February 11, 2010
Malls Versus Mecca?
— Jon Pahl
President George W. Bush, to his credit, tried not to scapegoat Muslims for 9/11 and other acts of terrorism. "We are not at war with Islam," Bush repeatedly intoned. Many Americans haven't gotten the message. They still see the world in a populist version of Samuel Huntington's "clash of civilizations," where it's Malls versus Mecca.
As filmmaker Helene Klodawsky and I have explored in her feature documentary Malls R Us, shopping malls are increasingly popular around the globe. But, as malls spread, some resent them as American parasites. To more than one critic, malls represent an imported spiritual decadence and greed that saps ecological and economic resources away from indigenous peoples and local retailers. A news service that sends me links to articles published each week that include the key words "shopping malls bombing" recently led me to an extreme variant on this thinking, a fear-mongering article by J.R. Dunn at American Thinker entitled "Terror at the Mall?"
According to Dunn, "the shopping malls of America will be among the next major terror targets." Dunn goes on, taking a little too much pleasure in a little too much grisly detail, to imagine terrorist scenarios at U.S. malls variously involving a truck bomb, loaded with "super napalm," a bomb vest, nerve gas, or simply "the trusty firearm." But it does not follow logically, for Dunn, that malls should then be weapon-free. To him, "gun-free malls are simply informing our enemies [he calls them "jihadis"] where the easiest targets can be found." Indeed, Dunn proposes setting up an "armed patrol system" for every mall, made up of "ex-police officers and soldiers in particular."
Now, I personally find it hard to imagine that most Americans would enjoy taking the kids to sit on Santa's lap while a half-trained volunteer mall cop with an AK-47 kept watch over them. But the sixty-eight commentators on Dunn's article were almost universally impressed by his logic. Most of them associated terrorism with Islam. Most of them advocated arming mall patrons as the best way to defend America's sacred shrines.
"Zeb" put it most succinctly: "MALLS vs. MECCA. It fits on a bumper sticker. Make it policy…unambiguous policy." "Revernd Idaho Spud" preached that: "Self reliance is all that is left to us. In a school, post office, church, mall, or any other place a person happens to be they should have a gun with them if they own one." And "Reeperbahn" showed little awareness of either America's extraordinarily liberal gun laws or simple fact when he argued: "The Dems are determined to disarm the American public. Any attack by any one using a fire-arm is turned into bogus reasons to control guns and ammo. The Dems and the Fed still believe that guns kill."
In fact, of course, guns have been killing people in America's malls. In Kingston, NY, Tacoma, WA, Kansas City, MO, Omaha, NE, and Salt Lake City, UT, American shooters shot other Americans in shopping malls with their "trusty firearms." Still, Dunn and other gun devotees cling to the broadest possible interpretation of the Second Amendment, while offering a slightly less expansive application of the First: "In my view," offered "Dr. Dave," "the first thing we should do is prevent the entry of Muslims into this country."
But it was "Jer," probably not a reference to the prophet Jeremiah, who envisioned that "I think should this happen [a mall bombing in the U.S] it would be open season on muslims [sic] and their hell-hole mosques. There has been no backlash on muslims[sic] in the US, even since 9/11, but they are treading on thin ice." "Jer" might not see a backlash. But the evidence from American Thinker of an American way of being religious that contrasts Malls versus Mecca, and that puts its trust in weaponry, is a spirituality both hot as hell and cold as ice, and as certain to produce more "jihadis" as it is to make Americans everywhere, including at the mall, less safe.
Jon Pahl is Professor of the History of Christianity in America at The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, and author of Shopping Malls and Other Sacred Spaces and Empire of Sacrifice: The Religious Origins of American Violence (NYU Press).