“Whatever happened to the Gods and the Earths/ They thirst for a pot of gold God worth his birth/ Knowledge is worth more than diamonds/ When the mind is shining, surprise us”
Poor Righteous Teachers, “Gods, Earths and 85-ers”, 1996
So, a group of developers plan to build a house of worship in an urban area. As it so happens, this house of worship—combined with a cultural center and recreation gym (open to anyone)—would be built mere blocks from where a terrible crime was committed. Not necessarily a big deal. Considering that houses of worship are generally considered to positively add to the color and appeal of a community, the furthest thing that building such a center should inspire would be accusations and counter-accusations of hate and intolerance? Right?
In New York City, plans are currently in limbo for an Islamic community center (including dedicated rooms for prayer and religious activities) to be potentially built just a few city blocks from the former location of the World Trade Center, which was laid asunder in the terror attacks of September 11th, 2001. If the construction is allowed to take place, it can be a powerful statement to the world about the best of America: its social tolerance and upholding of personal and religious freedoms in particular.
A few months after the controversy first unfolded, President Obama met the controversy head on—inadvertently. At a recent White House dinner acknowledging the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, the President stated that Muslims "have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country," according to a White House speech transcript. He went further to state that such liberties include "the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property… in accordance with local laws and ordinances." Subsequent comments from the President and White House spokespersons clarified that the President was not endorsing the facility construction, but merely pointing out the legality for it to take place.
The usual suspects among right-wing media pundits—Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh and company—offered that allowing such a facility to be built anywhere near ‘Ground Zero’ as tantamount to spitting in the face of patriotic Americans, in particular the family of those people who lost someone in the disaster or in the subsequent war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Ditto for ex-officials like Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich. Gingrich, in particular, made the bafflingly incendiary comparison of building an Islamic-themed community center to allowing a Nazi-Germany themed facility to be built next to a Jewish synagogue.
Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) initially balked at commenting, to the consternation of Tea Party flag-wavers. Also, New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, an erstwhile Republican who in recent months officially declared himself an Independent, called the President’s comments "clarion defense of the freedom of religion."
“Back in the days of Sherlock Holmes, a man was judged by a clue… Now he’s judged by if he’s Spanish, Black, Italian, or Jew…”
Boogie Down Productions, “Who Protects Us from You?”, 1989
Not that the political right have a lock on taking a really ignorant stance in all of this: While progressives (or "the professional left" as described by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs) might be fooled into thinking that Democrats across the board have their back in the debate, they would be dead wrong.
A spokesperson for Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada, who is up for reelection this year) said in a statement, "Senator Reid respects (freedom of religion) but thinks that the mosque should be built someplace else.” This sentiment was echoed by former Vermont senator Dr. Howard Dean, who opined that the mosque should simply be built elsewhere . Well, if Dean still wanted to reach out to the Americans ‘driving around with Confederate flags on their trucks’ as he did during his last presidential bid, he sure did this week.
Florida U.S. Senate candidate Jeff Greene—a Democrat—jumped into the fray, bashing the President’s statements- "President Obama has this all wrong and I strongly oppose his support for building a mosque near Ground Zero… since Islamic terrorists have… celebrated destroying the Twin Towers and killing nearly 3,000 Americans”. Greene’s a billionaire, so presumably, having the President visit his state to help fundraise—or at least offer moral support—just wasn’t a priority, so all was clear for Greene to take potshots at the guy he wants to serve under.
NOT IN MY BACKYARD—OR CITY—OR COUNTRY
“I’m not a Muslim, but I do support them… My Father in Heaven taught me and taught them…”
Boogie Down Productions, “Ya Know the Rules”, 1990
According to the nonprofit activist group Democracy for America (who broke ranks with co-founder Dean on his stance), there exist current several legal conflicts involving proposed mosques to be built in such locales as Southern California, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, and Illinois, among others. New York City boosters often proudly uplift the city’s cosmopolitan, multi-cultural history, citing it as a classic example of the great American ‘melting pot’ metaphor. Yet, if a facility that connects to Islamic culture can’t be built there, what chance does a similar project have in the less-intensively ethnically diverse Heartland states?
If a drunk driver kills someone while driving a Ford Focus, I doubt if there will be legislation to ban such cars just to appease grieving family and friends. Respectfully, it’s just not realistic.
The reactionaries who hate the idea of a mosque near the Ground Zero site are basically standing by the following premise:
· People who bomb buildings are evil.
· The people who bombed buildings on 9/11 were Muslims.
· Therefore, all Muslims are evil.
This is a classic logical fallacy that anyone who graduated high school should be familiar with.
Then again, maybe being familiar with such things as ‘logical fallacies’ places one in the company of the ‘cultural elitists’ that conservative-culture mouthpieces like to rail against. Too much book-learnin’s a bad thing in some social circles. This may explain why George W. Bush was elected twice in a row to the White House. But I digress.
I wonder would the same vigorous standard be applied, to, say, the site near the Oklahoma Federal Building bombing 0f 1995. Let's say someone wanted to build a Christian Church a few blocks away. The late Timothy McVeigh and his sympathizers in the right-wing Militia movements without fail tend to align themselves with a fundamentalist strain of Protestant Christianity. So would people be up in arms about a church being built there, or instead embrace it as a potential source of healing and proof that an act terror cannot quash the ideals of those of good faith?
But because many Americans are willfully ignorant whenever they feel like being so, because many Americans like to boast of the freedoms and tolerance that our nation is said to offer until something they don't like comes along, now the NIMBY-Americans are openly calling to revive Jim Crow culture concerning houses of worship (again)..
“I bow my head to the east five times a day… I put my face in the dirt every time I pray”
House of Pain, “Pass the Jinn”, 1996
You might be led to think that this is 2001-02 all over again, and legislation like the Patriot Act and most of the Bush-Cheney-Rove-Rumsfeld doctrine gets passed without any resistance at all from Democrats. People like Dean, Reid and likely other conservative-district “Blue Dog” Democrats have shamefully kowtowed to right-wing culture vitriol, if only to potentially score points with moderate Republican loyalists and self-described Independents who tend to skew conservative in their voting habits.
Progressives are being treated by establishment Democrats like the geeky kids in middle/high school who get ditched by their own when one of them gets invited to the Cool Kids’ table by somebody who needs help with their homework (or more to the point, someone to do it for them). It’s temporary, and before long the erstwhile defector is getting beaned in the head with raisins and shoved into lockers again. But hey, they got a taste of the ‘good life’ for a minute, right? Democrats want to dominate the midterm elections so badly that several clearly are willing to sweep their allegedly core values on diversity and tolerance under the rug in order to appease a constituency that will never—and I mean never—waver in their animosity and obstructionism.
So, if New York state governor David Patterson’s 11th hour efforts work to sell state land far from Ground Zero to the mosque developers is ‘successful’ then the facility gets built far from Ground Zero: the patriotic are vindicated that Al-Qaeda USA (TM pending) have been stopped in their tracks from having an obvious training house; visiting tourists and the still-grieving won’t have to glimpse anyone nearby wearing a kufi, turban, or hijab, except maybe for the taxi driver that takes them there and the vendor who sells them a hot pretzel. All the good folk win.
Somehow, I get the feeling that there are kids of the Muslim faith who might not agree.