Preface: I am not a Muslim or some kind of cheerleader for Middle Eastern countries. I was born and raised in America, and come from a Judeo-Christian background. Like the Founding Fathers, I am simply opposed to unnecessary war … and tolerant of other religions..
We Always Demonize Our Enemies to Drum Up Support for War
War is always sold to it’s people by artificially demonizing the enemy.
Countries need to lie about their enemies in order to demonize them sufficiently so that the people will support the war.
Everyone knows that “truth is the first casualty of war“.
As Tom Brokaw said:
All wars are based on propaganda.
Posters prepared in foreign countries demonizing Americans are an obvious form of propaganda. For example, here are samples from Nazi Germany:
But Americans have demonized our enemies as well. For example, in World War II, anti-Japanese posters such as the following were used to whip up hatred of the enemy:
And, at times, Americans have even demonized other Americans, such as during the Civil War:
We Are Now Demonizing Muslims
Similarly, in order to whip up support for America’s current wars in the Middle East and North Africa – which are based on geopolitical considerations – the folks trying to spread war are demonizing all Muslims as being terrorists.
But as we’ve previously noted, the Founding Fathers were not anti-Islam.
As Ted Widmer reported in the Boston Globe:
The Founders were way ahead of us. They thought hard about how to build a country of many different faiths. And to advance that vision to the fullest, they read the Koran, and studied Islam with a calm intelligence that today’s over-hyped Americans can only begin to imagine. They knew something that we do not. To a remarkable degree, the Koran is not alien to American history — but inside it.
No book states the case more plainly than a single volume, tucked away deep within the citadel of Copley Square — the Boston Public Library. The book known as Adams 281.1 is a copy of the Koran, from the personal collection of John Adams. [This]tells an important story, and reminds us how worldly the Founders were, and how impervious to the fanaticisms that spring up like dandelions whenever religion and politics are mixed. They, like we, lived in a complicated and often hostile global environment, dominated by religious strife, terror, and the bloodsport of competing empires. Yet better than we, they saw the world as it is, and refused the temptation to enlarge our enemies into Satanic monsters, or simply pretend they didn’t exist.
Why would John Adams and a cluster of farmers in the Connecticut valley have bought copies of the Koran in 1806? Surprisingly, there was a long tradition of New Englanders reading in the Islamic scripture.
This theory was eloquently expressed around the time the Constitution was written. One of its models was the 1780 Massachusetts Constitution, which John Adams had helped to create, and which, in the words of one of its drafters, Theophilus Parsons, was designed to ensure “the most ample of liberty of conscience” for “Deists, Mahometans [i.e. Muslims] Jews and Christians.”
As the Founders deliberated over what types of people would ultimately populate the strange new country they were creating, they cited Muslims as an extreme of foreign-ness whom it would be important to protect in the future. Perhaps, they daydreamed, a Muslim or a Catholic might even be president someday? Like everything, they debated it. Some disapproved, but Richard Henry Lee insisted that “true freedom embraces the Mahometan and Gentoo [Hindu] as well as the Christian religion.” George Washington went out of his way to praise Muslims on several occasions, and suggested that he would welcome them at Mount Vernon if they were willing to work. Benjamin Franklin argued that Muslims should be able to preach to Christians if we insisted on the right to preach to them. Near the end of his life, he impersonated a Muslim essayist, to mock American hypocrisy over slavery.
Thomas Jefferson, especially, had a familiarity with Islam that borders on the astonishing. Like Adams, he owned a Koran …. Jefferson even tried to learn Arabic, and wrote his Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom to protect “the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and the Mahometan, the Hindoo and infidel of every denomination.”
Lynn Parramore – founding editor of the economic blog New Deal 2.0 – pointed out Sunday that this American tolerance of Islam continued for hundreds of years:
Muslims have been in America for so long they could almost have formed a welcoming committee to the Daughters of the Revolution.
Consider this: Anthony “The Turk” Janszoon van Salee, son of the president of the Republic of Salé in Morocco, was among the earliest and richest settlers of Manhattan island, a devout Muslim, and the ancestor of Cornelius Vanderbilt, the Whitneys, Humphrey Bogart, and, according to family lore, Jacqueline Bouvier. That’s right: the Lady of Camelot apparently had a mixed-race Muslim as an ancestor! One of van Salee’s first properties was a farm in lower Manhattan acquired in 1638 located on the north side of the stockade along present-day Wall Street, just blocks from the Park Place Islamic center characterized by Geller as a foreign presence on sacred American soil. A defender of minorities, van Salee became the first settler of Brooklyn. Coney Island, which abutted his property, was known as “Turk’s Island” until the 19th century.
