A letter to a small-town newspaper

A few weeks ago, as I explored the majestic outcroppings of Arizona, it appeared karma had finally caught up to me. After the joys of meeting some of the kindest folks I’d ever found and exploring Arizona’s rugged, earthly beauty, I awoke on my last day, ready and eager for my drive back home to Houston, only to find that my back tire flat and the used car I’d just purchased was missing the lugnut wrench necessary for the easy fix. As I waited for the tow truck driver I cracked open the October edition of The Voice in the Desert, looking for one more glimpse at the hospitality I’d found during my stay in this bucolic state.

Now, I don’t want this letter to appear overly maudlin, rife with the rhetoric that seems to infect America’s talking heads. However, I can’t help but be struck by the damning and demeaning joining of both unspecific and misleading passages to which both Ralph Spencer and Ed and Laurie Thacker seem to ascribe. These two pieces are filled with grating verbiage, muffled anecdotes, and the kind of misinformation that makes these impassioned, patriotic Americans – of their nature, I have little doubt – come across as ill-informed and misguided. Truly, it saddens me to read such deluded rubbish come from the likes of such an outgoing and affable community.  

For instance, in Spencer’s “The Overthrowing of the U.S. by Islam,” the author seems convinced that Muslims – a term that encompasses a population far too diverse to grasp, much less define – seek to take control of America. And perhaps some do – but his decision to forgo any evidence leaves his claim without base. Likewise, he states that “Throughout Europe … Sharia law is being implemented, as we speak,” yet fails to cite any specifics – simultaneously ignoring the recent French ruling banning burqas, a distinct and palpable stricture against the Euro-Islamic community.

Remember: Muslims number only about one percent of the American population, and those who are of a decided Islamist bent are far smaller indeed. As such, for Spencer to claim fears of an “Islamization” of America – or to even claim that it comes as I write – reeks of paranoia and cant, of riling the masses to some type of phantom menace that exists only on airwaves. You can count the homegrown terrorists (only those working for their virgins – not those like Timothy McVeigh or Joseph Stack, the Texan who crashed his plane into an IRS building earlier this year) on but a few fingers. And as President Obama has decidedly increased the number of Afghani-based air strikes – the military is now sending 50 percent more bombs or missiles into militant-controlled territory than it did last summer – it seems unlikely that al-Qaeda operatives should have a sufficient base to lead the “Overthrowing of the U.S.”

Likewise, how many “victory mosques” carried memorials to the defeated populations? The Park51 construction – which will have Muslim prayer space, just as numerous rooms in the Twin Towers did – will carry a 9/11 memorial, such that the memory of those fallen on that deleterious day never wanes. And it is worth keeping in mind that the construct in which any American Christian prays – including the Broken Arrow Baptist Church, advertised on page 9 of the October edition – could be considered a “victory church,” as it stands on land whose original proprietors were wiped out through European and American – Christian-led, if you will – conquest.

Spiritually, Jesus, Lord and Savior, decreed that we, as his flock, must turn the other cheek, that violence, hatred, impugnment and encroachment must be met with passivity, compassion, sympathy, and love. As someone who was raised in the church, and is fully ensconced in Christian doctrine, this thesis remains obdurate. Of course, this stands somewhat anathematically to the sovereignty of a nation-state – such as the U.S., for instance – as one of the main purpose of a nation’s credo is to protect its populace from outside threats. So, it would seem that a test, some intrinsic tussle, should arise in the hearts of every American Christian: to what does greater loyalty lie, the nation or the God? The answer should be simple, of course: this life, this world, are but fleeting moments on the path of faith, and the stature and status of a nation stands laughably immaterial to the kingdom of Heaven.

Of course, such a thought, such a screed, should be interpreted as nigh-treasonous by an American court. After all, you’re forgoing loyalty to a concrete good, eliminating allegiance to a nation that welcomes and befits all high-minded and tolerant individuals, regardless or class, creed, religion, sexual orientation (save for the military), color, handicap, profligacy, or wealth – all for a place you’ve only read about in a book that wasn’t finalized until about 1,900 years ago, centered on a Jewish man who insisted on giving all that he had to the poor and castigating the dissolution of the rich. (As an aside: while “rich” may serve relatively loosely in local, American contexts, it’s worth remembering that the 2008 median income of, say, Elfrida, AZ, is approximately $34,500, or roughly 500 percent larger than the average income worldwide – and an outrageously well-heeled figure when considering that 1,400,000,000 people live on less than $500 per year, about 1.6% of what those in Cochise, AZ, make. Americans are rich beyond the dreams of billions.) As such, I find it ironic – and intellectually stunted – for Spencer to follow his call to “Get involved with a church” with an immediate prompt to “fight.” If someone can come forth with a reason why the intractability between Jesus’s nonviolence and a nation-state’s defense budget may not exist, I’d love to hear it.

