Saturday, August 28, 2010

Some Voices From America

Some quotes to note, all of which happened in one week:

“Barack Obama is the worst president in history.”

(Ben Quayle, son of the former vice president; another politician willing to say anything some people want to hear in order to get elected, and claiming history for validation while his words demonstrate he has no idea about history. President Warren Harding, anyone?)

“I want to be able to say what’s on my mind and in my heart and what I think is helpful and useful.”

(Laura Schlessinger, radio commentator, electing to quit her show the end of this year after she used the word “nigger” 11 times during a recent call. It would appear that she was able to say exactly what she wanted, no matter how distasteful. So why is she complaining? Perhaps because free speech does not mean freedom from accountability to others for what we say?)

“Islam is a religion of hatred, it’s a religion of war.”

(Franklin Graham, evangelist; a preacher who has obviously never read the Qur’an and has selective memory about history’s Christian warriors and conquerors, and then – incomprehensibly to many of us – he complains because he was not invited to a Pentagon-sponsored military interfaith prayer service.)

“Nazis don’t have a right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust Museum in Washington.”

(Newt Gingrich, a presidential-wanna-be who is also willing to say whatever his constituency wants to hear, regarding the proposed Muslim community center nearby the 9-11 Twin Towers site; no, Newt, the Nazi analogy works only if al-Qaeda was trying to put up a sign of some kind, not Muslims; for everyday Germans to build a memorial to Jewish holocaust victims could potentially be appropriate and healing indeed.)

“Whatever you may think of the proposed mosque and community center, lost in the heat of the debate has been a basic question: Should government attempt to deny private citizens the right to build a house of worship on private property based on their particular religion? That may happen in other countries, but we should never allow it to happen here…”

(Michael Bloomburg, Mayor of New York City, on the proposal to build the Muslim center and the ensuing outcry that has arisen.)

“I prefer blueberry.”

(Senator Carl Levin, good-naturedly responding to a woman who hit him in the face with an apple pie over a disagreement on foreign policy; is this how some think we should now conduct our political disagreements?)

“These are very tough times for America with many of our people hurting, there is no doubt about it. But we will dig our way out of it once again, just as we always have – IF people would just stop yelling at each other for 30 minutes.”

(Garrison Keillor, Prairie Home Companion host, at a recent concert.)


So much anger, so much hatred in our public conversation today. Yet still some voices of calm reason striving to be heard. Regardless of our philosophical differences, whose voices should we be listening to these days? The voices of anger, division and self-serving interests? Or the voices of inclusion, good will towards others, and the serving of the pubic interests?

In the election upcoming this fall, perhaps we should have less concerns about what a particular politician says, or claims to think, or his/her governmental / economic philosophies. Perhaps instead we might spend more time thinking about what we believe inside ourselves – about our own character and beliefs, about fairness towards all, about listening and speaking respectfully to our differences. Negative speech inevitably leads to negative outcomes. In the difficult times in which we now live, we need to speak and act towards positive outcomes, appealing not to the worst in us, but to the best in us. Positively.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

On Un-Hallowed Ground

Recently, housing and zoning officials in New York City approved a request by some local U.S. citizens to renovate and convert a former Burlington Coat Factory building into an Islamic Community Center. The purpose of this Center, as stated by the reportedly respected and middle-of-the-road Muslim cleric leading this effort, is to promote inter-faith dialog and sharing in the promotion of peace among all faiths. The Center, which will not be a mosque but will contain a Muslim prayer room, will be located two blocks from the destroyed Twin Tower site where 3000 people were killed on 9-11-2001. Both New York City Mayor Michael Bloomburg and President Barack Obama have both endorsed this project as the right thing to do and the right statement to make about America.

The negative reactions and noise-making that have ensued were entirely predictable. It appears that because all 19 of the 9-11 terrorists were Muslim, people of the Islamic faith are not entitled to locate places of worship in America. The protestors argue that the Twin Tower location is hallowed ground, intended to honor those killed there. But I hardly think that a Burlington Coat Factory building that has no connection to the events of 9-11 except adjacency qualifies as hallowed ground. And I hardly think that Murfreesboro, Tennessee – which is all up in protesting arms because a group of Muslims who have been quietly living and worshiping there in peace for years and who plan to build a large Islamic Center there – is hallowed land not available to Muslims.

