Democrats getting played: O’Donnell successfully shapes dialogue about First Amendment

October 19, 2010 by Peter · 6 Comments 

In a post titled The glaringly simple formula for rightwing dominance of our national debate, I wrote:

There is a simple formula for rightwing dominance of our national debate, even when Democrats are in charge: move the conversation as extreme right as possible, then compromise toward the far right. Negotiation 101. And it’s completely lost on Democrats.

It’s no accident that in 21st century America, torture has been mainstreamed, climate denial has taken firm hold, book burning, racial dog whistles and brazen religious intolerance are part of our discourse and par for the course. This is how the right plays the game, using Limbaugh, Hannity, Fox, Drudge, blogs, chain emails, talk radio, etc. to shamelessly and defiantly drag the conversation as far right as possible.

Christine O’Donnell’s gaffe about the First Amendment is anything but a gaffe. It’s a successful reframing of the conversation about the separation of church and state, injecting a rightwing talking point into the national bloodstream:

O’Donnell is getting a massive amount of attention today because during a debate with Chris Coons, she asked: “Where in the Constitution is the separation of church and state?” But Sharron Angle said something very similar a couple months back and it got almost no national attention. During an interview with Jon Ralston, he confronted her over her 1995 statement that excluding religious schools from Federal funding is un-American and that the separation of church and state is an unconstitutional doctrine. Then this exchange ensued:

RALSTON: The separation of church and state arises out of the Constitution.

ANGLE: No it doesn’t, John.

RALSTON: Oh, it doesn’t? The Founding Fathers didn’t believe in the separation of church and state?

ANGLE: Thomas Jefferson has been misquoted, like I’ve been misquoted, out of context. Thomas Jefferson was actually addressing a church and telling them through his address that there had been a wall of separation put up between the church and the state precisely to protect the church from being taken over by a state religion. That’s what they meant by that. They didn’t mean we couldn’t bring our values to the political forum.

More from Candace Chellew-Hodge:

After watching the video, I don’t think O’Donnell was surprised in the least by the contents of the First Amendment, but was instead sending a signal to her right-wing base. Her facial expression is a dead giveaway. She raises her eyebrows, widens her eyes, slowly nods her head, and turns her mouth down into a “hmmm” expression. It’s the same expression my partner gives me when I’ve said something completely stupid or ridiculous.

Instead of being mystified that perhaps the First Amendment would say something about religion, I believe O’Donnell was simply signaling to her base that she tows the well-worn right-wing line that while the First Amendment may guarantee freedom of religion, it does not create a wall of separation between church and state. That phrase, of course, is not in the Constitution, but was used by Thomas Jefferson in a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802.

Her expression and the knowing nod showed that she thought Coons was the idiot for thinking that the language of the First Amendment automatically grants “separation of church and state.” The religious right has long propagandized that such a separation was never intended by the framers of the Constitution and has only been affirmed by “activist judges” throughout the centuries. Bryan Fischer at the American Family Association has even equated the separation of church and state as being “straight from the mind of Hitler

Democrats should see this for what it is: another successful attempt to move the national discourse into fringe rightwing territory. Here’s the clip:

Meet David Barton, Glenn Beck’s historian and Tea Party favorite [Updated 10.6.10]

October 6, 2010 by Peter · Leave a Comment 

For Democrats, it’s always useful to get to know the opposition:

Senate candidate Marco Rubio revved up a crowd of about 200 supporters at the Alaqua Country Club Wednesday, but Rubio had a little help from the guy who introduced him.

David Barton primed the pump with his brand of America first, last and always political/religious revivalism. If you’ve not yet heard of Barton, named in 2005 as one of Time’s most influential evangelicals, there’s a good chance you will soon. He’s a favorite of the Tea Party movement and has emerged as Glenn Beck’s go-to-guy for all things historical.

Barton’s primary message Wednesday – and most days – is that the U.S. was founded as a Christian nation, was intended to be a Christian nation and would be a whole lot better if everyone started buying into that. Barton traces a number of social ills, for example, back to the prohibition of compulsory prayer in public schools.

Barton is an engaging ball of energy, riffing on the Founding Fathers and proclaiming “American Exceptionalism” – a staple of Rubio’s stump speech. Trouble is, many historians and religion researchers say Barton’s scholarship doesn’t match his salesmanship.

