Sunday, August 15, 2010

Obama On the Ground Zero Mosque; An Act of Political Courage

Part One-Prologue
"I feel strongly about this particular point because of a picture I saw in a magazine. It was a photo essay about troops who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington Cemetery, and she had her head on the headstone of her son’s grave. And as the picture focused in, you could see the writing on the headstone. And it gave his awards–Purple Heart, Bronze Star–showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, date of death. He was 20 years old. And then, at the very top of the headstone, it didn’t have a Christian cross, it didn’t have the Star of David, it had crescent and a star of the Islamic faith. And his name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, and he was an American. He was born in New Jersey. He was 14 years old at the time of 9/11, and he waited until he can go serve his country, and he gave his life. Now, we have got to stop polarizing ourself in this way. And John McCain is as nondiscriminatory as anyone I know. But I’m troubled about the fact that, within the party, we have these kinds of expressions.~~Colin Powell on his endorsement of Barack Obama for the presidency, October 19, 2008 on Meet The Press. The text was copied from .

Part Two- Fear
The story told by General Colin Powell cuts to the chase more eloquently than I could ever imagine to. US Army Corporal Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, an American Muslim from New Jersey lies in a grave in Arlington National Cemetery. The picture above shows his grieving mother at his headstone.

Everyday we put on the news, and learn the name of yet another young American killed in action in Iraq or Afghanistan. We're told they died defending freedom, and they fight so we don't have to. I'm sure Corporal Khan believed that when he entered the Army. And it's sad, and very troubling, to know that while he and others fight and die in the Middle East for this American Ideal we're told of from the day we enter kindergarten, there are some in this country who believe that some of these freedoms should not be made available to all of our citizens.

Freedom of speech, of assembly, of worship, and the separation of church and state are all guaranteed in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. Yet there is an undercurrent in the United States of ant-Muslim sentiment; the proverbial "broad brush" is being used to paint Muslims the same color. It doesn't matter that the majority of Muslim Americans are good citizens, or that some, as in the case of Corporal Khan, died serving our country, killed by extremists who have perverted their religion. There is fear, there hatred, there is bigotry, and there is xenophobia.....and it threatens to undermine much of what we hold sacred in our country.

The following item appeared on August 7 in The New York Times.

In Murfreesboro, Tenn., Republican candidates have denounced plans for a large Muslim center proposed near a subdivision, and hundreds of protesters have turned out for a march and a county meeting.

In late June, in Temecula, Calif., members of a local Tea Party group took dogs and picket signs to Friday prayers at a mosque that is seeking to build a new worship center on a vacant lot nearby.

In Sheboygan, Wis., a few Christian ministers led a noisy fight against a Muslim group that sought permission to open a mosque in a former health food store bought by a Muslim doctor.

At one time, neighbors who did not want mosques in their backyards said their concerns were over traffic, parking and noise — the same reasons they might object to a church or a synagogue. But now the gloves are off.

In all of the recent conflicts, opponents have said their problem is Islam itself. They quote passages from the Koran and argue that even the most Americanized Muslim secretly wants to replace the Constitution with Islamic Shariah law.

These local skirmishes make clear that there is now widespread debate about whether the best way to uphold America’s democratic values is to allow Muslims the same religious freedom enjoyed by other Americans, or to pull away the welcome mat from a faith seen as a singular threat.

“What’s different is the heat, the volume, the level of hostility,” said Ihsan Bagby, associate professor of Islamic studies at the University of Kentucky. “It’s one thing to oppose a mosque because traffic might increase, but it’s different when you say these mosques are going to be nurturing terrorist bombers, that Islam is invading, that civilization is being undermined by Muslims.”

Feeding the resistance is a growing cottage industry of authors and bloggers — some of them former Muslims — who are invited to speak at rallies, sell their books and testify in churches. Their message is that Islam is inherently violent and incompatible with America.

Now I have a this the America that our brave men and women are fighting and dying for everyday? Is it the America that Corporal Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, winner of the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart, of which he took an oath to serve and protect, and for which he ultimately died in battle? It is a country that he loved, but many of it's citizens, it can be implied by the examples above, did not love him back.

