by Constance Daley
St. Simons Island, Ga.
August 31, 2010
DE GUSTIBUM NON EST DISPUTANDUM
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Given the myriad of economic, environmental and geo-political crises we are saddled with, it seems absolutely unbelievable to me that people are arguing about whether a $100 million Sufi Muslim community center should be built near the former site of the World Trade Center towers in New York.
Yes, the phrasing in the preceding sentence is deliberate. There are no plans to build a "mosque" near "Ground Zero," unless you consider a YMCA a place of worship. And calling where the Twin Towers used to be "Ground Zero" still rankles me, because I think it trivializes what happened there on Sept. 11, 2001. Call me sentimental, but I prefer to remember the buildings that were once there, rather than worship the hole that was created by their destruction.
But precision of language is not the strong suit of bigots, or the people that enable bigotry in the pursuit of political power.
The people who oppose the so-called Ground Zero Mosque aren't interested in religious freedom, unless it is the freedom to make their version of Christianity the official state religion of the United States. I would ask of the people who are screaming about this, "What part of the First Amendment don't you understand?"
This nation was founded upon the ideal of freedom of religion. The drafters of the Constitution knew all too well the sorts of things that could happen when government took sides on matters of faith, and were explicit in their desire that there would be no official religion, no religious tests for public office, no government subsidies for religious activities, and, most of all, no interference from government on matters of faith.
The name of the proposed Islamic center, Cordoba House, is taken from the Spanish city that stood for interfaith tolerance in the Middle Ages and whose stated mission is "promoting positive interaction between the Muslim world and the West." But the center's opponents aren't interested in diversity, tolerance or promoting positive interactions between faiths. Only their religion and their interpretation of it is acceptable, and all other faiths are not. And they aren't interested in a dialogue, because they have their own set of facts and logic, and they are sticking with them.
The current hysteria is just the latest example of how conservatives have shamelessly exploited the Sept. 11 attacks for political gain for nearly nine years. Fear is about all they have to offer to Americans right now, and it is almost second nature for them to conflate the terrorists of al-Qaida with the beliefs of two billion Muslims around the world, making no distinction between the peaceful Muslim majority and the tiny group of terrorists who pervert the tenets of Islam.
This fight encapsulates all the problems we face as a nation right now.
We now have a political movement running amok in this nation that is way beyond traditional conservatism. It is something altogether alien to what this nation is supposed to be about.
It is a movement willing to say and do anything to advance its cause. It sneers at the idea of the common good. Its followers wave the flag and consider themselves the only true Americans, and consider everyone else to be enemies. It is a movement that believes in nothing except gaining and maintaining power, a movement willing to achieve victory at any price, including the destruction of the nation they say they love and the principles of liberty that this nation was founded upon.
As Josh Marshall of the website Talking Points Memo wrote last week, "We're in a midst of a spasm of nativist panic and raw and raucous appeals to race and religious hatred. What effects this will have on the November election strikes me as not particularly relevant. What's important is compiling some record of what's afoot, some catalog for understanding in the future who was responsible and who was so willing to disgrace their country and their principles for cheap advantage."
The fight over Cordoba House is more than about religion or politics. It is about what kind of nation we really are. Are we a nation that believes in religious and political liberty as enshrined by our founders in our Constitution? Or are we a nation filled with fearful, ignorant people easily swayed by charlatans and demagogues who are willing to trash the Constitution to win an election?
Come November, we may know answer to that question.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.