Archive for August, 2010

The Mosque of Red Death

August 23, 2010

I know somebody’s going to say it, so I hope I beat them to the punch when they use it to refer to the “Ground Zero Mosque.” And that’s what it will be – a punch – This is what passes for discourse these days. You can read about the controversy and pretty much know where it’s going as soon “Ground Zero Mosque” or “Islamic Community Center” pops up. With few exceptions the GZM articles equate the building with a symbol of the Muslim defeat of America and the ICC ones usually lecture on the First Amendment and both follow with a tone that means “you must be stupid or devious” if you don’t agree with their conclusion.

I spent the weekend going over an article I was sent making the claim that Obama was purposefully lying us. To make the case the author used half quotes, blog citations and a rhetorical style that only allowed for “all or nothing” agreement. Now if the “facts” in the article were actually just that and the logic impeccable, then all the more power to the author, but in this case right from the beginning the quotes were edited to alter their meaning, certain details of events were deleted and conjectures in editorials were reported as actual events. In the middle of this screed was a nugget worth discussing, but it was lost in the name-calling. In looking to refute the article, I researched and found some equally opinionated pieces on the other side; also overstating their case and also committing the sin of omission.

Here’s an example: “The worst president in history” Who said it and about whom? C’mon, you know Newt Gingrich and Ben Quayle both said it about Obama and it’s repeated ad nauseum by the talk shows. Does anyone recall just about two short years ago when Donald Trump, the Washington Post and Harpers all said that of Bush 42? I’ll confess when they said it about Bush I was in complete agreement and smugly chuckled to myself. Now I find myself yelling at the radio saying “History? This is still current events! Let’s see how History will judge him by letting some time pass so it becomes HISTORY!”

See? That’s the problem, the choice of superlatives. If they all had said “one of the worst presidents in history” then that would have allowed for discussion and finding some common ground; maybe we all could agree that Millard Fillmore or Warren Harding were actually worse. Providing that we know something about all our presidents and that’s not true for the vast majority of us so we turn to experts to help us sort things out. These experts are the pundits and news sources of the day and they get to keep their jobs paying their mortgages by getting noticed. You get noticed by being divisive. Adulation and kudos from one side and mud slinging and name calling from the other are sure ways to keep you out in front. Everyone wants to know about the worst, best, dumbest, meanest, richest person, place or thing. If not, why are there so many TV shows doing just that?

The last media person I truly believed tried to help me make up my own mind by eliciting all sides of an issue was Tim Russert. His interviews were well prepared, his follow-up questions weren’t always softballs and his own politics weren’t always obvious or even in play. Mr. Russert would allow an argument to have context, a setting; meaning that a politician might say one thing in one instance, but something somewhat contradictory in another because the context had changed. That would be OK with Mr. Russert provided the pol could explain it.

Today, it’s innuendo that is used to tie up loose ends (i.e. Do you know why Michele Obama went to vacation in Spain? She visited Cordoba and Alhambra (gasp!) because they are Muslim! I’m just sayin’ – via Glenn Beck). We want easy answers, even when they come with grand conspiracies attached, because we don’t want to think too hard about it. We don’t look at our news sources critically, because it takes time to cross check every assertion. We now admit that we watch news that reinforces our own opinions instead of challenging them. We are not lazy, we are just trying hard to make the car payment or figuring out who to blame if we can’t. I just wish Tim Russert were around to call the bank for me.

Addendum: I wished I had said this myself, but Michael Moore’s email on this subject needs to be read –

If That ‘Mosque’ ISN’T Built, This Is No Longer America

OpenMike 9/11/10
Michael Moore’s daily blog

I am opposed to the building of the “mosque” two blocks from Ground Zero.

I want it built on Ground Zero.

Why? Because I believe in an America that protects those who are the victims of hate and prejudice. I believe in an America that says you have the right to worship whatever God you have, wherever you want to worship. And I believe in an America that says to the world that we are a loving and generous people and if a bunch of murderers steal your religion from you and use it as their excuse to kill 3,000 souls, then I want to help you get your religion back. And I want to put it at the spot where it was stolen from you.

