Whenever I come to the U.S. in the summer, it seems there is some collective hysteria or another - last year it was the health reform and "the government pulling the plug on grandma" (and Obama comparison with Hitler in insane town hall meeting)
This year, it is "the building of a Mosque on Ground Zero" or rather the building of a religious community center in downtown Manhattan, a few blocks from Ground Zero.This has led to the most unbelievable islamophobic rhetoric I have ever heard in this nation.
Because this country was founded by people fleeing religious persecution (Oh, the irony!) freedom of religion is guaranteed by the 1st Amendment to the Constitution. So it has been fascinating to see how the fear-monger right-wing politicians and media pundits have been able to argue around it. Essentially, it goes something like this: it is not about whether Muslims have the right to build a mosque but whether they should :
Jon Boehnet House Minority Leader "The fact that someone has the right to do something doesn't make it necessarily right to do so" (LATimes)Sarah Palin "We all know they have the right to do it, but should they?"
In other words, they agree with the principle but not with the practice, which makes the principle totally irrelevant.
And then, there's Newt Gingrich who thinks we should lower our standard to those of Saudi Arabia!
This of course comes in the context of the mid-term elections coming up and has been a great opportunity for GOP leaders to use more of the politics of fear to win votes. (that along fears that the country was being swamped by a tide of illegal immigrants, etc...). What has been really creepy is to see that this particularly case has allowed people to raise questions about Islam itself without knowing anything about it. This is not just about fear, it is about ignorance and laziness - a lot of Americans do not know anything bout Islam and are not in the least bit interested.
They equal Islam with radicalism and even terrorism and that's that. Who cares if most of the victims of radical Islams - including terrorism - are Muslims themselves. (As a republican friend told me recently, they should just police themselves - whatever that means)
In a few conversations I have had with Republican friends in Orange county (CA), I have been just baffled by the extremism of their rhetoric - if you listened to them, we should really start seriously considering a 10th Crusade! (although they mentioned the 6th crusade without knowing that one already took place!). It makes you wonder if Samuel Huntington was onto something with his Clash of Civilization after all. But now what? Go to war with 1.5 billion people?
Unfortunately, this nonsensical reasoning has not been limited to the far-right wing nuts. Here's what Harry Reid the House majority leader said on this"The First Amendment protects freedom of religion. Senator Reid respects that but thinks that the mosque should be built some place else" (LA Times)As always, it seems the Democrats are pretty much shitting in their pants (Excuse my French!) and show no political backbone.
The greatest disappointment is certainly the Anti-Defamation League which has used a similar (crooked) line of thought:
This has gone so bad that for the president to reaffirm the fist Amendment has become a "political liability" and the media ponder over he may be politically hurt by his stance. (which makes you think that G.W. Bush's statement "Islam is a religion of peace" would be really radical today) .
A few hopeful notes though:
"ultimately this is not a question of rights, but a question of what is right. In our judgment, building an Islamic Center in the shadow of the World Trade Center will cause some victims more pain — unnecessarily — and that is not right." (Boston Globe)
- NY Mayor Bloomberg has shown some very impressive courage in the face of criticism from his own political allies (and even hateful mail). (This NYTimes article has a very good analysis as to why).
Another note of hope is that a lot of the families of the victims of 911 have shown support for the religious center. (NYTimes)
“If somebody wants to build a mosque in a place where it’s zoned for it and they can raise the money, then they can do that,” he said. “And it’s not the government’s business.”
It does make sense for them to support this project - as Bloomberg nicely put it in his speech - (notwithstanding the fact that many Muslims died on 911).
And of course, there is Jon Stewart - phew!
“We do not honor their lives by denying the very Constitutional rights they died protecting. We honor their lives by defending those rights — and the freedoms that the terrorists attacked.”
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c|
NOTE: Interestingly Thomas Jefferson explicitly included Islam in his defense for religious freedom in America mentioned Muslims (whom he called Mahometans) when writing about the movement for religious freedom in Virginia.
In his autobiography Jefferson wrote "[When] the [Virginia] bill for establishing religious freedom... was finally passed,... a singular proposition proved that its protection of opinion was meant to be universal. Where the preamble declares that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word 'Jesus Christ,' so that it should read 'a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion.' The insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend within the mantle of its protection the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan , the Hindoo and infidel of every denomination. (Source)