… Barton, for example, has declared the separation of church and state to be mythical, claiming that Thomas Jefferson, when he coined the phrase, meant for the wall to be “one-directional” – designed to protect the church from government interference but never intended to remove Christianity from government. Most historians dismiss his interpretation as badly off the mark.

Wednesday, Barton’s penchant for absolutes was on display. He told his audience that of the 192 members of the United Nations, America stood alone as a beacon of stability. “We’re a very blessed nation,” he said. “We happen to be the only nation that does not average a revolution every 30 to 40 years. Of 192 nations, we’re the only one with that type of stability.”

You might remember Barton from his role in the Texas Textbook Massacre:

Barton has twice addressed white-supremacist organization with ties to neo-Nazis, but both times has done so accidentally, he says. He has also been a leader in the movement to rewrite American history to remove Civil Rights leaders and knock down the wall separating church from state, arguing that it is a myth. He led the recent effort to rewrite Texas textbooks to describe America as a Christian nation.

People like Barton are the reason I caution against mocking Christine O’Donnell. If anything, Democrats need to do some serious soul searching about why such extreme views are dominating the public discourse.

UPDATE: From TPM:

David Barton, an evangelical and social conservative well known for his somewhat revisionist history and appearances on Glenn Beck’s show, yesterday took the opportunity on his radio show to ask that age-old question: “Why don’t we regulate homosexuality?”

Barton was talking about the government’s involvement in the health of the American people: “We have a Department of Health and Human Services; we have health care bills; we have health insurance and we’re trying to stop all unhealthy things so we’re going after transfats and we’re going after transparency in labeling to make sure we get all the healthy stuff in there.”

He continued:

So if I got to the Centers for Disease Control and I’m concerned about health, I find some interesting stats there and this should tell me something about health.Homosexual/bi-sexual individuals are seven times more likely to contemplate or commit suicide. Oooh, that doesn’t sound very healthy.

Homosexuals die decades earlier than heterosexuals. That doesn’t sound healthy.

Nearly one-half of practicing homosexuals admit to 500 or more sex partners and nearly one-third admit to a thousand or more sex partners in a lifetime.

So, he concluded: “I mean, you go through all this stuff, sounds to me like that’s not very healthy. Why don’t we regulate homosexuality?”

Full transcript and audio here.

The Age of Denial

September 18, 2010 by Peter · Leave a Comment 

America is in an Age of Denial, a time in which intolerable injustices are widely ignored, from preventable hunger, poverty and disease to irreversible environmental destruction to the global oppression of girls and women.

It is an age where wealth disparities are at record levels, where a war based on lies and deceptions that resulted in unimaginable carnage is heralded as a success, where the assault on basic rights and liberties is greeted with a yawn — if not a cheer.

It is a time when a minor celebrity infraction receives more attention than an epidemic of sexual violence in which young girls have their insides shredded with broken bottles and sticks of wood, when a sports game arouses more passion and emotion than a million babies dying.

This denialism afflicts the entire nation, not one party, not one particular group, not one ideology.

Many liberals stand by while a Democratic administration affirms and cements the worst excesses and overreaches of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, authorizing extra-judicial killings, indefinite detention and rendition, among other egregious practices. They stand by as a catastrophic oil spill is purposely scrubbed from public awareness because it has an adverse effect on Democratic electoral prospects. They stand by as the lies and deceptions that led America into Iraq are forgiven and forgotten and the Republican architects and purveyors of those lies are lauded by Democratic leaders. They stand by as obscenely rich bankers are bailed out at the expense of struggling taxpayers.

Conservatives stand by as their leaders callously exploit fear and xenophobia. They stand by – or worse, participate – as rightwing blatherers spew an endless stream of hateful invective across the airwaves. They yearn for war, war and more war against an ill-defined enemy. They traffic in jingoistic soundbites and call it patriotism and stand in defense of a Constitution they haven’t bothered to read. And perhaps more destructively than anything else they say, do or deny, they willfully toy with our future by pretending that the wholesale ravaging of the environment has absolutely no effect.