This is not an argument about hallowed ground. This is the venting of people’s continuing anger over the act of 9-11, and their frustration at 9 years thereafter of continuing war, the killing of young American soldiers, and the draining of our economy. The ones who have been killing us are Muslims, which apparently means that all Muslims are bad, which also apparently means that Islam, the religion Muslims follow, must thereby be evil.

There are millions of Muslims living in America. They have been in this country for years, quietly going about their business of living and working, with the same aspirations for themselves and their families as the rest of us. Likely with a family immigrant heritage that came to America for the same reasons of economic opportunity and freedom of expression that brought all of our immigrant ancestors to America. They lived pretty much unnoticed and un-hassled by the rest of us until 9-11. Most were as horrified by the 9-11 actions as non-Muslims were. (“They were just thugs,” a Muslim told me once in Lebanon.) Yet out of our ignorance of their Islamic faith, a number of Americans lumped all Muslims together as equally guilty of the abhorrent sins of the few simply because of their faith.

“The Greatest Generation” took on Hitler’s killing machine and defeated it. German soldiers, and even many SS members, thought of themselves as good practicing Christians, predominately Lutheran. Shall we ascribe the gassing of 6 million Jews and others to an implied racism of Lutheranism? In 1942, we herded American citizens of Japanese ancestry into “relocation camps” and arbitrarily seized their property – an ugly blot on our history – just because the then Japanese government attacked us at Pearl Harbor. Should we ascribe the 9-11 event to a people, and effectively deprive them of their rights of citizenship simply because of their historical lineage? Shall we blame Jesus for all the broken promises made to, and the near annihilation of, Native-Americans, the killing of Mormon founder Joseph Smith by a mob, and the killing of all the people in Oklahoma City by Timothy McVeigh – all acts committed by self-proclaimed “good Christian people”? The net of “guilt by association” is a broad one, quickly ensnaring all kinds of innocent bystanders.

The First Amendment guarantees every citizen the freedom to practice his/her religion of choice without interference. It does not say, “except for -----.” There are no exceptions listed. The only test is citizenship, not the religion one chooses. I have become very tired of self-promoting politicians who yell about honoring and strictly adhering to the Constitution in one breath, and who then selectively pick what parts of the Constitution to observe for which group of people in the circumstances that they think will win votes for themselves. I have become equally very tired of those religious leaders who ask governments to endorse their brand of religion over others, who would deny that same right to others, while never acknowledging that freedom of religion for all is the very thing that guarantees them their own form of worship.

The Qur’an – Islam’s holiest scripture about which we Americans are woefully ignorant – rejects killing, and expressly endorses the teaching of Moses and Jesus, both of whom also reject violence. The Qur’an’s passages do include calls to defend the faith vigorously if attacked, reflecting Islam’s earliest struggles against persecution and the threat of annihilation, just as Christianity suffered in its beginnings. It is often these passages that terrorists point to in recruiting sycophants to do their killing work – kill the infidels who are attacking Islam and its Muslim adherents. As Ron Paul solely but correctly pointed out in his 2008 presidential campaign, unfortunately for us U.S. history over the last 60 years has given the Muslim world plenty of reasons to feel persecuted and under attack from us.

Islam has not declared war on America. Islam did not kill those 3000 people in the Twin Towers. 19 Muslim terrorists chose to do that with justification, but did so out of a perverted distortion of their faith. A distortion arising from their own selfish motivations, angers, and sense of persecution – frustrations they felt in their minds of their lack of ability to enjoy and fulfill their own life. They were as antithetical to Islam as all faiths have had to endure those who rationalize their acts in betrayal of their faith. Just as distorted as the man who chose to kill an abortion doctor because the killer claimed “to believe in the sanctity of life.” Our unwarranted attacks and discriminations against Muslims in this country reflect our own fears, not their threats. Each time we do so, we affirm the very mantra that Osama bin-Laden proclaims against us – that American are out to destroy Islam. These kinds of words and actions we take do not extinguish bin-Laden’s fire; instead, we just inflame and justify his fire.

That Center in lower Manhattan needs to be built precisely because we need to renounce by our actions the message of hate, and to expose the lies from those who are traitors of their faith. To show the strength and best face of America, not our worst. And then we all need to return to, and remind ourselves of, the real Truths of our own faiths.