Monday, August 16, 2010

Freedom of Religion.

Take note of the period at the end of the title.

The ongoing flap about the proposed Islamic center to be built two blocks from Ground Zero in New York is really one of the weirdest spectacles I can imagine. We're actually talking about this? I can understand some getting bent out of shape about it, but is this something that really requires debate?

Allow me to put this plainly: if the United States stands for freedom of religion, then we had better let our actions follow our principles. If the Constitution is really as sacrosanct as so many politicians (and a whole host of candidates) are proclaiming it to be on a daily basis, then they had better be ready to speak as fervently about freedom of religion as they do about the rest.

Some try to tiptoe around the first amendment on this one. Others are less successful at hiding their bigotry. Some come out and speak plainly, and do little more than equate Islam with being Un-American.

“Ground zero is hallowed ground to Americans,” Elliott Maynard, a Republican trying to unseat Representative Nick J. Rahall II, a Democrat, in West Virginia’s Third District, said in a typical statement. “Do you think the Muslims would allow a Jewish temple or Christian church to be built in Mecca?” - NYTimes

Yes, it is hallowed ground (though the way some speak of it borders on idolatry). And, yes, it is American hallowed ground. That is an important difference between Mecca and Ground Zero. Mecca is the seat of Islam; it belongs to Muslims. Ground Zero belongs to the United States. Would it be appropriate to allow a Jewish temple of Christian church to be built two blocks from the World Trade Center? Insofar as there are Jews and Christians in America, none would bat an eyelash. But an Islamic community center that also happens to have a mosque? Perish the thought!

And why? The point Mr Maynard seems to be making, appealing to our fear and distrust of The Other, is that Muslims should not be included as Americans. Do Muslims, as Americans, have less a claim to that hallowed ground than any other American? Do you really think that the only Muslims to die on 9/11 were those nutjobs flying the planes? Several dozen, at least, perished side by side with their fellow Americans.

In a city of over 8 million, the fire that heats our melting pot, I'm sure there are at least a few who would claim both the title of Muslim and American in the same breath.

Others, fearing to come off as xenophobes, simply try to couch it in terms of what's appropriate. They seek to draw analogies to whether one group has a right to contribute to the memorial of another:

“Nazis don’t have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust Museum in Washington,” Mr. Gingrich said on the Fox News program “Fox and Friends.” “We would never accept the Japanese putting up a site next to Pearl Harbor. There’s no reason for us to accept a mosque next to the World Trade Center.” - NYTimes

To put it in these terms misses a key matter of representation. The Nazis represented Germany as far as the Holocaust is concerned; the Imperial military represented Japan in 1941. These are acts perpetrated by nation-states during a war. That doesn't excuse the behavior - just as it doesn't excuse the suffering rendered by the United States at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, whose anniversaries passed just as this was heating up. As far as I know, there is no American presence at the atomic bombing sites. For better or for worse, the citizens of those countries bear the collective guilt of what was done by their governments in their name.

Al Qaeda does not represent Islam. To believe otherwise is to take a particularly craven and perverted view of the world. To paraphrase The West Wing, Al Qaeda is to Islam what the KKK is to Christianity. I could think of other examples. Does Westboro represent all Baptists? Does the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ represent all Mormons? Shall we paint all pro-lifers with the same brush we use for the Army of God? Perhaps we shall lump all members of PETA and all vegetarians together with the Animal Liberation Front.

That is the important difference that Mr Gingrich either willfully or ignorantly glosses over. To say that a mosque should not be built in the vicinity of Ground Zero, because the perpetrators of 9/11 called themselves Muslims, is to say that all Muslims, including Muslim-Americans, bear the guilt of 9/11 and are, simply, not welcome.

And then there is the dear Sarah Palin: "Doesn't it stab you in the heart, as it does ours throughout the heartland? Peaceful Muslims, pls refudiate." What kind of nonsense is she trying to propulgate here?

The president made the principled stand and used his bully pulpit to remind everyone that we do, in fact, have freedom of religion in this country. You may not like the ramifications, but that's just too bad. And if the Republicans harp on about him being out of touch with mainstream America - since when has the first Amendment been subject to referendum?

We are for freedom. Period.


Allison and Jared said...


Kate said...

Saw this related article in today's D&C and thought you might want to read...