There’s been so much that’s been said about this manufactured controversy, I really don’t want to waste any time on this day of remembrance talking about it. But I hate bigotry and I hate liars, and so in case you missed any of the truth that’s been lost in this, let me point out a few facts:

1. I love the Burlington Coat Factory. I’ve gotten some great winter coats there at a very reasonable price. Muslims have been holding their daily prayers there since 2009. No one ever complained about that. This is not going to be a “mosque,” it’s going to be a community center. It will have the same prayer room in it that’s already there. But to even have to assure people that “it’s not going to be mosque” is so offensive, I now wish they would just build a 111-story mosque there. That would be better than the lame and disgusting way the developer has left Ground Zero an empty hole until recently. The remains of over 1,100 people still haven’t been found. That site is a sacred graveyard, and to be building another monument to commerce on it is a sacrilege. Why wasn’t the entire site turned into a memorial peace park? People died there, and many of their remains are still strewn about, all these years later.

2. Guess who has helped the Muslims organize their plans for this community center? The JEWISH COMMUNITY CENTER of Manhattan! Their rabbi has been advising them since the beginning. It’s been a picture-perfect example of the kind of world we all want to live in. Peter Stuyvessant, New York’s “founder,” tried to expel the first Jews who arrived in Manhattan. Then the Dutch said, no, that’s a bit much. So then Stuyvessant said ok, you can stay, but you cannot build a synagogue anywhere in Manhattan. Do your stupid Friday night thing at home. The first Jewish temple was not allowed to be built until 1730. Then there was a revolution, and the founding fathers said this country has to be secular — no religious nuts or state religions. George Washington (inaugurated around the corner from Ground Zero) wanted to make a statement about this his very first year in office, and wrote this to American Jews:

“The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy — a policy worthy of imitation. …

“It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens …

“May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants — while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.”

3. The Imam in charge of this project is the nicest guy you’d ever want to meet. Read about his past here.

4. Around five dozen Muslims died at the World Trade Center on 9/11. Hundreds of members of their families still grieve and suffer. The 19 killers did not care what religion anyone belonged to when they took those lives.

5. I’ve never read a sadder headline in the New York Times than the one on the front page this past Monday: “American Muslims Ask, Will We Ever Belong?” That should make all of us so ashamed that even a single one of our fellow citizens should ever have to worry about if they “belong” here.

6. There is a McDonald’s two blocks from Ground Zero. Trust me, McDonald’s has killed far more people than the terrorists.

7. During an economic depression or a time of war, fascists are extremely skilled at whipping up fear and hate and getting the working class to blame “the other” for their troubles. Lincoln’s enemies told poor Southern whites that he was “a Catholic.” FDR’s opponents said he was Jewish and called him “Jewsevelt.” One in five Americans now believe Obama is a Muslim and 41% of Republicans don’t believe he was born here.

8. Blaming a whole group for the actions of just one of that group is anti-American. Timothy McVeigh was Catholic. Should Oklahoma City prohibit the building of a Catholic Church near the site of the former federal building that McVeigh blew up?

9. Let’s face it, all religions have their whackos. Catholics have O’Reilly, Gingrich, Hannity and Clarence Thomas (in fact all five conservatives who dominate the Supreme Court are Catholic). Protestants have Pat Robertson and too many to list here. The Mormons have Glenn Beck. Jews have Crazy Eddie. But we don’t judge whole religions on just the actions of their whackos. Unless they’re Methodists.

10. If I should ever, God forbid, perish in a terrorist incident, and you or some nutty group uses my death as your justification to attack or discriminate against anyone in my name, I will come back and haunt you worse than Linda Blair marrying Freddy Krueger and moving into your bedroom to spawn Chucky. John Lennon was right when he asked us to imagine a world with “nothing to kill or die for and no religion, too.” I heard Deepak Chopra this week say that “God gave humans the truth, and the devil came and he said, ‘Let’s give it a name and call it religion.’ ” But John Adams said it best when he wrote a sort of letter to the future (which he called “Posterity”): “Posterity! You will never know how much it cost the present Generation to preserve your Freedom! I hope you will make a good use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in Heaven that I ever took half the Pains to preserve it.” I’m guessing ol’ John Adams is up there repenting nonstop right now.

