Monday, March 07, 2011

Persecution okay or not okay? Muslims, drug users and NASCAR

The House Homeland Security Committee Chairman, Rep. Peter King (R-NY) is holding a hearing on the radicalization of American Muslims.

Defenders of religious freedom, and those who intellectually oppose blanket generalizations are justifiably upset. They are on the radio and in the columns denouncing the hearings because the believe the hearings are structured to create a stigma of being a Muslim by impugning Muslims as terrorists or terrorism supporters.

Trying to put this in a larger perspective, it occurs to me that the habit of politicians resorting to unfounded blanket generalizations is well illustrated by the case of the persecution of drug users, especially marijuana users. Even though the overwhelming majority of drug users are hard working, decent people, they can all be characterized as criminal and deviant because of the behavior of a few. Because a minority of drug users become addicted to drugs and engage in shocking behavior in the pursuit of their compulsion to use drugs, our culture has tolerated laws that stigmatize and persecute all drug users regardless of their actual behavior.

For a half century at least our culture has condemned "the drug culture." Of course in many respects those who use drugs are part of a separate culture. They identify as part of a separate culture. Their lives include all the characteristics of a unique culture: language, music, literature, dance, ritual, myth, etc.

Americans do not think of themselves as persecutors of people of diverse cultures. Yet isn't clear that American police engage in the systematic harassment of drug users at their musical events, at their social venues and gatherings, or because they are wearing their characteristic costumes, hair styles or other bodily adornments? Does anyone doubt that this is the case?

Imagine that the culture decided to stop, search and otherwise harass people who wore athletic jerseys because they were indicative of, let's say, excessive alcohol consumption?

Imagine that the culture decided to stop, search and otherwise harass people whose vehicles, hats or clothing involved NASCAR regalia because they were indicative of tobacco "addiction?"

Of course we would consider that intolerable. How long do we consider the persecution of people who are drug users to be tolerable?

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