There was a poll released a couple weeks ago, where people were asked if they thought Islam was "compatible" with American values. Fifty-six percent of the respondents said they didn't think it was. Big surprise.
But for that question to be relevant, shouldn't people be minimally "informed"? Shouldn't they know something of Sharia law and Islamic theology and have some actual insight into the day-to-day lives of the millions of Muslims living here? Otherwise, the question is no more revealing than asking: Do you think Nudism is compatible with American values?
Yet when Chris Matthews (on MSNBC's Hardball) discussed the poll, his phony indignation was so loathsomely apparent, it made you ill. He pretended that 56% of the American public asserting that Islam might not be "right for us" was evidence that we had not only lost our bearings, but had rejected the idealistic principles on which this nation was founded.
One can only hope Matthews, a Roman Catholic, was engaged in a bit of show biz exhibitionism here, because he had to know that America was more or less "founded" on religious hatred. He had to know that we were steeped in parochialism and condemnation, and practically cut our teeth on religious persecution. Which brings us to Mary Dyer.
Mary Dyer has the distinction of being the first woman to be executed in the American colonies. (Fun fact: Mary Surratt was the first woman executed by the U.S. government). Dyer and four cohorts from Rhode Island were hanged in Massachusetts, in 1660. Their crime? Being Quakers.
Because Massachusetts didn't want Quakers residing or preaching there, they banished Dyer. When she kept returning, they hanged her. This gentle and deeply religious woman went to her grave knowing she had been killed in the name of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In poker, they call that a "bad beat."
Although the KKK (Ku Klux Klan) is renowned for its aversion to African-Americans, it also denounced Jews, Catholics, Masons, anarchists and, bless their hearts, labor unions. While today the Klan might represent the Ann Coulter wing of the Tea Party, back then they were simply the Boyz in the Hoods.
When I returned from a Peace Corps stint in India, and told people how impressed I was with the CRS (Catholic Relief Services) -- there were nuns running hospitals and schools in the remotest and bleakest parts of the poorest states -- I was shocked by the response.
Instead of acknowledging the CRS's efforts, many accused them of not wanting to "help people" so much as wanting to convert them -- of wanting to turn Hindus into Catholics. And I say this not only as a non-Catholic and non-Christian, but as a lemon-sucking agnostic.
Back to the poll. What if the results were reversed? What if 56% thought Islam was "compatible" with our values? Would Chris Matthews rejoice in the fact that barely half the public thought Islam was "okay"? Since no one really knows what they're talking about, why would any of this matter?
As open a society as we are, the ghost of Mary Dyer still haunts us. Pretending we aren't a nation of conspicuous "judgment renderers" is not only inaccurate, it's delusional. Republicans vs. Democrats, straights vs. gays, vegans vs. meat-eaters, surfers vs. ho-dads, Coke vs. Pepsi. That's who we are.
As for Muslims immigrating to America, it's very likely that for the foreseeable future they will be treated the way we treat outlaw motorcycle gangs. They will be shown respect so long as they don't hurt us.
Look at India. Although it's a Hindu country, it has more than 170 million Muslims, and they get along fine. And a word to Muslims: Don't be too hard on us for not knowing more about your religion. Most of us can't even explain the Electoral College, and that's the puppy that chooses our presidents.