“Our Founding Fathers Would Never Have Tolerated This Muslim Nonsense!” and the Political Abuse of History

December 21st, 2010

The Founders as they appear at Cracked.com

I personally am a huge fan of Cracked.  I try to avoid it if I have work to do because their countdown lists are incredibly addicting.  Very few things on the internet make me belly laugh, but Cracked inspires the convulsions frequently.  Some day I look forward to putting my own history degree to good use and crafting my own hilarious article. Ah, someday!

Beyond such doozies as 15 Unintentionally Perverted Toys for Children and 6 Insane Fan Theories That Actually Make Great Movies Better, they often craft fascinating histories of forgotten or otherwise interesting events.

Recently their writers decided to take on 5 Ridiculous Things You Probably Believe About Islam, and one of the most compelling ones was “Our Founding Fathers Would Never Have Tolerated This Muslim Nonsense!” I’m pretty sure the Rebels in the Silver Underground would hardly care on what the Founding Fathers did and didn’t tolerate. There are bigger fish to fry, and their direction surely isn’t back to what the Founding Fathers envisioned, yet more towards how people can just live without the evil Fed and government taking over every aspect of their life.

In the piece the writers claim that the Founding Fathers were often rather friendly to Muslim practices both in the abstract and in their personal lives, contrary to public opinion. Among the most impressive examples Thomas Jefferson taught himself Arabic from the Qu’ran and celebrated the feast at sundown during Ramadan while in the White House, and “John Adams hailed the Islamic prophet Muhammad as one of the great ‘inquirers after truth.”

Of course this brings up a valuable lesson about tolerance for Islam in America, but these issues have a larger point about historical & religious usurpation for political gain.  I’ve heard, and I’m sure you have too, claims that Jesus Christ was alternatively a socialist, a conservative, a libertarian, a Jewish anti-imperialist, an anarchist and I’m sure many other interpretations exist too.  Claiming Jesus believed what one believes is a gimicky way to try to get someone to understand one’s position.

I’ve heard of left-oriented politicos handing out Agrarian Justice by Thomas Paine at Tea Parties to get them to see that some of the Founders favored redistributive taxes, which some did.  George Washington put down the Whiskey Rebellion while leading an army as president. That’s right, a founder led the charge to put down a rural tax revolt.  Thomas Jefferson imposed an embargo on European goods and violated the Constitution to make the Louisiana Purchase. A good solid chunk of the founders were mercantilists, which is philosophically opposed to the laissez faire most people assume the founders held.

However, folks tend to omit all the historical details which make history so damn interesting and just claim “the Founders would’ve supported our policies!”  It is no different than claiming Jesus for political purposes and often as inaccurate or inappropriate.

Even if it were true that the Founders would never have allowed this “pagan Muslim malarkey” on our shores does that somehow make the message of libertarian tolerance less valid?  If Jesus were a socialist would that change how you thought about socialism? If the Cracked piece suddenly inspires you to be more tolerant to other religions than I’d ask what is it about these founders which is so worth saving in your eyes?  Why is it that some deified personalities and appeals to their authority are so influential rather than the individual ideas weighed on their own merit?

Yes, the Founders had more complex ideas on Islam than is currently discussed by people like Glenn Beck and his ilk, but hopefully that argument alone isn’t persuasive for you.  The Founders offered both good and bad ideas and are warts-and-all historical figures, not infallible deities whose opinions should be canonized as ultimate truth.  If we acknowledge this complexity perhaps we could move forward and progress rather than being locked into cheap shot appeals to the Founders’ authority.  Then maybe libertarianism wouldn’t appear to the average politico as a mostly anachronistic philosophy of slave-holding men in white wigs now endorsed by middle class white men, and wouldn’t that be nice!

Okay, you may proceed to giggling at Cracked’s genius now.

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