Part Three- Do the Right Thing; The President and The Ground Zero Mosque

The excerpt below is from the

On August 12, 1834, just after midnight, an anti-Catholic mob attacked the Ursuline Convent School in Charlestown, Massachusetts, and burned it to the ground as the nuns hurried the children out the back. Rev. Lyman Beecher had helped to incite the mob hours earlier, giving three anti-Catholic diatribes at three different churches in Boston. Beecher, whose children included educator Catharine and abolitionist and author of 'Uncle Tom's Cabin,' Harriet Beecher Stowe, later expressed regret over the arson; but as is often the case, violent speech led to violent action. Those arrested for the outrage were quickly found not guilty and became heroes in Boston. After failed attempts to get the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to pay for the damages, and amid threats of further violence, the nuns eventually moved to Canada, driven from the country by bigotry and hate.

The late former Speaker of The House Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill (1912-1994) told a story in his bio Man of the House about growing up in "Old Dublin", the Irish- Catholic suburb of North Cambridge, Massachusetts. When he was a kid the adults always talked about how the Boston Yankees, all Protestants, had burned down the Ursuline Convent, a dark deed done to the newly arrived Boston Irish-Catholics. Below, his comments from Man of the House, page 8.

I heard so much about the incident that one day, while in my teens, I decided to look it up in a book. To my shock, the burning of the convent took place in the summer of 1834! But to hear people talk about it, you'd think it happened the day before yesterday.

The scars of hatred can run deep and last for generations, as the example from Tip O'Neill's childhood illustrate; the Irish were on the bottom of the pecking order in the early 19th century. They got the dirty jobs, like building canals across the East and the Midwest, and the new arrivals were hated primarily for their Roman Catholic religion. Here, in my home state of New Jersey, the Catholic minority were subject to persecution of the majority Protestants- in 1701 Queen Anne granted freedom of religious conscience to all in the colony, "except Papists". Later in the century, New Jersey Catholics were implicated in "The Negro Plot", in which they allegedly were accomplices in a slave rebellion; persecutions and executions followed.

As you can see, bigotry and religious intolerance have been part of America since before there was a United States. Every ethnic group or members of a "different" religion has met resistance after arrival on these shores; even the Pilgrim Separatists, who tradition tells us met friendly Indians when they founded Plymouth Plantation, met resistance from the Nauset after first landing on Cape Cod. The Englishmen found small mounds after landing, which they unearthed; they were graves. The Nauset came back to greet the New Arrivals with a rain of arrows.

The terror attacks of September 11, 2001 was an act of mass murder, performed by deluded fanatics bent on destroying an America that they were told was waging war on Islam. What they did was as much a perversion of Islam as what the Japanese warlords did to the code of bushido in their wars of aggression, up to and beyond their sneak attack on Pearl Harbor.

On August 3, a commission in New York City cleared the way for a a mosque to be built two blocks from the site of the World Trade Center. There is unhappiness and some hostility towards the idea of constructing a mosque and cultural center two blocks from the WTC site. The families of 9/11 victims, most Republicans and some Democrats have been critical of the decision to build the cultural center/mosque. Bloggers and voices of the right have been in unison in the denunciation of the the construction of the mosque. On the other side, New York's mayor Michael Bloomberg said the following in support of the right of Muslims to build the mosque....

"(the government) shouldn't be in the business of picking (one religion over another)I think it's fair to say if somebody was going to try, on that piece of property, to build a church or a synagogue, nobody would be yelling and screaming. And the fact of the matter is that Muslims have a right to do it, too.

After weeks of silence on the matter, President Obama addressed the subject during a Ramadan dinner at the White House on August 13. Below, highlights from his address.

"That is not to say that religion is without controversy. Recently, attention has been focused on the construction of mosques in certain communities – particularly in New York. Now, we must all recognize and respect the sensitivities surrounding the development of lower Manhattan. The 9/11 attacks were a deeply traumatic event for our country. The pain and suffering experienced by those who lost loved ones is unimaginable. So I understand the emotions that this issue engenders. Ground Zero is, indeed, hallowed ground.

