Early in 1991, while Operation Desert Storm (also known as the First Gulf War) was underway, I found myself on a call-in radio show in Salt Lake City, talking about Islam and the Middle East. Toward the very end of the program, a male caller asked what I thought of the idea of dropping nuclear bombs on the Iraqi cities of Basra and Baghdad. I was a bit taken aback by the question, but answered that I could see no valid reason for doing so. American troops were, after all, advancing against remarkably little serious resistance, like a hot knife through melted butter. Basra and Baghdad weren’t really involved in the war, and obliterating them would serve no significant military objective. (We were simply trying to remove Iraqi occupation troops from Kuwait.) Finally, and much more importantly, I said, the pointless vaporizing of potentially millions of innocent civilians — men, women, and children — would, to put it extremely mildly, make it difficult for the United States to claim the moral high ground. Not only in that conflict, but ever. A president who ordered such an attack for absolutely no legitimate military purpose would immediately take his just place in the ranks of mass murdering modern tyrants such as Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot. And, I said, I would personally be unable to remain a loyal citizen of such a country. There was a very brief pause. “It’s spineless liberals like you,” the man screamed into the phone, “who cost us the war in Vietnam!” He slammed his phone down, and the program ended a minute or two thereafter.
I couldn’t wait until the next day, to tell some of my genuinely liberal faculty colleagues that I’d been called a “spineless liberal” for having moral reservations about killing several million unarmed civilians for no real reason.
Now, fast forward:
My blog entry, yesterday, on the Islamic aspect of the Boston Marathon bombings and related events, has gotten an extraordinarily energetic response.
And some of it — particularly on Facebook, but also in a number of private emails — has been deeply disheartening.
One small but vocal contingent has pronounced all Muslims “animals” and is calling for their deportation from the United States. Not just militant extremist Muslims. All of them. Not simply illegal immigrants or even holders of green cards. All of them. Including American citizens. Not merely those born overseas. All of them. Even those who might be second- or third-generation citizens of the United States. Even those who have served, and sometimes been officers, in our military. (I suppose, though I haven’t asked, that the deportation would extend even to sitting U.S. congressmen who might be Muslims. [There's at least one of them, right now.])
Imagine the sheer logistics of it: Estimates of the Muslim population in the United States are all over the map, but it probably ranges somewhere between 2.5 million and 5 million. Imagine rounding them all up for deportation. Would they first have to wear an identifying badge, something perhaps on the pattern of the yellow star with Jude written in it that was favored by a certain former chancellor of Germany and his government? Would there be internment camps? (They would have to be enormous.) What if these Muslims didn’t want to go? Would the military need to be deployed? Would there be orders to shoot any who resisted? Would ordinary citizens perhaps be deputized and given license to kill?
One of the people advocating such deportation purports to be a member, as I am, of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I’m ashamed that this might actually be true.
I pointed out that the leaders of our church do not — I know, as a matter of direct personal knowledge, that they do not — share his hostility to Islam and to Muslims. This has had no discernible impact on him. He reminds me, in fact, of an old fellow who somehow got my cell phone number several years ago, and used to call me on it. His opening line was always “You’re a liar.” And then he would denounce me — typically until I hung up on him, which began to happen sooner and sooner — for my friendliness toward “that mass murdering, pedophile false prophet, Muhammad” and toward his evil modern disciples, the Muslims, who, the old fellow said, should be run out of our country. He boasted that, unlike me, he supported the Lord’s true prophets, the modern apostles and leaders of our church. Once, I pointed out that, unlike him, those modern apostles and prophets had actually taken a pretty positive view of Muhammad, and I specifically cited the official statement issued by President Spencer W. Kimball and his counselors, N. Eldon Tanner and Marion G. Romney, in 1978. “President Kimball was deceived by the devil,” he replied. (So much, I guess, for his claim that, unlike me, he supported the Lord’s true prophets, the modern apostles and leaders of our church.)
Anyway, back to the present: In a further attempt to reason with this most recent fellow, I pointed out that it seemed really, really weird, to me, that a Mormon, of all things, would support the expulsion of an entire people from the United States solely on account of their religious faith. Did he not remember our own history, during which our forebears fled New York for Ohio, Ohio for Missouri, Missouri for Illinois, Illinois for the desert Great Basin in the West, and, in some cases, that same Great Basin for Canada and Mexico? Did he not remember, specifically, the notorious 1838 “extermination order” issued by Missouri Governor Lilburn W. Boggs against the Mormons?
His response has been that I myself should “go to Saudi Arabia.” I am, he says, a “closet liberal.”
To which my reaction is that, if the United States were ever to become the kind of fascist country that would expel millions of Muslims, not for any crime, but solely because they’re Muslims, I could not remain a loyal American. (How, exactly, would such a country be morally superior to Saudi Arabia?) Indeed, I doubt that I would be permitted to do so, because the same sorts of people, by and large, who would expel the Muslims from our borders would very likely soon afterward turn their attention to other unpopular religious minorities. And we Latter-day Saints would, surely, rank high on that list. And any of our number who had shamefully endorsed the expulsion of innocent Muslims would have no moral standing whatever to resist such expulsion when the bigots turned toward them. In the end, the only representatives of real Americanism left might be the Aryan Brotherhood.
It’s impossible not to be reminded, in this context, of a statement made by the German Protestant pastor Martin Niemöller (1892-1984), who spent the last seven years of the Second World War in Nazi concentration camps:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out–
because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out–
because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–
because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.