As for the Thackers’ column, my qualms are, fortunately, less grandiose and more nit-picky. For instance, the constant implication that Pastor Jones was somehow censored permeates the Thackers’ writing, and borders on calumny. Bear in mind: there was no censorship afoot during the entirety of Jones’s threat. Condemnation arose – and rightfully so, with reasons ranging from soldiers’ safety to staunching simple, rueful hatred – but the decision was left to Jones, and Jones alone, as to whether or not he should burn the book. (From a personal standpoint, I found it repulsive that the Thackers would denigrate hate crimes – hate crimes – as a sign of censorship.)  It was also ironic that the Thackers immediately cited appeasement, noting Neville Chamberlain’s acquiescence to Hitler, as some type of parallel to the Jones situation. They ask, “Does anybody remember what Hitler?” Perhaps, in indulgence, I could posit the following line of logic:

A)     In 1933, a Nazi-led book-burning led to the destruction of thousands of books written by Jews and leftists.

B)      Twelve years later, six million Jews were dead, along with a group of six million anti-socials, communists, gays, criminals, Slavs, Gypsies, prisoners of war, and others.

C)      According to the Thackers’ logic – that our current situation is following the path to Hitler – had Jones burned the Koran, a massacre of untold millions of Muslims (and others) would ensue through the following decade.

It is illogical, and borderline insane, for this couple to espouse this argument while over-looking that Jones’ actions are exactly what the Nazis did. Not in some type of amorphous, quasi-rights-restricted “primrose path” that exists only in hypothesis – the Third Reich did the exact same thing as Jones.

I would also find it ironic that the Thackers cite Anne Coulters’ vilification of funeral protestors as evidence of some type of support of free speech. Now, do not conflate this to think that I in any way support the methods or messages taken by these funeral protesters; rather, in this issue of free speech – during which the Thackers hammered liberals, gays, and those who would wish for tolerance just moments earlier – the Thackers are opposing free speech.

Lastly, I would ask that the Thackers continue in the trend I requested of Spencer: cite specifics. They claim that “God [has been] removed from our public places,” yet fail to note where this has taken place. There is a distinct – and Constitutionally-mandated – distance between government operations and any reference to Godly superstitions. But that does not mean that you can’t profess your faith in a peaceful, public manner. Rather, it is simply that the government cannot be seen to adopt or support any faith, either in public construction or signage.

This is, of course, necessary. For if the America with which I’ve grown craws toward religiosity, I fear there may be Christians who end up putting loyalty to state ahead of loyalty to God. This, as all God-loving and Jesus-following people are aware, is a most egregious sin, to adhere to the state, a “false idol.”

And it is one which we cannot, and can never, have.

  1. myrnr reblogged this from caseymichel
  2. mlawyue reblogged this from caseymichel and added:
    this kid at Sports Illustrated...summers ago. Proud...close...
  3. caseymichel posted this
This Tumblr is now defunct. (Sorry.) Updated information can be found at www.caseymichel.com.

Email: casey.michel@gmail.com
Twitter: @cjcmichel

Current: Master's student in Columbia University's Harriman Institute, focusing on Russian, Eurasian, and Eastern European political and social developments.

Former: Researcher with International Crisis Group Bishkek; reporter and polling analyst with the Houston Press and Talking Points Memo; northernmost male Peace Corps Volunteer in the world. (It's very cold in northern Kazakhstan.)

Written for: The Atlantic, Foreign Policy, Al Jazeera, The Diplomat, The Moscow Times, TPM, Washington Post, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Houston Chronicle, Slate, Global Times, Roads & Kingdoms, Sports Illustrated, and Registan, among others.

Also: I taught a course on Batman during my final year at Rice University, which was completely worth it.


view archive

Casey Michel's Resume