The outcry is xenophobic, racist, and profoundly unAmerican. It’s also completely predictable. Anyone with even a modicum of knowledge of American history knows that this country has passed through spasms of xenophobia, racism, and Protestant chauvinism on a fairly regular basis, from the nineteenth century anti-Romanist Know Nothings to the Yellow Peril, the KKK, and the Immigration Reform Act of 1924. Granted, we diverted enormous energies to attacks on our own native-born blacks and gays in the last few decades, but a strong Nativist strain has always lurked just below the surface of things; it manifests itself whenever the unemployment rate rises.
Predictable too are the hypocrisy and selective indignation that accompany the hysteria. Few American politicians paid a price for supporting the terrorist IRA in the past; few dare say anything positive (or merely not negative) about anything Islamic today. That’s because there were a lot more Irish Catholic voters back then than there are Islamic ones today. Only when they can field as substantial a bloc of voters as the Catholics, or as influential a bloc as the Jews, will people think of Islamic Americans as Americans of a certain faith, rather than as foreigners who don’t believe as we do.
There’s a Jewish aspect to the issue that troubles me, too. Both anti-Semites and AIPAC take it for granted that American Jews have dual loyalties, to Israel and America, and that Jewish loyalty to America is contingent on America’s unconditional support of Israel. So long as America and Israel are in perfect accord there is no conflict. Such people assume that Islam’s loyalties are similarly divided. But that creates an irresolvable paradox: unless American Islam adopts a posture of unconditional support for Israel, no AIPAC supporter can acknowledge an Islamic American’s patriotism without casting doubt on his or her own.
The only way out of this impasse is a truly American pluralism, a tolerance for difference–a stance that neither anti-Semites, Christianists or AIPAC totalists have ever been notably comfortable with.