Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Islamophobia as Bought and Paid-For Commodity in American Culture: Poisoning the Well of Democracy

This is an important story as the (overblown, hyped) commemoration of 9/11 approaches.  I've seen the story at several sites in recent days, but Andrew Sullivan's is one of the clearest and most succinct I've seen.

As he notes, the Center for American Progress is finding that the considerable toxic Islamophobia that has profoundly affected American political discourse in recent years--in entirely negative ways--is being deliberately incited by a group of wealthy right-wing political agents.  We have, in other words, in our midst groups working overtime to poison the political, cultural, and economic well of American democracy, who will do anything--who will even deconstruct the democratic system itself--to assure their control.

I've been thinking a lot lately about the metaphor, "poison the well."  It's clear to me, as it is to many others, that the Republican party has, to a great extent, turned itself at this point in history into an organization intent on poisoning the well of the American political system, insofar as Republicans cannot entirely control that system.  Republicans at the federal level and in statehouses around the nation are working overtime to do anything they can to thwart economic recovery and job creation, and to dismantle social safety networks and inflict more misery on working-class and poor Americans.  At the federal level, they are deliberately blocking Obama appointments and thereby impeding the progress of the government.

At the same time, these same political leaders are taking the misery they're creating by blocking economic recovery, and turning it into misplaced anger and hate against targeted minorities, including Muslims.  This misdirected anger and hatred invite the many Americans who are suffering tremendously to misunderstand who is responsible for this misery, which is due to the economic policies of the Republican administrations that held sway as the 20th century ended, and to the stranglehold that the Republican party still has on the political system as a minority party determined to say no at every turn .  The misdirected anger and hatred lead them to blame innocent victims while ignoring the real agents of their economic suffering.

This is poisoning the well.  Sane, healthy people do not poison wells.  And, yes, it goes without saying, the Democratic party bears responsibility, too, for selling its soul to the corporatist masters who want total control of American political and economic life.  The Democratic party bears responsibility for its lack of courage and moral conviction, in the face of the groups now poisoning the well of our democratic culture.

I didn't grow up in a community in which people relied on wells to provide drinking water, but I grew up close enough to my parents' roots to know what a well signified for the generations before me.  From stories I've heard, it's evident to me that both of my parents grew up in houses in which a well was the source of their families' drinking water for at least part of their childhoods.  And I know from those same stories that it was considered very serious, indeed, when someone polluted that all-important source of water--as my mother's baby sister once did by throwing several kittens down the family well.  Just to see what would happen . . . . 

I also grew up attending annual homecomings at the country church my grandmother and her family attended when she was a girl.  In front of the church and the schoolhouse that sat beside it, which she and her brothers also attended and in which we played at these reunions, was a well that had been there for, I gather, over a hundred years--from the time the church was founded in 1860 and the schoolhouse built.

Each year, as we went to the homecoming, we were strictly forbidden to drink out of the old well.  The veins that fed the well, my grandfather had maintained for years before we were born, ran through the church cemetery, and this fouled the well.  And there was a communal dipper for the well, a tin cup tied to the bucket that one lowered into the icy depths of the well to pull up the water.

We were forbidden to drink from that nasty common cup and the possibly dirty well-water, and so, of course, the first thing my brothers, cousins, and I did each year when we were out of sight of our adult lords and masters at the homecoming was to head for the well, lower the bucket, and drink dippersful of cold, metallic-tasting water from it.  No water ever tasted more savory, more delightfully forbidden.  Even with the tiny pollywogs likely to be lurking at the bottom of any bucket of water we drew up . . . .

Given my admittedly small, but nonetheless significant, historical connection to cultures for whom wells played a crucial role, I cannot imagine anyone choosing deliberately to poison the well on which an entire society depends.  And yet, there are very definitely such groups hard at work in American society at present, and one of our major political parties seems entirely captive to these groups.

And that ought to make the claims of that party and its adherents that they excel in love of their country ring just a tiny bit false to the nation as a whole, as the 9/11 commemorations get underway and the 2012 elections approach.

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