Muslims are feeling unwelcome in America today, but followers of Muhammed were living here before the arrival of English in Spanish-controlled Florida and French Louisiana, where slaves were imported from the Senegambia region of Africa, home to a large Muslim population.
Influenced by the tolerance of the Enlightenment, America’s founders considered Islam’s place in the new republic despite widespread fear of Barbary pirates and a sense of European rivalry with the Ottoman Empire. As befitting a student of law in a religiously diverse land, Thomas Jefferson purchased a Quran to learn about the Islamic legal code – the same Quran that was used in the swearing in of Muslim Keith Ellison to the U.S. Congress. In 1776, John Adams published “Thoughts on Government,” which praised the prophet Muhammad as a “sober inquirer after truth.” Ben Franklin set up a non-sectarian meeting house in Philadelphia, declaring in his autobiography that “even if the Mufti of Constantinople were to send a missionary to preach Mohammedanism to us, he would find a pulpit at his service.”
The numbers of enslaved Africans who were Muslims was significant: Conservative estimates put the number at 10 percent of all slaves, with some estimates running as high as 30 percent. A hodgepodge of sources –from plantation records to runaway slave advertisements to WPA interviews – show that Muslims went to great lengths to observe their religion; that Islam was a marker of status in the larger African American society; and that African American culture reflects the influence of early Muslims.
On plantations throughout the South, particularly in the early period of slavery, it would have been possible to see enslaved Africans with names like Mustapha and Fatima kneeling on prayer mats, their faces turned toward the rising sun ….. Some Southern slave owners considered Muslims superior to non-Muslims as workers, though others considered their education and literacy to be dangerous.
Polls show that Americans remain unfamiliar with Islam, and according to the ACLU, anti-mosque activity has bubbled up in more than half of U.S. states in the last five years. Yet Islam is inextricably woven into the fabric of American history, from the distinctive service of Muslims in all American wars, including the Revolution….[F]ar from being a foreign presence, Muslims have exerted an influence on American culture even greater than their numbers would suggest from the very beginning. The real foreign presence is Islamophobia, which is completely at odds with America’s founding principles.
Postscript: Obviously we are not claiming that the Founding Fathers were themselves Muslims, or that some people calling themselves Muslims are not terrorists.
But the current demonization of all Muslims is wholly anti-American. The reality is that the Founding Fathers were influenced by the Judeo-Christian tradition, but also the Iroquois concept of separation of powers (see this and this). They were open-minded and inclusive … and they took freedom of religion very seriously.
The American government largely created the most radical, violent forms of Islam. The U.S. has had a large hand in strengthening radical Islam in the Middle East by supporting radicals to fight the Soviets and others.
And the U.S. has ruthlessly squashed moderate forms of Islam. For example, the CIA admits that the U.S. overthrew the secular, moderate, suit-and-tie-wearing, Democratically-elected prime minister of Iran in 1953. He was overthrown because he had nationalized Iran’s oil, which had previously been controlled by BP and other Western oil companies. As part of that action, the CIA admits that it hired Iranians to pose as Communists and stage bombings in Iran in order to turn the country against its prime minister.
If the U.S. hadn’t overthrown the moderate Iranian government, the fundamentalist Mullahs would have never taken over.
Indeed, the U.S. is currently funding radical Islamic terrorists who are killing Christians.
But – the demonizers will argue – Islamic terrorists attacked us on 9/11 and they have attacked us since. They quote a verse or two out of the Koran to say that Islam is a murderous religion.
But terrorists who call themselves “Christians” are not true Christians, and the Old Testament of the Bible is chock-full of admonitions to murder everyone not of their tribe. That doesn’t make all Christians and Jews terrorists, does it?
Muslim scholars tell me that Islam prohibits the killing of innocent civilians. So terrorists are not true Muslims. Those claiming they are committing terrorist acts as Muslims are as credible as the Norwegian murderer or Timothy McVeigh trying to say they were following Christians values.
Indeed, the 9/11 hijackers used cocaine and drank alcohol, slept with prostitutes and attended strip clubs … but they did not worship at any mosque. See this, this, this, this, this, this, this, and this. These are hardly the acts of devout Muslims.