American media like to tell scary stories of Islamic terrorists engaged in a worldwide revolution, and American politicians are eager to shell out billions of dollars in a supposed “war on terror.” But most Americans seem blind to the dangers presented by a homegrown “religious” uprising that could also prove fatal to democracy.
I suppose that American newspaper readers and TV viewers shake their heads in dismay as the media portray the male dominated culture of Islam and point out the injustices that women in that culture must endure. And I am sure that American women are outraged by the oppression of their Muslim “sisters,” who must wear veils and cover their bodies from head to foot, who enjoy few rights and have severely limited access to education or a profession.
But perhaps the American majority should pause to consider what might happen if the “religious right” were to rise to power at home. Are they ready for the loss of freedoms such a political victory would bring? Are they willing to accept the dictates of ideologues who insist that anyone who disagrees with them should be destined not only for Hell but also for criminal prosecution?
From what I read and see on television, Muslim extremism is on the ascendancy globally, with new “terror” groups springing up every day (photo at right). And this is not surprising. With every drone attack in Pakistan, with every military assault in Iraq or Afghanistan, more partisan rage is engendered and the extremists attract more recruits.
Meanwhile, in America, a “conservative” groundswell is building. It is fed by many deep-rooted resentments – opposition to taxes, resistance to ever-expanding federal control, fear of increasing ethnic diversity and political influence, and anger inspired by various conspiracy theories. But, the way I see it, the strongest and most enduring force in the conservative movement is religious intolerance.
To some Biblical scholars it must seem as if the forces of “good and evil” are girding for Armageddon. Out of the rising sun come the armies of evil Muslim terrorists. From the west march the godly legions of Jehovah. The apocalypse is at hand.
But not so fast. The extremists committed to jihad are still a small fragment of the world’s 1.66 billion Muslims. And while the extremists are embracing – and distorting – the most oppressive tenets of their faith, millions of other Muslims are increasingly tolerant, turning away from ancient “laws” that decree the oppression of women.
And, in America, extremists committed to establishment of a “Christian” theocracy are greatly outnumbered by voters who believe in a tolerant and inclusive society. From the polls that pepper the media, I gather that only about 20 percent of the American population falls into the hard-core “conservative” category. The danger is that these are the motivated voters. They go door-to-door, they send out fliers, they make phone calls, and they attend “tea parties” and rallies (photo above),
What disturbs me most is that extremists are becoming politically stronger in America. Activists are seizing control of the Republican Party, forcing it farther and farther to the right. In today’s special election in upstate New York, their support of Conservative Party nominee Doug Hoffman has pushed Republican nominee Dede Scozzafava out of the race. And this victory has generated even more money and enthusiasm for their cause. Now, conservatives are gearing up to challenge Republican candidates in more than a dozen key House and Senate races in 2010.
This movement could very well take off, and the results could be devastating. Imagine one of America’s two major political parties under the control of zealots intent on imposing their will on the rest of society. And imagine too many voters, turned off by the perceived failure of the Obama administration to deliver on his campaign promises, staying home on election day.
It’s a very real possibility. And Americans who believe in tolerance and inclusiveness, who would find a theocratic government unbearable, should wake up to this looming threat.
It is true that President Obama has not quite lived up to my expectations, but I have to admit that the challenges he has faced are unprecedented, and that my expectations may have been unreasonable. It is also true that the most likely alternative to the present government is frightening. Reasonable Americans cannot afford to yield the field to extremists. They must not forget the often-repeated warning that “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”