On the last point, David Roberts of Grist provides insight:

However muted denialism may have gotten in the late 2000s, it has come roaring back … Climate denialism is part of something much broader and scarier on the right. The core idea is most clearly expressed by Rush Limbaugh:

We really live, folks, in two worlds. There are two worlds. We live in two universes. One universe is a lie. One universe is an entire lie. Everything run, dominated, and controlled by the left here and around the world is a lie. The other universe is where we are, and that’s where reality reigns supreme and we deal with it. And seldom do these two universes ever overlap. … The Four Corners of Deceit: Government, academia, science, and media. Those institutions are now corrupt and exist by virtue of deceit. That’s how they promulgate themselves; it is how they prosper.

The right’s project over the last 30 years has been to dismantle the post-war liberal consensus by undermining trust in society’s leading institutions.

The decline in trust in institutions has generated fear and uncertainty, to which people generally respond by placing their trust in protective authorities. And some subset of people respond with tribalism, nationalism, and xenophobia. The right stokes and exploits modern anxiety relentlessly, but that’s not all they do. They also offer a space to huddle in safety among the like-minded. The conservative movement in America has created a self-contained, hermetically sealed epistemological reality — a closed-loop system of cable news, talk radio, and email forwards — designed not just as a source of alternative facts but as an identity. That’s why conservatives catch hell when they’re skeptical of climate skepticism. They’re messing with tribal cohesion and morale.

It’s a species of theater, repeated so often people have become inured, but if you take it seriously it’s an extraordinary charge. For one thing, if it’s true that the world’s scientists are capable of deception and collusion on this scale, a lot more than climate change is in doubt. These same institutions have told us what we know about health and disease, species and ecosystems, energy and biochemistry. If they are corrupt, we have to consider whether any of the knowledge they’ve generated is trustworthy. We could be operating our medical facilities, economies, and technologies on faulty theories. We might not know anything!

Roberts captures the frightening implications of denialism, a breakdown of trust in our basic institutions, an ideological war against facts and science, a kaleidoscopic skewing of national priorities. This is America in the Age of Denial.

What’s most troubling is that when you confront a denier, they’ll deny that they’re in denial.

UPDATE: Bob Herbert writes about the denial of our economic reality:

The movers and shakers of our society seem similarly oblivious to the terrible destruction wrought by the economic storm that has roared through America. They’ve heard some thunder, perhaps, and seen some lightning, and maybe felt a bit of the wind. But there is nothing that society’s leaders are doing — no sense of urgency in their policies or attitudes — that suggests they understand the extent of the economic devastation that has come crashing down like a plague on the poor and much of the middle class.

The American economy is on its knees and the suffering has reached historic levels. Nearly 44 million people were living in poverty last year, which is more than 14 percent of the population. That is an increase of 4 million over the previous year, the highest percentage in 15 years, and the highest number in more than a half-century of record-keeping. Millions more are teetering on the edge, poised to fall into poverty.

More than a quarter of all blacks and a similar percentage of Hispanics are poor. More than 15 million children are poor.

The movers and shakers, including most of the mainstream media, have paid precious little attention to this wide-scale economic disaster.

UPDATE II: The spiking of the Deepwater Horizon spill — the ultimate example of today’s denialism — comes full circle with this jaw-dropping story:

While BP plans to permanently abandon its stricken well in the Gulf of Mexico, with little but a plug left at the top, it may yet make use of the reservoir of oil and gas that the well tapped into.

Experts say that there are no technical or commercial reasons why BP — or another company if BP is wary of the political or public-relations repercussions — could not eventually produce oil from the formation, which BP once estimated contained about 50 million barrels of oil. The well spewed only about one-tenth of that amount, according to government estimates.

“The bottom line here is that this reservoir still remains a target for further production,” said Tadeusz W. Patzek, chairman of the department of petroleum and geosystems engineering at the University of Texas.

Dr. Patzek said he thought the formation might contain even more recoverable oil and gas, “but whether it’s 50 million or 100 million, that’s still a pretty decent target,” with potential revenues in the billions of dollars.

Through a spokesman, BP said it was too early to say what would become of Mississippi Canyon Block 252, the nine-square-mile plot about 50 miles off the Louisiana coast where the well was drilled. But in August, Doug Suttles, the company’s chief operating officer, while saying the stricken well and two relief wells would be abandoned, left open the possibility that the company might drill in the area again.

“There’s lots of oil and gas here,” he said at the time. “We’re going to have to think about what to do with that at some point.”

It’s the moral authority, stupid

September 10, 2010 by Peter · 1 Comment 

Who are America’s preeminent living moral leaders? Name three. Name two. OK, name one.

