Saturday, August 9, 2008

Tyson Foods Uproar: The Latest In Anti-Muslim Bigotry

Tyson Foods in Shelbyville, Tennessee, was recently the focus of an uproar after the plant negotiated a contract that substituted a Muslim holiday, Id al-Fitr, for Labor Day as one of the paid holidays. The controversy, reported in the New York Times (8/5/08), focused not so much on non-observance of Labor Day as the fact that the plant substituted it for a Muslim holiday. 

One individual wrote to the union, "You are a union that is proud of achieving a Muslim holiday and prayer room? A union in the U.S.A., a country based on Christianity. You call yourselves Americans? Have you forgotten 9/11?

Another letter stated, "You had not right to drop Labor Day. Muslim employees must integrate Labor Day into their lives if they are going to live in America."

It's no wonder that Dick Cheney was able to conflate Iraq with 9/11 and Al Qaeda. A segment of the population responds to such simplistic associations, including linking all Muslims with 9/11. And stating that the U.S. is "based on Christianity" denies the separation of church and state that the country was founded on, a separation that guarantees individual religious freedom. Those who advocate placing religious icons in a public square as an assertion of such freedom completely misconstrue the concept–as does Bill O'Reilly, with his annual "war on Christmas" nonsense. Isn't it ironic that so many who object to Islamic extremism abroad resemble the American Taliban at home?

Following the decision at Tyson, anti-immigrant groups and right-wing bloggers advocated a boycott of the company. Not only did it betray Labor Day, according to this reasoning, but it also made an "improper concession to Islam." Tyson finally decided to avoid further criticism by reinstating Labor Day as a paid holiday.

I'm reminded of the anger of those who objected to the decision of Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison, a convert to Islam, to use a Koran in his swearing-in ceremony in January 2007. At the time, Representative Virgil H. Goode, Republican of Virginia, wrote to hundreds of voters that the election of the first Muslim Congressional representative "posed a serious threat to the nation's traditional values." Which values, exactly? Freedom of religion? Tolerance? The right to vote for the candidate of one's choice? Goode warned that the nation better "wake up" unless we wanted "many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran."

Conservative columnist and talk show host Dennis Prager added his voice to the bigotry, stating that the use of the Koran would lead "Islamic extremists" to "see the first sign of the realization of their greatest goal–the Islamicization of America."

All this from a minute-long swearing-in ceremony.

Barack Obama, who had a Muslim father and was raised by a Christian mother, embraced Christianity as an adult. Yet rumors persist that Obama is a Muslim. Assurances that Obama is a Christian almost miss the point. Is there an implication that he's "OK" because he's a Christian? What if he were a Muslim? Would that mean that one shouldn't vote for him?

Surely acceptance of an ethnic or religious group is the best way to bring about assimilation, instead of the alienation prevalent among many Muslim youths in Europe. Those who want to marginalize Muslims and treat them as outcasts don't seem to realize that they would bring about the very extremism they supposedly decry.


mjmand said...

I have mixed feelings on this particular topic. Labor Day is traditionally a secular American holidy celebrated by most Americans, oddly enough, by suspending their labors for a day. You'd be hard pressed to find anyone who works for Tyson to object to a day off from work basically commemorating the end of the summer season. I assume, on the other hand, that not all employees are Muslim and that this holiday has very little meaning for them. I believe that it should be offered to those who celebrate, just as with any other religious holiday - Christmas excepted. Tyson's and its union's action has a ring of pandering to political correctness, and this I object to.

Jeff Tone, a.k.a The Progressive Curmudgeon said...

If someone wants to object to working on Labor Day in general, fine. The problem is objecting specifically because the substitute holiday is a Muslim one. Take the comment by one writer: "You are a union that is proud of achieving a Muslim holiday and prayer room?" Would the same writer substitute the word "Muslim" for any other religion? Also, can you say that the holiday should be offered to Muslims while condemning that very offer as "political correctness"?