But let me be clear: as a citizen, and as President, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country. That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable. The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country, and will not be treated differently by their government, is essential to who we are. The writ of our Founders must endure."

In an age of politicians being politicians, and doing and saying what is popular instead of what was right, President Obama gave us a real moment of political courage in his support of the right of those who wish to build the mosque. His poll numbers are sagging, unemployment numbers are stuck at 9.5%, and the partisan attacks on him continue to grow, as well as criticism from the Democratic Party's left wing. But the President stuck his neck out on this issue....a principle greater than politics is at work here, and it transcends the bumper sticker and sound byte talking points that are fed to the American public by those who believe most of our citizens have the attention span of a potted plant.

The question asked is not if Muslims can build a mosque two blocks from Ground Zero, but should they.

And the government's position must be they can, and offer no opinion if they should, because it's not the government's business, nor any of the elected or appointed officials business.....period. It's about the separation of church and state, and the practice of religion in this country. If any other religious group were to try to build a house of worship on that same site, and if all permits were in order, their would not and could not be any debate. One religious group cannot be singled out fro special's un-American.

President Obama made his statement regarding the right of Muslims to build a mosque to a nation where 57% of Republicans believe he is a closet Muslim ( and 24% say he's the Anti-Christ, and another 45% of the nation's GOP believe he was not born in the United States. Supporting the rights of Muslims to build the community center/mosque was not the politically savvy thing to do....but it took principle, and it took courage.

Mr. Obama is taking political hits for his stance; some say that it may damage his popularity further, and even drag down the Democrats in this year's midterms.

But would it be better to say and do the popular thing instead of the right thing, and retain the House and the Senate, and sully the Bill of Rights in doing so?

Part 4-The Aftermath and Beyond

After the President addressed the mosque issue, the attacks from the Republican right were swift, immediate, and relentless. Below is a sampling.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH)....

The decision to build this mosque so close to Ground Zero is deeply troubling, as is the president’s decision to endorse it. The American people certainly don’t support it.

The fact that someone has the right to do something doesn’t necessarily make it the right thing to do. That is the essence of tolerance, peace and understanding. This is not an issue of law, whether religious freedom or local zoning. This is a basic issue of respect for a tragic moment in our history.

Sarah Palin....

Mr. President, should they or should they not build a mosque steps away from where radical Islamists killed 3000 people?

Please tell us your position.

We all know that they have the right to do it, but should they? And, no, this is not above your pay grade.

If those who wish to build this Ground Zero mosque are sincerely interested in encouraging positive "cross-cultural engagement" and dialogue to show a moderate and tolerant face of Islam, then why haven't they recognized that the decision to build a mosque at this particular location is doing just the opposite?

Republican strategist Ed Rollins....

(Obama's remarks were) probably the dumbest thing that any president has said or candidate has said since Michael Dukakis said it was okay to burn the flag. And it was very similar.(CBS News)

Sen John Cornyn (R-Tex)....

It demonstrates that Washington, the White House, the administration, the president himself seems to be disconnected from the mainstream of America. And I think that's one of the reasons people are so frustrated (POLITICO)"

And there was frustration from members of the President's own Democratic Party, particularly House members facing stiff re-election campaigns. Here's what one congressman told POLITICO

Rep. Martin Frost (D-TX)....

"I would prefer the president be a little more of a politician and a little less of a college professor. While a defensible position, it will not play well in the parts of the country where Democrats need the most help."

The comments above can be divided into two types. There are those who criticize Obama for not making the most politically expedient thing; namely question why the Muslim group wishes to build on that particular site, and for God's sake, don't defend their rights as Americans to do so!

And the second group chastises the President for not joining them in the chorus denouncing the construction of the mosque; a private citizen should voice their opinion if they desire, but any government official at any level who does so may very well be infringing on the groups First Amendment rights.

That's not how we should be doing things in this country.

On the day of the September 11 attacks by early afternoon you could smell the faint odor of smoke here in my town, nearly 30 miles south and west of New York. We lost several of our residents in the inferno; the attackers didn't care about the age, sex, race, marital status, or religion of those they murdered....there were Christians and Jews, Buddhists and Hindus, non-believers and agnostics......and Muslims in the Twin Towers.

