Fleeing Religious Persecution

We are about half way between Thanksgiving and Christmas and I was talking to a German friend about the meaning of the two holidays to Americans. He balked a little when I called those first settlers pilgrims because the traditional holy lands were in a diametrically opposite direction.

But you remeber the Pilgrims – those folks who left England for Holland and continued on to the North American continent because their beliefs were so extreme no one in old Europe wanted them? I mentioned to my friend the indoctrination I got in school that the reason behind the move was religious persecution and that religious freedom is one of the important pillars of American society. We both got a good laugh at that.

I present to you the case of talk radio host Jerry Klein who conducted a small experiment at the end of November.

When radio host Jerry Klein suggested that all Muslims in the United States should be identified with a crescent-shape tattoo or a distinctive arm band, the phone lines jammed instantly.

The first caller to the station in Washington said that Klein must be “off his rocker.” The second congratulated him and added: “Not only do you tattoo them in the middle of their forehead but you ship them out of this country … they are here to kill us.”

Another said that tattoos, armbands and other identifying markers such as crescent marks on driver’s licenses, passports and birth certificates did not go far enough. “What good is identifying them?” he asked. “You have to set up encampments like during World War Two with the Japanese and Germans.”

The article goes on to mention that a large number of callers were shocked at the idea. Indeed, I suspect most of the more moderate callers never made it on the air because moderate opinions don’t make good entertainment. You don’t keep listening. Thus the kooks and nut cases fill the ether with bile.

But is this kind of thing really only confined to radio? In this season of brotherly love, shouldn’t the focus be on getting along and not hate and exclusion? A further example in Houston says no. According to MSNBC (hat tip: Liz Smith/Blondsense), the erection of a Mosque and an Islamic day center in a Houston suburb has residents up in arms.

A plan to build a mosque in this Houston suburb has triggered a neighborhood dispute, with community members warning the place will become a terrorist hotbed and one man threatening to hold pig races on Fridays just to offend the Muslims.

Many neighborhood residents claim they have nothing against Muslims and are more concerned about property values, drainage and traffic.

But one resident has set up an anti-Islamic Web site with an odometer-like counter that keeps track of terrorist attacks since Sept. 11. A committee has formed to buy another property and offer to trade it for the Muslims’ land. And next-door neighbor Craig Baker has threatened to race pigs on the edge of the property on the Muslim holy day. Muslims consider pigs unclean and do not eat pork.

So. Maybe we don’t lock them up into camps for their religion. But we also don’t let them build any places of worship. They are free to practice their religion, just not in our backyard. I wonder if the same irritations would have arisen if it had been a new megachurch and not a mosque. Somehow I don’t think so.

Germany also has special day in November. It is not Thanksgiving; it is a day of remembrance. It takes place on November 9 and is, in a way, dedicated to religious freedom. It is dedicated to those who lost their lives on a night in 1938 – Reichskristallnacht – the night the Nazi’s burned over 1500 synagogues.

Maybe we don’t burn down the mosques yet, but tolerance and religious freedom are something else. They lead to different stories; not to stories about pig races and not to stories about camps.

They lead to stories where people don’t have to think about fleeing religious persecution.

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