What better time than July 4 to be reminded that some Americans – a fanatical fringe, really – distrust Muslims, want them to leave the United States, feel they don’t belong here. In the last 24 hours, we’ve seen a Florida angler lauding the use of torture against Muslim “raghead” extremists; a Minnesota Republican belittling concerns that a retailer sold anti-Muslim fireworks; and a Colorado conservative with a history of antagonizing Muslims blogging about the religious sentiments of Founding Father John Adams – a posting that inspired one reader to put bacon on a hamburger “as an affront to our Islamist enemies.”
Last month, after Barack Obama reached out to the Muslim world with a speech in Cairo, two U.S. columnists (Andrew McCarthy and Andrea Lafferty) suggested that America’s Founding Fathers really hated Islam. Lafferty concluded that Obama “distorted American history and misrepresented the views of our Founding Fathers on Islam. At the birth of our nation, we were dealing with Jihad. The war will never end until one side is victorious.”
While America’s Founding Fathers were leery of warmongers from the Muslim world, they also emphasized that Muslims were as welcome here as any other religious group. George Washington, for example, said he would embrace Muslims who came to Mt. Vernon if they were “good workmen.” James H. Hutson, head of the Library of Congress’ Manuscript Division, uncovered this fact in his research, which also revealed this: Thomas Jefferson cited Islam in his plea for religious tolerance in the United States. “The Founders of this nation,” Hutson wrote, “explicitly included Islam in their vision of the future of the republic.”
As I show in my book, “Al’ America: Travels Through America’s Arab and Islamic Roots,” Islamic culture has been embedded in the United States since the country’s founding. A good example: The Alamo – the building in San Antonio, Texas that, for many Americans, symbolizes the United States’ spirit of pride and courage; the building that, today, is having special Independence Day events – features Islamic architecture. This Islamic aesthetic was deliberately applied to the Alamo by the Spaniards who built it in 1724. Why? Because they’d been positively influenced by Muslim culture for centuries during Islamic rule of Spain – not just in terms of architecture, but such areas as food and language. Spanish borrowed scores of words from Arabic, and when Spaniards named parts of the United States, Arabic was key – as in the name “California,” which derives from the Arabic word “caliph.”
In California and across the United States, fireworks will shoot into the skies tonight – a tradition that goes back to this country’s founding. Fireworks’ bright lights are designed to illuminate the darkness, to make people feel awe and excitement as they look above. No religion is required to appreciate the spectacle. This freedom of choice is something the Founding Fathers would have extolled. “Campaigning for religious freedom in Virginia, Jefferson followed Locke, his idol, in demanding recognition of the religious rights of the ‘Mahamdan,’ the Jew and the ‘pagan,’ ” Hutson noted. “Supporting Jefferson was his old ally, Richard Henry Lee, who had made a motion in Congress on June 7, 1776, that the American colonies declare independence. ‘True freedom,’ Lee asserted, ‘embraces the Mahomitan and the Gentoo (Hindu) as well as the Christian religion.’ ”
Amen to that.