The smoke and the ashes brought all to a common end, and they entered eternity as one.

Most of the opponents of the mosque say that two blocks is too close to Ground Zero. My question is how far away would be far enough. Three blocks? Five? Ten? Or how about miles.....five miles, or 10, or 20?

Maybe the mosque should be moved to Route 3 in New Jersey, or possibly off of I-80 in central Pennsylvania? Does Lewisburg sound good?

The bottomline is the opponents of the mosque have no real solution that makes any sense other than "we don't want it", an emotion based on pain and possibly by fear. And maybe it's time to get beyond that, and think about other possibilities; like building an Islamic community and cultural center may be a viable bridge to understanding, and reconciliation, and possibly our better angels will prevail, and the broken and hardened hearts may heal.

Through it all, the United States is still a nation worthy of our love and our allegiance, and worth fighting to defend. A young corporal who lies in Arlington National Cemetery with the star and crescent on his grave believed that.

He  fought and died for an ideal that is us.


Dave said...

"In an age of politicians being politicians, and doing and saying what is popular instead of what was right, President Obama gave us a real moment of political courage in his support of the right of those who wish to build the mosque."

Please. Obama is not a hero in this case. He is doing exactly what his job says he must do, that is, ensure the right of all people in the US to practice their religion. Twisting his comments to paint a picture of his "political courage" is whitewashing the fact that he's just doing what he was elected to do. He shouldn't have to have 'courage' to do that.

Hugh Jee From Jersey said...

Dave- I'm not white washing or twisting anything.

Read what I said....I was stating an opinion, that I believed the President's statement was a courageous act in the light of the firestorm that he to have known was to follow, and it did....for four days now.

Just an opinion from me.....

But stick around, I'll twist again, like I did last summer.

Anonymous said...

I like many Muslims. I dislike Islam as a whole however, and I say this as an ex-Muslim convert. My reasons?

1. Islam is about "submission" to the "law of God", and putting "collective good" above individual rights.

2. Islam is intolerant. Go to any Muslim country and try to build a non-Muslim place of worship, or don't adhere to the "dress code", and see what happens.

3. Islam is ok with, or indifferent to, many forms of violence. Entire Islamic governments sanction beatings, stonings, or hangings for people who don't wear the "correct" garb, who flirt, or who are gay or lesbian, etc.

4. Islam is decentralized. Different teachers say different things.

5. Many average Muslims conflate local customs with Islam, killing daughters who bring "shame" upon the family, for example.

6. Muslims move to the West and often set up parallel cultures beside those of the host countries, seeing their own ways as being superior. They also bring their understanding of all of the above points, and do not adapt to western notions of human and individual rights.

7. Not all Muslims are terrorists of course, but Muslims in general fail to criticize their Muslim brothers. I once attended masjid at MIT. A man at one meeting said that the Koran gave him the right to kill gays on campus. Another man told him he was wrong, and a third man told both of them that "only a scholar can decide". Others in the group said nothing. That average Muslims defer to "leaders" on moral matters such as this is absurd.

Until Islam learns to co-exist on this planet, and respect other religions and the non-religious; until it embraces notions of human rights and dignity that exist outside of Islam - it can expect to meet resistance in the West. Christian intolerance still exists, but it's nothing like it was centuries ago. Islam - collectively and mentally - is still in the Middle Ages, and it scares the hell out of many. That fear is not unfounded.

Hugh Jee From Jersey said...

Anon- If I wanted to I could take each of your points and counter with multiple instances of certain branches of Christianity, and in historical cases of governments working in conjunction with the established church or churches, of doing all of the same atrocious things.

I'm not a religious person in the sense of being wrapped up in dogma, but can say that I believe I'm spiritual....and there's a great difference there.

Religion is metaphor for that which we can truly never understand. It's sad that for thousands of years people have been killing and persecuting each other, one saying that their metaphor is the TRUE metaphor, and the other guy has to submit or perish.

And it's all so very senseless.

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