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Narrative Nostalgia and Nonsense: The Real Danger of Succession and McCarthyism Posing as Patriotism and Celebrations o

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The first time I read about the "Succession Ball" in Charleston, South Carolina I thought I was reading something from The Onion .   But it wasn't so.   Turns out some "Forget, Hell!" Confederate flag waving and slavery apologists organized by the strategically ambiguous "state's rights" and/or "remembering history" banners are "celebrating" the 150th anniversary of the day that South Carolina, back in 1860, voted to leave the Union.   Shortly thereafter the under-staffed, under-stocked, and barely defended Fort Sumter was shelled and the long War Between the States began.   And you know the rest of the story.

To be fair the leader of this "non-celebration of slavery" defended the commemoration this way:

"Mark Simpson, the S.C. division commander for the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said his organization condemns slavery and respects the NAACP's right to protest.

"We could look back and say (the Civil War) wasn't something to celebrate -" about 620,000 died in the North and South,' Simpson said. "If you count civilians, you're up to about a million killed in that war.

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"Do we celebrate that? Heavens no,' he said. "War and death is never something to celebrate. But we do celebrate the courage and the integrity of 170 men who signed their signatures to the Article of Secession -" the courage of men to do what they think is right.'"

What's right ?   What you probably don't know, thanks to the whitewashing rhetoric on the modern Confederate right, is that 90% of those who voted for succession were slave holders, and 60% of them owned over 20 slaves, 40% owned more than 50, 16% owned more than 100, and Francis Pickens, the Governor and a fiery orator for succession, owned 400 slaves.   So when I reread the last line in the quotation above "the courage of men to do what they think is right" I have to point out that what these men thought was right was slavery.   "State's rights" and "history" are just nice-sounding ways of covering up what is clear to anyone with brain.

Full disclosure:   I have lived in the fair state of South Carolina twice and I know that not everyone there shares this nostalgic view of history.   I don't know that they are in the majority.   It's hard to believe that they are in the majority when Jim DeMint represents them, or, for that matter, Lindsey Graham, both of whom have remained silent about the "Succession Ball."   Or, if they have spoken against it, their denunciation doesn't appear on the pages of The State , which is the capital's leading newspaper.

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I am waiting, as are millions of loyal Americans, for the South to stop reminding the rest of the nation of their racist past.   Until that day arrives, Mr. Simpson, we will continue to believe very negative things about the South and its past.   How could we not?   You are the new Governor Pickens, or at least you are acting and sounding a lot like him.   What you are calling for is anti-history.   What you are doing despite knowing this is a "sensitive" issue is calling into question the wisdom of ending slavery.   It is as if you are nostalgic for a time of violent extremism and for a political movement that not violates the U.S. Constitution's call for equal rights, but that tore this great nation apart not just for the duration of the war, but for at least 100 years afterward.   Is that your real objective?   To keep the hate and the division alive?

Narrative nostalgia and nonsense is not limited to the good citizens of the State of South Carolina.   This week Peter King of New York, the incoming Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee announced a new assault on our freedoms with his intention to open "hearings" on "radicalization of American Muslims."  

This is the same congressman who opposed the building of an Islamic Center in New York City.   To be fair, he did at least criticize Newt Gringich's comparison of the planned construction of a mosque on the 9/11 grounds to "Nazis putting up signs at the Holocaust Museum."   While underscoring the idea that we need to be "sensitive" to Muslim Americans, his sensitivity apparently doesn't extend to calling for hearings that remind me of Joe McCarthy calling for investigations into the patriotism and political affiliations of State Department employees.   But, hey, Michele Bachmann also did that in reference to the whole of Congress, and just this year.   So why am I surprised?

Here's what is wrong with calling for hearings, Mr. King.   Aside from the obvious fact that Islam is a religion, and religion is protected as a sacred freedom under the First Amendment, there is the fact that targeting Muslims as potential "radicals" who could turn violent might just be perceived by a lot of us who aren't Muslims, as well as all of them who are, as prejudiced .   You know what I mean, right?   "Prejudiced," as in meaning the "holding opinions, especially unfavorable ones, that are based on insufficient knowledge, irrational feelings, or inaccurate stereotypes," which is how my Encarta World English Dictionary defines the term. 

But let's not split linguistic hairs here, Mr. King.   There are, in fact, terrorists and violent extremists among us.   No doubt about it.   But they aren't Muslims.   They are evangelical Christians, such as the Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, or the abortion center assassin, Eric Rudolph.   Or the murders   or   attempted murders   of physicians and clinic staff, as committed by James Kopp , Paul Jennings Hill , Scott Roeder , Michael F. Griffin , and Peter James Knight .

Forget abortion center.   How about those good gun-toting Second Amendment-protecting Christian militiamen, such as those in Michigan, who call for armed insurrection against the United States? They plotted the murder of a local policeman and then planned to use IEDs they learned how to build from the Internet to wreak Holy War against those family members and other police officers at the funeral.   Or how about thost good, God-fearing Christian folks like the self-proclaimed "Sipsey Street Irregulars" led by Mike Pinson of Alabama, whose blog proclaims " All politics in this country now is just dress rehearsal for civil war."  (Note: as of today he is shutting down his blog and website, at least temporarily).   Or how about the evangelical lunatics from Westboro Baptist Church who protest the funerals of anyone suspected of supporting gay rights, abortion, or the equal treatment of women and men under the law?

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I am waiting, as are millions of loyal Americans, for you, Mr. King, to investigate all violent extremists and purveyors of hate, regardless of religious or political affiliation.   Until that day arrives, I will continue to believe very negative things about you and your motives.   How could I not?   How could anyone not?  

You are the new Joseph McCarthy, or, if you don't like that label, let's say that at least you are acting and sounding a lot like him.   What you are calling for is un-American.   What you are doing despite knowing this is a "sensitive" issue is calling into question, without evidence, the patriotism and honor of Muslim Americans.   It is as if you are waxing nostalgic for hearings that not only were unconstitutional, but that succeeded in nothing less than tamping down of political dissent from the left for a decade.   Is that your real objective?   To ensure that those of us are silenced who support the freedom of religion under the Constitution of the United States and its Bill of Rights?   Or is it just those of us on the left?   Those of us who do, in fact, question the political wisdom of declaring America to be a Christian nation?   Or acting as if we support such an idea.

The real danger of Progressives and conservatives remaining silent in the face of these two cases of misguided narrative nostalgia is simply this:   Our silence is taken as tacit support for their cause .   What these political extremists are trying hard to do is to redefine patriotism as prejudice writ large.   Celebrating the defense of slavery and spreading fear of Islam represent two sides of the same coin, and the name of that coin is prejudice.   And that is all it is.  

We must speak out against it and work to defeat it.


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H. L. (Bud) Goodall, Jr. lives in Arizona where he is a college professor and writer. He has published 20 books and many articles and chapters on a variety of communication issues. His most recent books include Counter-Narrative: How Progressive (more...)

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