Religious minorities want to silence us. We can’t let that happen.
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Friday’s premeditated attack on Salman Rushdie highlighted once again the lengths to which religious extremists will go to silence people they disagree with. The fatwa on Rushdie was issued 33 years ago, in 1989, before yesterday’s attacker was even born.
Because words have power
I heard Rushdie remind us of the power of words in May this year at a PEN America Emergency Writer Congress at the United Nations that I live-tweeted then wrote about here.
In Rushdie’s speech that day, he said: “A poem cannot stop a bullet. A novel can’t defuse a bomb... But we are not helpless... We can sing the truth and name the liars... stories are at the heart of what’s happening... we must work to overturn the false narrative of tyrants... by telling better stories.”
Hopefully Rushdie, who suffered horrific injuries in yesterday’s attack, will survive to tell more stories.
For the rest of us…
It’s time to get loud
When religious people try to silence others, it’s usually for childish reasons. It’s because their ideas have lost. It’s because no one’s buying what they’re selling. They turn into schoolyard bullies who want to impose their will onto others in a sad attempt to cover up their own fears, weaknesses and insecurities.
The phrase “use your words” is something people say to kids (on TV shows at least) to instill in them the idea that violence is not the answer. But then they grow up and their religious leaders tell them to go crack some heads for (insert Savior’s name here).
Yesterday’s attack prompted the usual back-and-forth about Islam and violent ideologies, with much of the Islamophobia seeming to come from the Christian Nationalist side of the Twitter swamp (as in, the part of the swamp that gave birth to the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood shooter and the Tree of Life synagogue shooter).
Say no to weak, feeble-minded minorities
The biggest bullies in the world are not in the schoolyard, of course. They’re talking in pulpits or at lecterns in Florida or at WWE-style CPAC events.
In America, the Ultra MAGA Christian Nationalist Jesus and Guns bullies are firing up a lazy, dumbed-down minority that’s long been programmed to snarl every time Fox News rings a bell, changes the chyron, or dangles a photoshopped meme in front of them.
If you’ve read this far, wow. Not only is your attention span greater than 98.6% of internet users, you might possibly agree with most of what I’m saying. That puts you in the majority. What I like to think of as “normal people,” no offense. You’re probably the kind of person who wants to live in the 21st century. Who thinks people have a right to love and marry who(m)ever they want to. Who thinks women should have bodily autonomy and that families should be granted reproductive freedom. Who thinks America’s history should be taught in a way that accurately describes it, instead of a way that encourages fairy-tale thinking of the kind found in most religious texts.
In a democracy, you, being in the majority, should win
Yet right now, the vocal minority is winning.
Yesterday evening I tuned into a livestream of a Tedx talk by Jon Friedman (aka @jonfreadom), who I interviewed here in February. He’s PEN America’s expert on book bans and educational gag orders. In his short speech, which should be available online here sometime soon, he made the point that kids are being denied a wide range of normal content. While some might take offense to the content of some of these books, the reality is they have been thoughtfully written and published by responsible companies. The books are in schools because they actually help young readers navigate their childhood and teenage years and, in the process, grow into normal, functioning adults, no matter their race, creed or sexuality. The “Christian” activists and Republican political leaders, however, want to ban books they disagree with in order to spoonfeed all of America’s kids only the kind of content found in good Fox-News-watching “Christian Nationalist” homes. The homes where gay people and American history don’t exist. The homes where mommy, daddy and the kids celebrate the season of peace and love by gathering round the Christmas tree holding the AR-15s White Santa brought them.
But these religious extremists can be defeated. If we all speak up. And guess what? Speaking up works!
Banned on the run
One recent example shows that not only are America’s book bans becoming totally ridiculous. They’re also almost impossible for any school system to defend.
One school district in Utah backtracked this week when its pathetic methods of censoring books (i.e. not reading them) were exposed by PEN America, prompting an outpouring of outrage by authors, writers, readers, students and other normal people.
It turns out that calling bullshit on bullshit actually works. After all, this is still America. If we want it to be. So now is the time to speak up against religious minorities that want to impinge on your freedom, and yes, that includes your freedom to read.
Speak up for #FReadom. Because censorship? Fuck no.
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