There’s a reason Glenn Beck tried to steal Martin Luther King, Jr.’s glory, it’s because there was no one he could put on that podium who exemplified and possessed anywhere near the same moral authority:

The Fox News host was attempting to sieze a mantle of moral authority earned and ultimately paid for with his life by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. And, sadly, I think in the eyes of some viewers, Beck might have succeeded.

If it sounds absurd that a mercurial cable TV host who regularly breaks down in tears and has called the president of the United States a racist should be able to get what appeared to be more than a hundred thousand Americans to listen and applaud as he laid claim to King’s mantle, it is. In fact, you might even say it is outrageous.

And for all the “warnings” and wakeup calls” that Beck issued from the steps of the Lincoln Monument Saturday, here’s another one: We need to think about the success of Beck’s rally Saturday and ask what it says about the lack of moral authority in this country today. We also need to wonder what it says about us as a culture that so many Americans on a Saturday in August and more than two million a day via Fox News come to Beck and apparently hear something in his hodge-podge of elementary-school history and mishmash of moral platitudes and bromides that they find meaningful.

Moral authority — that’s what the rally was really about. That’s what the bagpipes playing “Amazing Grace” at the end of the rally were all about. That’s what all the talk of standing on “hallowed ground” was all about. That’s what the repeated use of words like “honor,” “integrity” and “trust” were all about.

What is moral authority? Broadly speaking, it is the respect and power of suasion conferred on a person who is true to inviolable ethical principles. It is the ability to influence by setting an example of virtue and good character rather than through coercion.

Most politicians campaign using the language of right and wrong, tapping into the power of morality to persuade and sway voters. Once in office, the rhetoric is toned down as grand promises meet the reality of legislating and deal-making. That doesn’t mean that right and wrong cease to matter.

The astounding collapse of Democrats and the rightwing resurgence of 2009 and 2010 is a direct result of the squandered moral authority of Barack Obama and Democratic leaders. I say “squandered” because it is something Obama possessed during the campaign and something Democrats prioritized as the antidote to Bush and Cheney’s radicalism.

Pundits put forth myriad reasons to explain the GOP wave (jobs and the economy topping the list), but they invariably overlook the biggest one: that Obama and Democrats have undermined their own moral authority by continuing some of Bush’s’ most egregious policies:

[The Obama administration's] counterterrorism programs have in some ways departed from the expectations of change fostered by President Obama’s campaign rhetoric, which was often sharply critical of former President George W. Bush’s approach.

Among other policies, the Obama national security team has also authorized the C.I.A. to try to kill a United States citizen suspected of terrorism ties, blocked efforts by detainees in Afghanistan to bring habeas corpus lawsuits challenging the basis for their imprisonment without trial, and continued the C.I.A.’s so-called extraordinary rendition program of prisoner transfers — though the administration has forbidden torture and says it seeks assurances from other countries that detainees will not be mistreated.

Everything flows from the public’s belief that you stand for something. The most impressive legislative wins lose their force if people become convinced you’ll sell out your own values. Here’s how I explained it in a recent post:

With polls signaling peril for Democrats, identifying the cause of President Obama’s travails and the demise of ‘hope and change’ is a Washington sport. Some attribute it to the lifeless economy, others to Obama’s supposed (excessive) liberalism, and yet others to the prioritization of health insurance reform in the administration’s first year.

It’s really much more basic. Set aside policy and focus on sheer perception, who do you associate with strength, George W. Bush or Barack Obama? Republicans or Democrats? I’d bet good money that on both questions, many on the left would pick the former.

Bush’s bluster, born of narrow-mindedness and jingoism, led America to near ruin. But even if it was an act, transparent and loathsome to his detractors, it left an indelible impression – and I stress “impression” – of a resolute man with the courage of his convictions, no matter how terribly wrong-headed those convictions. By contrast, Barack Obama and most Democratic officials are chronically unwilling to speak in moral absolutes, to frame Democratic policies in the language of right and wrong, to project an unshakeable faith in core ideals. And far too often, the reluctance to speak with moral courage is coupled with a failure to act.

This has been the essence of the progressive critique from day one, on gay rights, civil liberties, secrecy, the environment, the economy, health care, executive power, war.

