Those of us who grew up in Edgefield County in the 20th Century know what prejudice is. When we grew up, it was all around us – some of us recipients, some caught up in it, and others thinking that we ourselves were somehow not involved – but, of course, we were. Racial prejudice is still here, less visible than before but still here. This year, there is a new manifestation of prejudice: religious prejudice. This prejudice seems to be worse in the 21st Century than it was in the 20th.
Today’s religious prejudice seems to be particularly aimed at Muslims, a group that is not large here in Edgefield County but is seen increasingly in and around Augusta. The National Security Agency listening post at Fort Gordon employs scores of Arabic and Farsi linguists; in combination with the downtown Medical Center this makes a once tiny minority of Muslims more visible than ever before. Anti-Muslim prejudice is not as blatant in the Augusta area as it is in some places, but it’s here. Our 21st Century American prejudice is particularly noticeable on the national stage.
Like most others, religious prejudice starts with a simple fear of “the other,” people who are somehow different from you and me, people who therefore are suspect. We hear that such-and-such a politician has an advisor who is a Muslim and is rumored to be connected with the Muslim Brotherhood. Listening to a member of the Muslim Brotherhood is seen as compromising the integrity of the listener. We hear that Muslim youth in Augusta are not educated but rather “indoctrinated” at the local Islamic Center. We hear that refugees seeking asylum here are in reality stealth Islamic soldiers, warriors of a 14-Century old invasion designed to impose their laws and their customs on the West. We hear in rebuttal that “they” need to learn more about “our” Constitution and way of life without recognizing that our country embraces all, and that the Constitution is their Constitution as well as ours. We tend to forget that most Americans of all religions are people whose parents or grandparents arrived in this country well after the Constitution was already in place. It became “ours” only when they arrived here, as immigrants.
The two major political party conventions are over now, and most of the issues raised then will continue to be on the news well after the November elections. One of the most striking speakers was Khizr Khan, a Muslim who took the podium at the Democratic convention and, with his wife beside him, spoke of the loss of their son Humayun, an Army Captain. Captain Humayun was killed in Iraq fighting for his country – this country, our country. His parents and he were all Muslim immigrants to the United States who had become woven into the fabric of 21st Century America. Captain Khan was a hero, and his family are all patriots. Even so, some have spoken of them, of their religion, as somehow different and not truly “American.”
Prejudice, 2016 style, is with us. Let us hope that those of us who despised the 20th Century manifestation of prejudice continue to fight that old style and will now fight this new style as well. We in South Carolina and throughout the South have the opportunity to lead America away from prejudice this time. Let us all resolve to be part of the solution. We can, and we must.