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Despite recent reasons to be optimistic, there are still plenty of things that should cause alarm.

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.”

At the end of the one-hour show, rich with arguments on why visual identification of “the threat in our midst” would alleviate the public’s fears, Klein revealed that he had staged a hoax. It drew out reactions that are not uncommon in post-9/11 America.

“I can’t believe any of you are sick enough to have agreed for one second with anything I said,” he told his audience on the AM station 630 WMAL (http://www.wmal.com/), which covers Washington, Northern Virginia and Maryland

“For me to suggest to tattoo marks on people’s bodies, have them wear armbands, put a crescent moon on their driver’s license on their passport or birth certificate is disgusting. It’s beyond disgusting.

“Because basically what you just did was show me how the German people allowed what happened to the Jews to happen … We need to separate them, we need to tattoo their arms, we need to make them wear the yellow Star of David, we need to put them in concentration camps, we basically just need to kill them all because they are dangerous.”

Of course, I know the argument: radio callins are self-selecting. It’s such a tiny percentage of the population expressing such an opinion that it’s not worth worrying about.

Unfortunately, that’s not true.

Those in agreement are not a fringe minority: A Gallup poll this summer of more than 1,000 Americans showed that 39 percent were in favor of requiring Muslims in the United States, including American citizens, to carry special identification.

Roughly a quarter of those polled said they would not want to live next door to a Muslim and a third thought that Muslims in the United States sympathized with al Qaeda, the extremist group behind the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington.

A poll carried out by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), an advocacy group, found that for one in three Americans, the word Islam triggers negative connotations such as “war,” “hatred” and “terrorist.” The war in Iraq has contributed to such perceptions.

39%. “So what?”, you say. Here’s what – despite the fact that only 20% approve of unlimited detention of terror “suspects”, that was our policy for many years. Despite the fact that just 35% of Americans feel that gay couples should be denied legal recognition of their partnership, that remains our policy – and in fact the Federal Marriage Amendment very nearly came to a vote this past June.

I’d like to say that this is uncharted territory, and be able to say “There be dragons here!”. But I can’t. Not even for American history. I’m not saying that this policy is being implemented, or even on the brink of being implemented. Only that the ingredients are in place, and if we are not cautious, we may find ourselves in a very dark place indeed.

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