It’s baffling that pundits still don’t get it. We hear endless tea leaf (and Tea Party) reading, endless poll analysis, endless pontification about Obama’s ideology or lack thereof. He’s too liberal, he’s not liberal enough, he’s overly pragmatic, he’s a conservative, a socialist, a corporatist, he’s achieved more than any president in history, he’s presided over the biggest government takeover in history. Who cares? In the end, you either project strength or weakness. You have moral courage or you don’t.

Cheney and Bush knew one thing: from a strictly political – and cynical – perspective, pretend moral conviction is better than none at all. At the very least, it telegraphs to voters that you care deeply about something, anything. Enough to take a stand for it, to portray your opponent as unethical for opposing it.

In the best of worlds, Democrats would believe in something good and fight tooth and nail for it. Their moral compass would be true, pointing in the direction of justice, fairness, equality. Progressive ideals would guide them and they’d present America with a consistent, cohesive, powerful and inspiring worldview. Candidate Obama tapped into the force of that combination. President Obama can’t seem to do it.

Democratic weakness, real or perceived, is a self-inflicted function of the inability to project moral authority, even in cases where they possess the unequivocal high ground. Religious liberty. Torture. A war based on lies.

…It would be unfair and silly to portray all Democrat politicians as devoid of moral convictions, but it’s not inaccurate to state that there is a widespread phobia among Democrats of appearing “weak,” which paradoxically leads to behavior that further reinforces that impression. When you fret too much over what others think, you tend to contort yourself in an attempt to please, often at the expense of your core beliefs. When the specific complaint is that you’re weak, there is a tendency is to do whatever your critics characterize as strong – and in the case of Democrats, they tend to ignore the strength of their own values and emulate Republicans, ending up looking even weaker in the process.The only way to break the cycle and to project strength is to go back to basics, to look inside, to find the core principles that power a life of public service and to be relentless in pursuit of those principles. Moral authority is a prerequisite to genuine, enlightened leadership.

To borrow a phrase: it’s the moral authority, stupid.

Quran burning and America’s unique religiosity

September 7, 2010 by Peter · Leave a Comment 

While Glenn Beck stages a religious rally masquerading as a non-political rally masquerading as a Tea Party convention, while we debate the size of Manhattan’s mosque-free zone, while President Obama’s faith is questioned by his political opponents and while we talk about burning the Quran, it’s worth noting this:

A Gallup report issued on Tuesday underscored just how out of line we are. Gallup surveyed people in more than 100 countries in 2009 and found that religiosity was highly correlated to poverty. Richer countries in general are less religious.

But that doesn’t hold true for the United States.

Sixty-five percent of Americans say that religion is an important part of their daily lives. That is compared with just 30 percent of the French, 27 percent of the British and 24 percent of the Japanese.

And this:

People are more religious in the United States than in any other industrialized country according to an international poll by the Germany-based Bertelsmann Stiftung. The survey found 89 percent of Americans are religious, and 62 percent are highly religious. At the same time, religion plays a much less important role in European industrialized countries such as France, Great Britain, Germany.

What to make of it?

Why is it so easy for Bloomberg? (Part II)

August 24, 2010 by Peter · Leave a Comment 

I’ve been writing about the Ground Zero mosque because I live across the street from the World Trade Center site and I consider it an important debate about religious freedom and tolerance. Also, having grown up in Beirut, these issues are especially meaningful to me.

On August 3rd, Mike Bloomberg stepped up and showed Democrats how to stand for core principles without falling into rightwing traps. After  three weeks of fumbling and bumbling by Democrats and crass opportunism by Republicans, Bloomberg once again shows how simple it is to take the moral high ground. Following are comments he made this evening:

“In recent weeks, a debate has arisen that I believe cuts to the core of who we are as a city and a country. The proposal to build a mosque and community center in Lower Manhattan has created a national conversation on religion in America, and since Ramadan offers a time for reflection, I’d like to take a few minutes to reflect on the subject.

“There are people of good will on both sides of the debate, and I would hope that everyone can carry on the dialogue in a civil and respectful way. In fact, I think most people now agree on two fundamental issues: First, that Muslims have a constitutional right to build a mosque in Lower Manhattan and second, that the site of the World Trade Center is hallowed ground. The only question we face is: how do we honor that hallowed ground?

