The recent controversy over the building of what is proposed to be a Muslim community center located in the vicinity of Ground Zero AND several liquor stores and sexually/secularly oriented businesses, could have been led by the Islamic adherents that would be forced to traipse through a not so religiously oriented neighborhood. Instead, the protests are led by those that proclaim they are of course supporters of religious freedom — just not in their version of America’s 9/11 backyard. Which gives us the benefit of adding at least a month’s worth of conservative fodder to the vacuousness of talk radio and the insightfulness of the fair and balanced (and sometimes unhinged) Fox and MSNBC dueling tv hosts, and ramps up local and national political posturing to, well, even extraordinary heights for the usual political misinformation battles . We even get critical analysis from self-described learned scholars of religion, Muslims, the Holocaust and bigotry that offer so little consistency of thought one suspects they all must hold economic degrees and work for Obama as his Cordoba House/Park 51/latest tested name p.r advisors.
But do we have a whine before its time? Is this ” just a test, this is only a test, this has been a test of your American tolerance system?” After all, our imam is apparently not even close to acquiring the funding commitments needed to build the community center.
In this case, however, we appear to be failing the tolerance test on all sides: the whining is unfortunately more a cacaphony of noise than a symphony of intelligent give and take. And when the incessant whining drifts into claims of bigotry and rank insensitivity to 9/11 victimes, when the ADL. perhaps the world’s preeminent fighters against anti-semitism, bigotry, hatred and Mel Gibson — he so nicely pops up occasionally to serve as an example of all three — seemingly ducks the issue with a Solomon-like ” they have the right to build a community center but gee we really wish you’d build it somewhere else” position, you know we’ve hit a level 10 on the issue Richter scale. And when President Obama, he of healing racial divides, the economy,health care, the Gulf of Mexico and NCAA Final Four lottery pools, weighs in strongly in favor for less than one news cycle before deciding he needs to weigh the consequences of losing House and Senate seats as well as the all important anti-common sense vote, changing his strong support to strong obfuscation, then we’re sure we’ve hit an issue too important to be burdened with information other than what can be gleaned from “internet facts.”
“Internet facts” (also known in the good old pre-internet days as rumors, innuendo and heresay) amazingly seem to always fit with whatever your predisposition is. If you think, like the U.S. government does, that the imam is a moderate, responsible face to represent his community and America before the world then you can learn all of the details in a simple internet search. Or if you believe, as apparently many other Americans do, that the imam is, just like Obama, some version of a foreign born Islamic terrorist at worst or a Manchurian candidate at best, then by golly you can latch on to those facts too.
But what’s needed even more than internet searches are leaders on all sides of the issue. Leaders that can thoughtfully discuss the differences between a Muslim community edifice modelled after a Jewish community center, proposed to be built by a small group of the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims, a group felt by both Bush and Obama administrations to be moderate and pro American, and the handful of loathsome 9/11 terrorists that dishonored and defiled their religion by inflicting horrific pain through their acts of terrorism against an America they sought to destroy. Leaders that can also discuss both why the 9/11 terrorists don’t define 1.5 billion Muslims any more than the Crusades define Christianity or Baruch Goldstein defines Judaism. Leaders that can dialogue and understand the raw emotions felt by the families burdened by the continuing memories of 9/11 and help them and all of us understand that healing isn’t always a steady path, that we all feel and react differently to the loss of loved ones.
In an ideal world, WW2 vets and families could differentiate between German and Japanese not even alive during the war and the soldiers and government leaders that perpetrated their heinous acts. Yet here we are 65 plus years and several generations later and there are still those that can’t. And it took many others decades to begin to heal and forgive. So it’s not unrealistic to expect that a mere ten years after 9/11 some 9/11 families and friends would still have issues with what they see as a Muslim evil.
But make no mistake: To effectively indict all Muslims or their beliefs (and it is an indictment to ask this Muslim group to relocate) because some Muslims created so much pain is a dangerous path to pursue. It is the literal equivalent of assigning blame to all Christians or all Jews because members of their groups committed an Oklahoma City bombing or a King David Hotel attack.
So what needs to happen? Where do we find these leaders? Perhaps our local/national issue requires local and national leadership without the constraints of political considerations. If the imam is willing (and if he is a bridge builder he should be) perhaps the 9/11 President, George Bush, could join with Bill Clinton and NY Mayor Bloomberg to meet with select representatives of the 9/11 families and the imam to see if objections can be answered and, if necessary, a middle ground found.
The continued politicizing of this issue serves so one’s interests save for the politicans that have latched on to the issue in order to help inflame what are very raw emotions in a craven and disgusting effort to gain votes. A group meeting may not end with a group hug but it does stand a better chance of moving the issue forward in a more responsible way.