Sweet land of bigotry
by Jon Worley
Most of our great political debates have some shades of gray within them. The anti-immigration folks are generally fueled by fear and ignorance, but untrammeled immigration does cause some practical problems. The arguments over gay marriage are even more rooted in the acceptability (or not) of a particular brand of bigotry, but everyone can agree on one thing: Gay marriage is a massive cultural change.
This does not hold in the "Ground Zero Mosque" controversy. What we're dealing with is fear, ignorance and some of the most un-American demagoguery that I've seen during my lifetime.
For starters, the building will be an Islamic center, and not a mosque proper. The parallels aren't quite accurate, but this 15-story building would be more of a YMCA than a cathedral. But, see, that doesn't matter. What matters is that utterly depraved political leaders and mass media demagogues have succeeded in "truthifying" the myth that Islam attacked the United States on 9/11.
A similar belief would be that Christianity (as a unified force) attacked and attempted to wipe out the European Jewish community during the Holocaust. Sure, the leadership of the Vatican know something about the Holocaust while it was going on, and yes, there was no public outrage expressed by the Holy See. That doesn't mean Christianity conceived and executed the Holocaust. The notion that Christianity can be defined as a single anything, or that Christianity can act in a singular fashion is laughable. Christians of different stripes hate each other at least as much as Muslims of different traditions.
This whole "Islam attacked the U.S." stuff is nonsense, but it keeps getting repeated, and more and more people seem to believe it.
Even worse, though, is the belief that the government can (and should) restrict the rights of certain religious groups. This idea goes against the very bedrock principles of America. Once our government starts discriminating between different faiths, we're more than halfway home to the establishment of a national religion. And, as most folks know, the First Amendment to the Constitution is pretty clear on that particular point.
As in, we can't. No way. No how. The "establishment clause" (as folks who read the Constitution on a regular basis like to call it) isn't necessarily enlightening when courts consider things like Christmas displays, school prayer and the like. But it clearly rules out the possibility that our government can restrict the use of land to certain religious groups. That's a definite noper.
Some of the folks leading the charge against the center use the "prudent" argument. As in, "It's insensitive to have an Islamic center so close to Ground Zero. It makes the families of the victims feel bad."
As is typical in America, the families of the victims appear to be of a mixed mind on this issue. But this brouhaha isn't about sensitivity. It's about fear and ignorance of Islam.
Don't believe me? Do you seriously think that anyone would protest the building of a Christian church (denomenation irrelevant) near the memorial to the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City? Of course not. Americans view churches as places of peace and solace, the very sort of thing that would be most appropriate near such a place.
But don't you remember that Timothy McVeigh and pals believed that their act of terrorism was, in part, ordained by their Christian faith--holy retribution for what they saw as government attacks on Christians at Waco and Ruby Ridge.
Were McVeigh's beliefs further outside the mainstream of Christianity than the beliefs of Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda are from the center of Islam? Maybe. Maybe not. But I can assure you that the folks who are opposing the center in Manhattan don't give a shit about the sensitivity of the 9/11 families. They're using this argument to legitimize their own bigotry toward Islam. And if they happen to score some political points, so much the better.
We're not the only Western nation struggling with its perception of Islam. France is completely ass-backward on this subject, but the French are renowned for an almost religious belief in Francophone cultural superiority. Bigotry against anything non-French is hardwired into French society.
This isn't true in America, though. Despite failing constantly throughout our history, we Americans keep striving to fall in line with (as Lincoln put it in his first inaugural address) the better angels of our nature.
We may never get there, but the effort will make us stronger. And someday our kids and grandkids will look back and ask, as we Gen Xers did when first confronted with the history of the civil rights struggle: "Why were people so stupid?" We'll shrug, and then we'll lean into the cold wind and fight the battles of tomorrow. The imeprfectability of humanity will always leave plenty of opportunities for progress.
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