“The wounds of 9/11 are still very much with us. And I know that is true for Talat Hamdani, who is here with us tonight, and who lost her son, Salman Hamdani, on 9/11. There will always be a hole in our hearts for the men and women who perished that day.

“After the attacks, some argued – including some of those who lost loved ones – that the entire site should be reserved for a memorial. But we decided – together, as a city – that the best way to honor all those we lost, and to repudiate our enemies, was to build a moving memorial and to rebuild the site.

Read more

The right’s surefire strategy to win the mosque showdown: the ‘name and blame’ game

August 23, 2010 by Peter · Leave a Comment 

I’ve explained why I support the Ground Zero mosque even though Muslims were my mortal enemies in Lebanon and I’m a longtime lower Manhattan resident who lost friends in the towers. I’ve also cautioned against slandering 9/11 victims’ loved ones, emphasized that this is a matter of principles, not people, and argued that whatever we call the project, those principles don’t change. Still, I’m almost certain opponents of the mosque/community center will win the debate.

Here’s why: the rightwing noise machine is extremely adept at creating controversies around individuals.  From Fox, Drudge and rightwing blogs to websites, talk radio and elected officials, they are masters at superbly orchestrated takedowns based on manufactured outrage. Remember Shirley Sherrod? Van Jones? Dan Rather?

The two-pronged anti-mosque strategy is crystal clear: find the most egregious name for the project, one that pushes emotional buttons, then hammer away at the individuals associated with it, searching for an angle to destroy them. Thus the laser-like focus on the Imam behind it, Feisal Abdul Rauf, and on his wife, Daisy Khan. Witness the Wall Street Journal today:

A leader of a planned Muslim community center near Manhattan’s Ground Zero compared opposition to the project to the persecution of Jews, in comments that could add to the controversy over the center’s proposed site.

Opponents will likely win this argument because they are forcing proponents, media and neutral parties to play by their rules. Case in point: we are now arguing about whether it’s “Park51″ or the “9/11 Mosque” (Sarah Palin’s choice), whether Rauf is an extremist or moderate, whether or not his wife is a radical. We’ve seen one media profile of Rauf after another, but few in-depth pieces about the Constitutional principles at stake.

Once you’re on the right’s turf, they are halfway to victory. It doesn’t help that Democratic leaders have been completely muddled on an issue of basic rights.

From day one, proponents should have been firm about one thing: this is not about names or people, it’s primarily about core values. That’s not to say that the individuals behind the project are completely irrelevant – of course not – but that the principles must come first.

I return to Mike Bloomberg’s pitch-perfect speech:

Muslims are as much a part of our city and our country as the people of any faith. And they are as welcome to worship in lower Manhattan as any other group. In fact, they have been worshipping at the site for better, the better part of a year, as is their right. The local community board in lower Manhattan voted overwhelmingly to support the proposal. And if it moves forward, I expect the community center and mosque will add to the life and vitality of the neighborhood and the entire city.

Political controversies come and go, but our values and our traditions endure, and there is no neighborhood in this city that is off-limits to God’s love and mercy, as the religious leaders here with us can attest.

I doubt the Ground Zero mosque will ever be built there, but I hope proponents stand firm on the ideals and avoid getting sucked into the right’s ‘name and blame’ game.

Behold America’s future…

August 22, 2010 by Peter · Leave a Comment 

The first minute of this video should give every American pause – it is a stark illustration of what the future might look like: explosive confrontations along religious and racial lines.

UPDATE: Apparently, the subject of the crowd’s wrath is a union carpenter.

This reminds me of an experience I had at an Iraq war protest. A small pro-war group started waving American flags and hurling insults at marchers. When I heard the words “traitor” and “Saddam sympathizer,” I walked over and calmly asked where they were when I was under fire in battles with Muslim fanatics in Lebanon. Silence.

It’s easier to practice intolerance than tolerance. The latter takes compassion and self-discipline, the former is based on crude emotions and ignorance.

Why was it so easy for Bloomberg?

August 18, 2010 by Peter · 6 Comments 

Not atypically, Democrats are making a mess of their response to the ‘Ground Zero’ mosque, fumbling what should be the unquestioned moral high ground. From Obama to Reid to Pelosi to Dean, we’re getting confusion and mixed messages.

