Election 2008: Tapping Religious Prejudice

A hundred years ago, the political use of anti-Semitism had just taken off in Europe. In Vienna, all the politicians used it — rightwing nationalists, the center parties, even the left Social Democrats. “It’s just rhetoric,” people said. But there was a young man in Vienna at that time who didn’t think it was just rhetoric. His name was Adolph Hitler. Before he was finished, European Jewry had been destroyed, and Europe lay in ruins.

What’s the lesson? That once religious bigotry gets into public discourse, it’s very hard to get it out. And religious hatred isn’t “just rhetoric.” It’s the political equivalent of lighting a match to find a gas leak — there’s nothing so bad that an appeal to religious bigotry won’t make it exponentially worse.

Lawrence Swaim, Director of the Interfaith Freedom Foundation in Fremont, CA, offers some reflections on the dangers of demonizing Islam in the current political debate.

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