This much we know: America needs its demons. We need our enemies, our menacing and dark-eyed nemesis, that foreign and terrifying thing we do not understand and against which we must rally and wail, push and pule, fight and destroy.
This is, as the legend goes, how we define ourselves, how we give our tribe and its happily flawed capitalist/Christian system meaning, purpose and a reason to kill anyone who dares to disagree. Too young a country to know ourselves at any depth, too poorly educated to have any real and lasting confidence, we just lash and burn, too afraid to shut up and hear the quiet roar of our own grand irrelevance. Same as it ever was? Like you even have to ask.
Communists. Arabs. The Japanese. Blacks. Native Americans. Hippies. Gays. "Gooks." Immigrants. Chinamen. The poor. Women. Teenagers. Vegans. Science. What's the problem with this nation? What's really eating at our soul and threatening our honest love of an angry God, apple pie and giant homoerotic firearms? It ain't us. It's them. They're trying to mess with our heads, steal our freedom, impregnate our virgins, poison the water supply. Damn them to hell, and where's my shotgun?
It's in this fine American tradition that we devolve yet another notch, as we can't help but notice, on this recently passed anniversary of 9/11, yet another wretched legacy of the Dark Days of Bush, another scar, another sickness, another sociocultural STD left to us during our nation's bleakest period in modern history, a hateful little nodule of moral cancer known as rampant anti-Muslim sentiment.
Have you heard? It's the latest thing, the easiest target. Islam is now the most convenient demon available given the notable absence of all those tangible demons of yore. As evidenced by the New York furor over a proposed Islamic center to be built near Ground Zero, the tiny, rabid sects of radical fundamentalists who orchestrated the 9/11 attacks are just not good enough anymore. There simply aren't enough of them, and they live way over there, in caves, in mystery, in places we cannot spell. Plus, most of them are probably dead.
We need to expand. Why not believe the panicky media, Glenn Beck, the Tea Party dinkbuttons? Why not ignore all common sense and nuanced understanding, and instead broaden our hate to include an entire ancient religion, over a billion believers strong? That way, we'll never run out of evil. Hey, we're nothing if not resourceful. Most Republicans believe our own president is one of Them, despite the fact that he's been a Christian his entire life. Neat!
See, in the new American mindset, all Muslims are secret Al Qaeda sympathizers. All lovers of Allah want America to burn, Christians to suffer and innocent white children to be stoned to death for dancing in public while eating a Happy Meal. All swarthy foreign types, even if they've lived here since birth, even if they are your nicest possible neighbor, even if they smile at you every day, actually believe violence is the truest way to heaven, where hordes of nubile virgins await and everyone can finally eat a ham sandwich. Hey, Muhammad said so, right there in the Quran! Someone should burn that damnable thing.
No matter what Obama says in his impassioned plea for empathy and tolerance, the very last thing America needs is subtle thinking, a deep understanding that we are, by definition and Constitution, a great melting pot of multiple religions and faiths, that in any given urban apartment multiplex you'll find not only multiple Muslims but also Jews, Catholics, atheists, Jainists, Hindus, Buddhists, pagans, Wiccans, recovering Mormons, even silly Scientologists and their funny little hats. To hell with that. Far too confusing...
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Mark Morford is the author of The Daring Spectacle: Adventures in Deviant Journalism, a mega-collection of his finest columns for the SF Chronicle and SFGate. Get it at daringspectacle.com or Amazon. He recently wrote about the world's most perfect product, the wonderful hoax that is global warming, and the dark, magnificent horror of the BP spill. His website is markmorford.com. Join him on Facebook, or email him. Not to mention...