So why was it so easy for Mike Bloomberg to say this:

“Our doors are open to everyone. Everyone with a dream and a willingness to work hard and play by the rules. New York City was built by immigrants, and it’s sustained by immigrants — by people from more than 100 different countries speaking more than 200 different languages and professing every faith. And whether your parents were born here or you came here yesterday, you are a New Yorker.

“We may not always agree with every one of our neighbors. That’s life. And it’s part of living in such a diverse and dense city. But we also recognize that part of being a New Yorker is living with your neighbors in mutual respect and tolerance. It was exactly that spirit of openness and acceptance that was attacked on 9/11, 2001.

“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.

“This nation was founded on the principle that the government must never choose between religions or favor one over another. The World Trade Center site will forever hold a special place in our city, in our hearts. But we would be untrue to the best part of ourselves and who we are as New Yorkers and Americans if we said no to a mosque in lower Manhattan.

“Let us not forget that Muslims were among those murdered on 9/11, and that our Muslim neighbors grieved with us as New Yorkers and as Americans. We would betray our values and play into our enemies’ hands if we were to treat Muslims differently than anyone else. In fact, to cave to popular sentiment would be to hand a victory to the terrorists, and we should not stand for that.

“For that reason, I believe that this is an important test of the separation of church and state as we may see in our lifetimes, as important a test. And it is critically important that we get it right.

“Muslims are as much a part of our city and our country as the people of any faith. And they are as welcome to worship in lower Manhattan as any other group. In fact, they have been worshipping at the site for better, the better part of a year, as is their right. The local community board in lower Manhattan voted overwhelmingly to support the proposal. And if it moves forward, I expect the community center and mosque will add to the life and vitality of the neighborhood and the entire city.

“Political controversies come and go, but our values and our traditions endure, and there is no neighborhood in this city that is off-limits to God’s love and mercy, as the religious leaders here with us can attest.”

I’m not going to slander a 9/11 victim’s family

August 18, 2010 by Peter · 13 Comments 

I’m not about to tell the family member of a September 11th victim that their opposition to a mosque in the vicinity of Ground Zero is due to xenophobia, racism, or narrow-mindedness.  Attributing those motives to every person who opposes the mosque is something I refuse to do.

All I can do is make my case:

I’m an American citizen with a Jewish-American mother and Christian-Lebanese father. I was raised in Beirut during the height of the Lebanese civil war, where Christians and Muslims slaughtered each other by the tens of thousands. I lived and breathed the same kind of horrors we see in Afghanistan and Iraq, endless carnage, indiscriminate killing of civilians, shelling of entire neighborhoods, kidnappings and car bombs. I ducked and dodged the grim reaper on too many occasions.

As a teen, I was conscripted into the Lebanese Forces, a Christian militia, and served for three years. My opponents were Muslims of all nationalities, Syrians, Palestinians, everyone who was attacking the Christian enclave north of Beirut and endangering my family, my friends, my life. It was a matter of survival. Muslim friends who I grew up with became mortal enemies. A country that was the model of interfaith co-existence was torn apart at the seams.

I moved to New York in the 80s and have lived here ever since. My daughter was born in New York. For years, my home has been the beautiful riverfront neighborhood of Battery Park, a two minute walk across from Ground Zero. On the day the towers came down, my wife and I were headed to WTC Building 7 for a meeting. We were delayed by a phone call and then switched on the tv and realized we weren’t going anywhere and that the world we knew had changed forever. I lost friends in the towers and I watched my city get amputated. Every time I walk near the site, I look up in pain at the hole in the sky. New York will never be the same to me. I will never forget.

When I heard about the plans for a mosque, my first thought was Lebanon and the beautiful days of coexistence before the war. Tolerance and compassion are things have we to work at. Living our values and principles is not an easy thing. My love of our Constitution and the freedoms enshrined in it come from my time away from the USA. I want to be true to its ideals, to practice what the Constitution preaches. I believe supporting the mosque accomplishes that goal.

And what’s more, placing a mosque next to Ground Zero strikes me as a direct affront to the vicious murderers who took those precious lives. Few things are more satisfying than letting a violent perpetrator know that their violence has had no effect and that it has only strengthened our resolve and stiffened our spine. I want the terrorists to know that nothing they do will make us relinquish our values, that we honor the lives lost by sending a message that anyone can worship anywhere in America. We are not defending people, we are defending principles.

I see that as victory and I hope those who oppose this mosque see it that way too.

« Previous Page