When you want prevail in an argument, wrap yourself in 9/11, the
Holocaust or, better yet, both. That
seems to be what Newt Gingrich had in mind when he asserted that building a
mosque near the site of the Sept. 11 attacks would be like
putting a Nazi sign next to the Holocaust Museum. Wow. It seems that his PhD in the subject notwithstanding, the
former House Speaker has little understanding of history. To even remotely equate the action of a
handful of terrorists on a single morning with the State-sponsored systematic
persecution and murder of millions over a period of years and in multiple locations built
especially for that purpose is, to put it kindly, patently absurd. This is not to minimize the horrific
attack in lower Manhattan that September day nor the value of even a single
life lost there much less nearly three thousand. But what occurred in Europe during the Hitler years was something
entirely different. To connect the
two, to assign them even implied equivalency, is offensive in the extreme.
Reasonable people can differ on the appropriateness of placing an
Islamic Center near — though not as some rhetoric and headlines suggest within
— the site of the destroyed Trade Center complex. Rebuilding there at all was hotly debated, but in the end
commerce, rationalized as a symbol of resilience, trumped hallowed ground. You
can draw your own conclusions about that.
The specific dispute now being magnified from as far way as Alaska
evidences far more political opportunism than of any reverence for the dead. Indeed Republicans
have latched onto the proposed Islamic Center (within which there will be a
prayer space — something many of us would call a chapel) as a perfect distraction
from any message the President or Democrats might want to put forward in an
already difficult mid-term campaign.
They’re absolutely delighted — for the wrong reasons — to see him talk of
religious freedom, which at this moment seems of very little concern to
them. They are thinking November
and how mass hysteria hyped with opportunistic disinformation can work to their
benefit. I guess that’s politics 2010, but in the end it’s of only peripheral
We must look beyond the hypocritical bluster to see what’s really
afoot. One hears a lot of that some of my best friends… talk from the
opposition, but as usual such protestations are disingenuous. The center in question is merely a convenient
straw man. Hardly hidden in the
give and take is a pervasive and seething hatred/fear of Moslems, one that
outweighs any proclaimed reverence for all those innocent victims of
terrorism. It is a nurtured and
calculated disdain, a manufactured hysteria reminiscent of our often
over-the-top obsession with Communism in a former time. And there is a significant connection.
My good friend Professor Gordon Pitz reminds me that we always need an
enemy. True, but this goes even
further than that. During the days of George Bush’s crusade rhetoric one
might have thought our double invasions of Moslem countries constituted a specifically
Christian vs. Moslem conflict. But
that may be an over simplification.
Indeed, Sam Harris, a leading voice of the new atheism (who has written
about the mosque) rejects all
religions (including Christianity) but most especially Islam. To paraphrase Orwell, in his view it
would seem that all religions are bad,
but some religions (Islam) are even more bad than others. Harris sees radical Islamism as a
natural outgrowth, not an aberration, of Moslem teaching. The recent Taliban
stoning young lovers with at least the tacit approval of other Afghan
clergy may support that view. Reasonable
people can come to different conclusions, but what we’re witnessing right now
in the United States is not an academic discussion of what naturally flows out
of the teachings of Islam. So what
is really behind the furor over the projected Islamic Center?
I would suggest that to understand that we have to look at two
separate but interrelated dynamics.
The first has to do with those enemies and the analogy of Communism and
Islam. During the Cold War, and
particularly in the 1950s, a very broad guilt by association brush was employed
by Senator Joe McCarthy and others for their own purposes. Anyone who even evoked some sympathy
for those in the Soviet sphere or, for that matter, espoused left ideas was branded a Communist or at
the very least a sympathizer (fellow
traveler). In those days, the
way to discredit an opponent was to call her or him a Communist. Such guilt by association was nothing
new (think the Japanese Americans interred in camps by the Greatest Generation), but it caught many innocent people in its web
of identity destruction.
The tipoff to today’s mindset can be seen in opponents of President
Obama. To be sure they question
his policies, but their real weapon is to question his religiosity and more
pointedly to suggest that he is in fact a (not born here) Moslem (read
Commie). The key here isn’t merely
religiosity (which harks back to the idea that you can’t trust atheists) but the right religion. That this particular slur (in their
view) is aimed at our first African American President can’t be overlooked, but
let me not digress.
The second is more generalized. Many (though certainly not all) of those who argue against the Islamic
Center because of location present a dishonest case. In fact, they don’t like having a mosque anywhere in this Judeo-Christian
land, most especially in their own neighborhood — which happens to encompass their entire country. As suggested in my April post, He’s not
like me, we have a growing problem with the other, someone we perceive as posing a threat
to our way of life. Again, that’s what they said about the
Reds — not the current red state Reds, but those who followed Lenin and Stalin.
This theme of threatening our
way of life goes deep and is finding its insidious way into other,
seemingly unrelated, areas. For
example, Bobby Jindal incorporates the way of life threat in many of his utterances
about the oil spill. Notably, he
seems to imply that the Federal government (Obama’s people) is posing that
threat as much if not more than BP.
Is it any wonder that, as Dr. Irwin Redlener told
NPR, Columbia University School of Public Health’s researchers doing a study
on the effect the spill on Gulf residents found nine-year-old children talking
about their way of life being over? Given that adults all around them are
repeating those very words, he shouldn’t have been surprised. With our way of life actually under
threat these days (consider my recent posts), it’s convenient to have scapegoats
— people/outsiders — we can blame.
It isn’t that terrorists flew airplanes into the Towers, it’s the
broader idea that terrorists are Moslem ergo all Moslems are, conveniently by
That they logically and in reality are not is of no consequence. They are of the other and that’s all we care about. The bottom line: an Islamic Center in lower Manhattan is
threatening our way of life much as (in their view) is that other sitting in the White House. Consider that when you think about this
unseemly manufactured debate raging in our land. Worry not Joe, we’re doing just fine without you.