Archive for July 19th, 2011

Godfather’s yes, the Presidency, no

Lately I’ve felt satisfied that the bout of Islamophobia the US suffered a few years ago is over.   With the “Arab spring,” death of Osama Bin Laden, and a lessening of fear, people realize that Muslims are not the enemy, nor is the religion particularly violent and strange.   I integrate bits about Islam and its history in many of my classes, believing all educated students should know more than the caricatured image the media often gives.   Lately I’ve been impressed by how often they come out of high school with that knowledge — kudos to US schools!

But now Republican Presidential contender Herman Cain says that communities should be able to ban mosques when they want to.    His rationale is plain weird.  He says that Muslims combine church and state and use mosques to “infuse their morals into a community.”   A mosque cannot itself combine church and state, last I checked no mosques in the country were involved in government.  They are a place of worship.   Muslim theology traditionally sees church and state together (as did traditional Roman Catholic theology — they fought wars about it!), but mosques in the US are simply serving a community.

I’m not sure what to make of the “infuse morals” comment.   I daresay that Christian churches try to infuse their morals into a community.   Moreover, I suspect there is far more agreement than disagreement between Christians and Muslims about moral issues.  Does  Cain object to people trying to infuse their morals into a community?   If a community of Christians lived in a predominately non-Christian town, would the non-Christians be justified in banning churches from being built?

Cain earlier expressed hesitancy about having Muslims serve in a potential Cain White House (the more he talks, the more purely academic that scenario becomes), hinting that they were more prone to terrorism.    If these broadsides had been hurled a few years ago, back when Tom Tancredo was saying we should bomb Mecca in the case of another terrorist attack, he may have been able to get away with it.    Now he just looks like a bigot.

To be sure, Tancredo’s crazy was a level that Cain has yet to come close to.   To bomb the center of a religion serving billions because a miniscule fraction of people claiming to believe that religion pull off a terror attack would be evil of the sort that would be admired by a Hitler or Stalin.   Cain’s apparent bigotry seems more rooted in ignorance than evil.  It was even too much for Southern Baptist leader Richard Land, who isn’t exactly liberal!

So I’ll give Cain the benefit of the doubt.   He may not be a bigot, he may simply have a very strong belief that Muslims have the wrong faith, and that it is his duty as a Christian to protect our culture from their influence.   I still don’t like it and will argue against it, but that’s within the realm of politically acceptable action.   One can be an advocate for a religion.   He’s no different than Muslims in the Arab world who try to stop Christians from spreading their ideas (and they don’t like missionaries over there); he can make his case in the realm of political discourse.

I believe his opinion makes him inappropriate for the office of the Presidency.   A President must, above all else, be true to the constitution and be President to all Americans.    President Bush recognized this, and proclaimed Islam a “religion of peace” and refused to define Islam as the enemy.   After all, with 10 million Muslim Americans, almost all of them anti-terrorist contributors to their communities, he was their President too.

There is something I like about Herman Cain.  He helped Pillsbury keep Godfather’s Pizza alive.   In the 80s the pizza chain was losing money for Pillsbury and they gave Cain the task of reviving the brand.  He did, and Godfather’s returned to profitability.

For that, I thank Cain.   One of the first Godfather’s opened in Sioux Falls back in 1977.    That was less than four years after the very first Godfather’s opened in neighboring Nebraska, if I recall it was about the 5th or 6th restaurant.   Pillsbury didn’t yet own the company and the owner at the time, William Theisen, came to Sioux Falls to celebrate the new store.  I was doing “a week with the mayor” as part of a mini-course in high school, and Mayor Rick Knobe asked me to say some words.  I praised the new restaurant and even mimicked Marlon Brando’s Godfather character at the end, “come to Godfather’s, please try our pizza, we hope you like the pizza…no, on second thought, you WILL come to Godfather’s, you WILL try the pizza, and you WILL like it!” Miss South Dakota was there too, which is always a treat for a 17 year old boy.

Godfather’s quickly became one of my favorite pizzerias, second only to Village Inn Pizza, where I worked.   We don’t have them in Maine, so whenever I get back home, I make a point to have some Godfather’s.   It’s good pizza still (though I think it was better back in the late seventies).  I have fond memories of meals and dates there, as it was just three blocks from Augustana College, where I got my BA.

So, Herman Cain, you’re obviously a good businessman.   And if you want to be politically active to promote your own religion and warn us of “false” faiths, go ahead, the Constitution gives you that right.   But if you want to be President, you need to understand that our Constitution recognizes the right of people of all faiths to worship and be treated with respect.   Moreover, you need to learn about the reality of Islam, not the pamphlets and biased polemics put out by the Christian right.    The only people who benefit when the extremists here show anti-Muslim sentiment are the extremists there who want there to be some kind of ‘clash of civilizations.’  Let’s not help the extremists.

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