Friday, May 20, 2016

Burning witches at the stake-a time-honored American tradition

Burning witches at the stake is a time-honored American tradition. Each generation finds some form of witch to burn at their stake. This generation seems especially obsessed at maintaining the tradition. Otherwise Donald Trump would not be leading in the polls.

It’s a practice that started not long after illegal 17th century immigrants began arriving from Europe. They came to avoid the religious intolerance they experienced there in order to impose their own forms of religious intolerance here. As they stepped off the boat, the oppressed became the oppressor.

Stacy Schiff, a Pulitzer Prize winning writer, chronicled the 1600’s ordeal in “The Witches-Salem 1692.” Schiff’s book is an unpleasant read in the midst of the growing American witch-hunts aimed at Muslims, immigrants, and transgender people.

The book jacket prepares us to understand why Salem’s experience has continued relevance. “With devastating clarity, the textures and tensions of colonial life emerge, hidden patterns suddenly, startlingly detach themselves from the darkness.”

It is especially noteworthy that the core of Salem’s witch-hunts was unwelcomed religious tolerance. One Puritan preacher of the day told his flock that religious tolerance “qualified as a satanic idea.”

Abuse of Christian scripture was the bedrock of those beliefs. Discerning God’s will was their preoccupation. They knew the saved, like the damned, had been selected before birth. Their duty was to make certain the two didn’t mix. They maintained a “holy watchfulness” over one another.

That sounds like what some folks are talking about when they cheer the end of what they call “political correctness.”

Witchcraft raptures political correctness. It disappears into the clouds. Bigots are no longer confined to using socially acceptable words when speaking of others. They can call it as they see it even if that means overtly targeting Muslims, gays, trans people, poor people, or racial minorities. There’s no need to learn more about others when a leading presidential candidate ratifies your prejudices and notions. Witchcraft thrives on resentments while offering explanations for the perceived slights visited upon majority white, Christian, heterosexual males.

Intolerant Americans are being “radicalized.” Read the home-grown bigotry in your neighbor’s online comments following the recent Wyoming Tribune-Eagle story of Sheriff Dannie Glick’s warning about alleged terror cells in Wyoming. “Sorry,” said one anonymously, “To color Islamists as being near equal to Christians isn't going to work. They're all stone age creatures.”

Another local citizen wrote, “How about a "Muslim Watch" program like Neighborhood Watch?”

The Red Scare did the same in the 1950s. Joe McCarthy didn’t actually burn victims at the stake. He manufactured hatred. Dozens took their own lives. Among them was Wyoming Senator Lester Hunt. Thousands more lost careers and families.

With that history and the lessons it taught, how shockingly easy it’s been to go there again. We said, “Never again.” But it’s as though some Americans feel this is their once-in-a-lifetime chance to do unto others as the Puritans taught.

According to the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, dozens of hate crimes have been committed in the United States against American Muslims in recent weeks.

Arsonists target Mosques. A woman who threw hot coffee in the faces of Muslims during their prayers. Bus passengers in Seattle attacked a Muslim man. A Muslim storeowner in New York was beaten severely by someone yelling, “I kill Muslims.” In a Wyoming community, bacon was thrown at a man erroneously thought to be Muslim. Muslims are removed from airplanes because they make Americans “uncomfortable.”

The targets were American citizens.

Where is the humanity in making others fearful as a way of assuaging our own fears? Imagine yourself as one of those against whom our fears are being taken out. Imagine what it’s like to be an American-Muslim not knowing when an angry, fearful person will accost you or your children on the streets, in the grocery store, at your place of worship or in your own home.

Then imagine how much harder it would be to “radicalize” young Muslims if Americans welcomed peaceful people of their faith.

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