The storybook version of America as a shiny “city upon a hill” where religious tolerance attracted European settlers who were free to practice their faith is a staple in history books and cited by politicians as one expression of America’s exceptionalism. The facts, though, portray an altogether different narrative of religious intolerance that began before the country’s founding and continues today. News of a mass murder in Afghanistan by a U.S. soldier that killed at least 16 civilians in their homes has brought a rash of Islamophobic comments on conservative websites that show a deep-seated hatred toward Muslims and extended to President Obama and African Americans.
It is not surprising that the worst Islamophobic comments were lodged on Fox News’ website after they demonized Muslims as terrorists out to destroy America. The long history of intolerance from Fox News’ talking heads is well-documented and began shortly after the terror attacks on 9/11 and ramped up during the controversy over an Islamic Center near Ground Zero in 2010. Without giving credence to the vile comments on Fox and other conservative websites, suffice it to say that a recurring theme was “a dead Muslim is a good Muslim” along with calls to give the alleged murderer a “hero’s welcome” and “pardon that soldier.” A large percentage of Fox News’ commenters were livid that President Obama apologized for the massacre and accused him of being a terrorist sympathizer and that he hated America’s military. However, the commenters seamlessly transitioned to racist remarks aimed at President Obama that reflect many American’s belief that the President, besides being a Muslim and a terrorist sympathizer, is not an American.
One might conclude that the commenters do not reflect the sentiments of many Americans, but a recent poll of Mississippi voters revealed that 52% of GOP voters say the President is a Muslim and in Alabama, 45% designated him as a Muslim. The notion that the President is a Muslim is rampant in the Deep South and little wonder. Republican presidential hopeful, Rick Santorum questioned President Obama’s Christian faith in February asserting that his White House decisions are driven by a “different theology” and “not a theology based on the bible.” A couple of days later, evangelist Franklin Graham questioned the President’s Christianity when he said he could not be sure “Obama was not a Muslim.” Graham continued that, “All I know is under Obama, President Obama, the Muslims of the world, he seems to be more concerned about them than the Christians,” and “”Islam sees him as a son of Islam… I can’t say categorically that [Obama is not Muslim] because Islam has gotten a free pass under Obama.”
The implication that the President is a Muslim is a calculated strategy to portray him as an interloper and “not one of us” good Americans that conservatives have imputed since the 2008 election. Many of the commenters on Fox News’ website connected the massacre in Afghanistan to a coming race war with remarks such as, “this is nothing! Wait until you see what happens to the n-word here in the US of A when the new civil war starts” and “this guy (soldier) only did what the New Black Panthers promise to do to white babies.” The level of racial hatred and intolerance should be shocking in 21st century America, but after four years of innuendo and racist references aimed at African Americans and the President from conservatives, it is no surprise any longer. The GOP presidential hopefuls have all made not-so-coded remarks meant to impugn African Americans in particular, and President Obama by association. Many of the comments reflected the GOP candidate’s sentiments explicitly.
The racial hatred and religious intolerance displayed on the conservative websites did not begin with an American soldier murdering Afghan civilians while they slept. There is a significant segment of the population that hold beliefs that only white Christians are real Americans and their ideology is especially prevalent among uneducated Americans searching out like-minded politicians and news organizations that support their white supremacist dogma. The lack of humanity most of Fox News’ commenters displayed at the news of the massacre is a symptom of conservative philosophy Republicans have parroted since the President first took office, and many of them assailed the President for apologizing to Afghans for the actions of one soldier.
There is no cure for people who do not countenance tolerance, and the hateful comments were not limited to anti-Muslim or racist remarks. One commenter found a connection to gay soldiers serving in the military revealing homophobia from Fox News devotees, and as of Sunday afternoon, there were over 2,200 vile comments aimed at Muslims, African Americans, and President Obama and they continued unabated. Although the racial and religious intolerance are not representative of all Americans, there is a subculture of hate that is growing in response to an African American in the White House and the GOP presidential hopefuls are inflaming the issue with their coded references to “taking America back” and “getting rid of Obama” to reclaim America’s greatness.
Americans must speak out against intolerance aimed at any group, but especially racial and religious bigotry. This country is exceptional, but for all the wrong reasons. It is irrelevant if it is racial bigotry, homophobia, or religious intolerance, America cannot progress when a large segment of the population is intent of regressing to a white Christian-only nation. The bigotry is shameful, but the inhumanity toward the murdered Afghans is despicable. However, what can anyone expect from despicable human beings who have been spoon-fed a perpetual diet of Islamophobia and racism from conservatives at Fox News and Republican presidential hopefuls?