Friends, we all have a responsibility NOW to make sure that Muslim community center gets built. Once again, 70% of the country (the same number that initially supported the Iraq War) is on the wrong side and want the “mosque” moved. Enormous pressure has been put on the Imam to stop his project. We have to turn this thing around. Are we going to let the bullies and thugs win another one? Aren’t you fed up by now? When would be a good time to take our country back from the haters?

I say right now. Let’s each of us make a statement by donating to the building of this community center! It’s a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization and you can donate a dollar or ten dollars (or more) right now through a secure pay pal account by clicking here. I will personally match the first $10,000 raised (forward your PayPal receipt If each one of you reading this blog/email donated just a couple of dollars, that would give the center over $6 million, more than what Donald Trump has offered to buy the Imam out. C’mon everyone, let’s pitch in and help those who are being debased for simply wanting to do something good. We could all make a huge statement of love on this solemn day.

I lost a co-worker on 9/11. I write this today in his memory.

“The man who speaks of the enemy / Is the enemy himself.”
— Bertolt Brecht


What’s the Problem

August 16, 2010

Somebody explain to me what the problem is? In a neighborhood that has been settled by immigrants from the Middle East since the 1870s, locals are trying to build a new mosque. A private group owns the land and this is what they want to do. What’s the problem? Doesn’t the First Amendment to our Constitution guarantee the rights of believers to worship free of government interference? This seems pretty basic and it’s the First Amendment, not the Eleventh or the Twenty-First.

I know the site is two blocks from Ground Zero. It is also in lower Manhattan, an area that is still sometimes called Little Syria. From the World Trade Center site to the Brooklyn Bridge it is less than a mile so it is hard to be far away from Ground Zero and still be on the island. This is where Muslims live in Manhattan and where they lived before the World Trade Center was built. There are two other mosques in the area that are over crowded. How do you fix that? Build another mosque.

And who will be the builders? The Cordoba Institute, a group whose mission is “reinforcing similarities and addressing differences” led by a man who is Sufi. “Sufism might be compared to Christian monasticism, in that both emphasize a quiet, simple life focused on obeying and experiencing God. Opinions of Sufis differ within the Muslim community.” The board is made up of Jews, Christians and Muslims. This is not al Qaeda, this is the longed for moderate group that condemned the 9/11 attacks. And it’s not just a mosque they plan on building. The plans show a community center called Cordoba House, which will contain a mosque, but also a 500-seat performing arts venue, a swimming pool and a basketball court. These facilities will be open to all New Yorkers.

So let’s try this again – A group whose intent is to heal wounds and misunderstandings between the Muslim world and the Western world wants to build a community center that will contain a mosque in their own neighborhood in a country that touts as one of its founding principles that everyone is equal regardless of race, creed or national origin. What is the problem? Is it the loss of a “historical” Burlington Coat Factory outlet? Is it the much needed jobs in construction that the project will generate?

Let’s face it – it really is about the religion. Just as you shouldn’t judge all Christians by the actions of the Ku Klux Klan, you can’t judge all Muslims by the acts of al Qaeda, but this is what is happening. There is a bumper sticker that says “All I need to know about Muslims I learned on 9/11.” How about “All I need to know about Christianity I learned from the Inquisition?” I watched a man with a toddler in the backseat give the finger to a Muslim school playground while he drove by. The anger over 9/11 has not gone away. The frustration over two badly conceived wars is festering. My fear is that that energy will be focused to perverting our Constitution to make us feel better instead of doing the harder thing and upholding the wisdom of our founding documents. I find myself in strange agreement with Joe Scarborough this morning. What’s the problem?

Watch Joe Scarborough