I’ll never forget the first time I saw a mosque. I was about 12 or 13 years old and my father was driving around with me and my uncle in Jonesboro, Arkansas. I can’t remember where we were going or why, but that funny-looking building eventually became my sole surviving memory from that day. I can still hear my dad saying, somewhat derisively, “Oh, and there’s the mosque.”
It did not compute, that funny, colorful building in marked contrast to the rest of the landscape. “What’s a mosque?” I asked. I don’t recall exactly how my father answered, but the lasting memories of that day tell me that not only did I understand that it was visually different, but that it somehow clashed philosophically with everything I had learned until then. At that time, my father was a Southern Baptist minister, and the world was clearly divided into two groups: born-again Christians and then everyone else, with everyone else consisting of witches and devil worshipers. In our world, not only were they non-Christians, but they were actually “against God” and, by extension, against Christians.
That was the first time I was ever confronted with the Other, ie. those against our values. I remember quite clearly thinking “Why are they here?” As in, why don’t they go back to their own people and country – some place where they wouldn’t torment those of us perfectly content to live in the world we had spent so many generations constructing.
Since then, I’ve had many opportunities to confront the Other and to get to know the Other. I’ve read much in the news about tea parties, birthers, town hall crashers, and many more who have been described at various turns as racists, crazies, wingnuts, and lobotomized dittoheads. Except for a few fringe groups who do meet those criteria, the sum of the rest of those who sympathize with these fringe elements are afraid of the Other. In their lifetimes they have witnessed demographic shifts that have brought the Other “intruding” into their daily lives. And in Barack Hussein Obama, they see a living manifestation of “The Other.”
Hell, he’s so Other, he’s the Other’s other: born in Hawaii, lived in Indonesia, and had a Muslim stepfather. This otherness drives the fringe stark-raving mad. This man, who so clearly is out of step with our vision of America, how dare he inhabit our throne? You can hear them ask, “Why is he here?”