Friday, October 15, 2010

Isaac and Ishmael

By R.K. Barry

Just after 9/11, the producers of the The West Wing realized that, as a show all about politics, they couldn't very well ignore recent events. At the same time, they couldn't really make 9/11 an integral part of the show as the The West Wing didn't track current events but rather had its own story line about an imagined White House. The compromise was to have senior White House staff find themselves in a "lock-down" with a group of high school students during what turns out to be a not serious security breach. The episode was called Isaac and Ishmael.

For the episode, White House staff engage the students about a number of issues including the causes of terrorism and how to address it. In what I thought at the time was an extremely interesting exchange, the character of White House Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman, played by Bradley Witford, asks the students what the American equivalent of Islamic terrorists would be. After some discussion, it is agreed that the Klu Klux Klan would fit the bill.

The point he was making was clear: sometimes extremists do awful things in the name of a twisted view of their own religion. But adherents to the same religion don't always believe all the same things (thank God). The KKK is ostensibly Christian, which you can tell by the crosses they like to burn, but very few decent church-going Americans would identify with them. Maybe we should start calling the KKK "Christian extremists" just in case the fact that not all Christians are extremists should need some clarification.

Watching Bill O'Reilly's recent appearance on The View reminded me of this West Wing episode. O'Reilly kept saying that the reason we shouldn't build a community centre within blocks of ground zero is because the terrorists who attacked America were Islamic. I know logic is not O'Reilly's strong suit, but he really should work on that and parhaps watch a few old episodes of the West Wing.

Another thing that bothered me greatly about what O'Reilly had to say is his blaring claim that 70% of Americans don't want the Islamic community centre there. I don't know, maybe that number is true, but what if it is? I have said this before and I will say it again, what if we did a poll of white southerners in the 1960s about whether or not schools and colleges in the south should be integrated? What do you suppose those numbers would look like?

For those who fell asleep during this part of their own education, America is a liberal democracy or constitutional democracy, not a direct democracy. We have a constitution that sets limits on what we can and can't do by a simple show of hands. I've always thought that was pretty sensible. For a bunch a people who talk a big game about adhering to the Constitution, O'Reilly and his bunch really have no idea what that would mean.

School's out.

(Cross-posted from Lippmann's Ghost.)

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