

Would any reasonable and self-respecting American want the world to judge all Americans by the hateful actions of the Ku Klux Klan, a hate organization that has committed its share of atrocities and terrorism over numerous decades?

In nearly a decade of writing weekly commentaries, from time to time, I have been accused of “idealizing” America too much, “apologizing” for American imperialism, neocolonialism, capitalism, adventurism, militarism, corporatism, neoliberalism, elitism, opportunism, provincialism, barbarism, jingoism, hegemonism and whatever other “isms” are out there.

They say I swear by the U.S. Constitution and promote American exceptionalism.

I plead guilty to both charges.

I have taken so many formal oaths to support and defend the U.S. Constitution over my career, I have lost count. There is no doubt about it. Literally, I do swear by the U.S. Constitution.

I also plead guilty to American exceptionalism. What does American exceptionalism mean to me?

Some say “American exceptionalism” is a myth perpetuated by conservatives. They say the idea glosses over the underside of American history including slavery, treatment of Native Americans, segregation, the Jim Crow South, and canonizes the Founding Fathers and the Constitution.”

For me, it is a set of ideals about a society founded on a unique set of ideas about democracy and personal liberty.

I will go one step further than that. I think America is the last hope for humanity and must be saved from the insanity that afflicts so many demagogic politicians and politician wannabes.

On December 1, 1862, one month before signing the Emancipation Proclamation, President Abraham Lincoln sent a message to Congress. He was talking about “saving the union”. He said the “world knows we do know how to save it.” He said, “In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free — honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth.”

Can we nobly save the last best hope of earth in the second decade of the 21st century?

So what is America to the American who happens to follow the Muslim faith?

The last best hope of earth?

Of humanity?

Perhaps for that American of Muslim faith, the answer has already been given by the great African American poet Langston Hughes in his poem, “Let America Be America Again”:

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.
(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.
(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

I have been actively promoting efforts to help Syrian refugees. I even proposedPresident Ronald Reagan’s 1981 U.S. Immigration and Refugee Policy statement as a “practical framework” for response to the humanitarian crisis in which more than five million Syrian citizens have been displaced.

I have done so not because of political ideology, political expediency, political correctness or any other reason.

I have done it in response to questions once asked for all eternity:

“For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me. Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

* Professor Alemayehu G. Mariam teaches political science at California State University, San Bernardino. His teaching areas include American constitutional law, civil rights law, judicial process, American and California state governments, and African politics. He has published two volumes on American constitutional law.