Ebola, Islam, Immigration and Oklahoma’s Politics of Fear
by Priscilla Galstaun-Khader
Herodotus: “In peace, sons bury their fathers; in war, fathers bury their sons.”
Congressman Jim Bridenstine, representing Oklahoma’s First District and a Navy pilot and combat veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan held a town hall yesterday titled “Securing America” where he addressed the “crisis” in the Middle East, i.e., ISIS and Hamas, illegal children immigrants from “our Southern Border”, the imperative need for the drug war, Ebola and “Russian aggression”.
Seeing how these topics directly impacted me and my communities, both in faith and in humanity, I decided to attend. It was a pleasant surprise to see how Rep. Bridenstine’s staffers were courteous and cordial to me and my friend. We were welcomed most warmly and informed we could sit anywhere we liked.
Once seated, however, things started to go downhill. The row we chose to sit in had three occupants already seated in front of it. All seemed well, until the lady in that row turned around, took a look at us and what seemed like a spontaneous decision, decided to move along with her two companions to another area in the auditorium. I was left wondering if they just wanted a better view of the proceedings, or perhaps if my hijab and my friend’s niqab played a part in their decision to relocate or was it that we were suspected of waging biological warfare by walking in with the Ebola virus.
Anyhow, my attention was soon drawn to the stage where there was a band and a choir present playing a mix of some golden oldies, patriotic serenades and what sounded to me like a hymn. This seemed odd seeing this was a town hall open to the public which I’m sure comprises of more than one culture, religion or ethnicity but later considering that it was being held in Oklahoma, it made logical sense. Inevitably, at some point an elaborate gesture of obeisance was made to the three armed forces of the American military.
The event was kicked off with a prayer beseeching Jesus (pbuh) to act in the White House, the Congress and in Washington D.C., followed by the national anthem, neither of which I stood up for, which earned me the wrathful glare of pretty much everyone around me. C’est’ la vie.
Then Rep. Bridenstine came on and talked about everything and nothing for about 15 -20 minutes. He spoke about his history as in where he went to school, college, prior job positions etc and then proceeded to praise his staffer, and talk about the band and choir in attendance. I tried hard to not zone out incase I missed something critical and was quickly redeemed by his declaration, “Our country is in peril!”
Now that totally got my attention but not for the reasons that Mr.Bridenstine would have hoped for, as you will see below.
Briefly alerting all in the room to our impending doom, he proceeded to educate us about the economy, the Federal Reserve, taxes, Medicaid, Medicare and so on and so forth which was getting to be really tedious. Not because I wasn’t interested in those topics but because he was frankly, insulting my intelligence.
However, I soon observed that his fan base (which pretty much included everyone in that auditorium, save a few) were agreeing with every word he elicited and the applause and ovations that followed were increasing in intensity and length which proved to be more frightening and more nauseating as compared to Mr. Bridenstine’s rhetoric.
Much to my exasperation, his lauding of American exceptionalism, jingoism, military power and might and appeals to the Christians in the room (nearly all of them?), by invoking Jesus every now and then and quoting Romans:33 and 39, to continue to heavily invest in the American military industrial complex and continue to think inside of that box, (thereby perpetuating the exact same errors of the last 13 years of American foreign policy) made me think he was no different from Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the head of the so-called ISIS/IS. Only in this case, the religion and region were in reverse.
Pardon me if I felt like it wouldn’t be long before my head would be on the chopping block. My friend who wears the niqab (face veil) was sneered at, scoffed and mocked and rudely commented on during her entire time there and when we were leaving that theater of warmongering, ignorance and discrimination, the people around us were verbally relieved.
By fear mongering about Ebola and Africa, claiming that Russia is enhancing its military, asserting that the U.S. navy is winning the war on drugs, emoting over abused children immigrants from our “southern border” and calling them “illegal” all in one breath and stating in the next, that he is in favor of sending them back to the same life threatening hell-hole they are escaping and emigrating from, condemning Palestine and extolling Israel, invoking defense spending, asserting that ISIS and Al Qaeda are one and the same and most damning of all; that they exist in a vacuum, weeping (literally) over the increasing number of tombstones at Arlington cemetery with it’s crosses and the stars of David etched on them, thereby completely mitigating those of other faiths who are just as dead as those who lie beside them; prove beyond a shadow of a doubt the militancy of Congressman Bridenstine toward the very monsters he helps create and his deeply held Judeo-Christian ethic that he overtly invoked throughout his town hall proceedings.
What was most baffling to me was how the baby boomers in the room were in unanimous agreement with Rep. Bridenstine’s call for more war, more annihilation, more militancy and thereby more “crosses” and “stars of David” at their cemeteries. If their version of patriotism can blind fathers and mothers to such an extent where they proudly seek the deaths of their children and grandchildren, then I can’t help but recall what Rev. Clarence Waldron said in condemnation of Kaiser Wilhelm’s regime in Germany, “If this is patriotism, to hell with patriotism.”
How could the people in that room weep over their dead one minute, only to seek more deaths of their loved ones the next? How were the fathers (and mothers) able to applaud burying their sons (and daughters) in the future and yet not see how aligned they are in blind obedience with the very monsters they proudly vote to send their children to kill?
Herodotus was right and I’m sure the people in that town hall would agree. They just may not see how his insight applies to them.