The American Dichotomy

The Michigan Islamic Academy (MIA) Corner

By Thomas Saffold, Michigan Islamic Academy (MIA)

This is potentially a new TMO column by a Muslim convert living in Michigan. Opinions expressed are his own.

The shootings in Tucson, AZ tragically spotlight the ugly dichotomy within our nation’s cultural soul.

In the one part, is a basic goodness and compassion.  At their best, Americans are generous, humane, idealistic, and committed to a vision of democracy that is based on the ideal of “people wielding power for the common good under the laws of God.”  From all reports, these qualities characterize Congresswoman Giffords, motivating her to regularly be in contact with her constituents, being helpful to them, and constantly working for bipartisanship.  These qualities also drew people, children, youth, and elderly to the “Congress on the Corner” gathering, and when the bullets flew, to motivate them to subdue the shooter, care for the wounded, and comfort the grieving.   

Throughout our history, Americans have claimed that this view of our nation is the only one there is.  The average American is taught in school and by mass media that this country is exceptionally good, uniquely blessed by God, and can be trusted with mighty power because it is the most righteous nation in history.

The shootings in Tucson show the lie of that view.  The perpetrator appears to be a mentally ill man, but one largely shaped by the second part of the dichotomy, which is also a part of our culture. 

To the uninitiated, Jared Loughner’s Youtube videos seem to be only meaningless ravings, but to those familiar with current and historical Radical Right Wing ideological writing, they are grounded within parts of it. 

The ideology of the Radical Right, embraced most openly by elements of the Tea Party, has been dominant in the domestic and foreign, economic and social policies of the United States.  It is materialistic, racist, and violent in nature.  It is obsessed with gold-backed currency, denying citizenship to “non-whites,” with guns, and a “white makes right, might makes right” approach to all problems.  Although Loughner seems to have espoused no religion, Radical Right ideology usually fronts a veneer of religiosity, and believes that its values, world view, and assumptions are the only valid and moral ones.

This ideology was very influential in the last election, nowhere more than in Arizona, especially in Congresswoman Giffords’ district; in June, her opponent invited the public to “Shoot a fully automatic M16 with Jesse Kelly” to “remove Gabrielle Giffords from office” at an event he called, “Get on Target for Victory.”  

Appeals to violence were not the only part of the ideology paraded last year—anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric abounded, along with bloodlust for the wars against Afghans and Iraqis, support for environmental damage, miserliness toward the poor and sick, and generosity toward the super-rich.

The idea that America is mostly composed of people like Giffords, Roll, and little Christina Taylor Green is the propaganda most Americans feed upon to keep from seeing and taking responsibility for the dark side of our culture and history and actions.  As we approach his birthday, let us remember that Martin Luther King, Jr. warned us about this ideology; in his “A Time to Break Silence” speech, after calling our own government, “the greatest purveyor of violence the world has ever seen,” based upon an ideology of “racism, extreme materialism, and militarism,” he called Americans to engage in a “reconstruction of our entire society, a radical revolution of values” based upon God’s principles and values.

Al-Hamdu Lillah, Islam equips Muslims with what we need to be good and decent people, but also what we need to be effective citizens and agents of change to strengthen the positive nature of our society, repair what has been broken, and help America to be, truly, a good and righteous nation.

The Michigan Islamic Academy is a full-time, Pre-Kindergarten through 12 grade school in Ann Arbor, MI.


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