I’ll admit that I wasn’t former President George W. Bush’s biggest fan, but let’s give credit where credit is due. He knew who the enemy really was. So when I see people get worked up over things like a mosque blocks away from ground zero in New York, I wonder why more people don’t follow his lead.
The smartest thing Bush did in the days after 9/11 was to paint the conflict as a struggle between freedom and religious extremism, and not the United States versus Islam. One war is winnable, theoretically, while the other one can never be won, and only an utter fool would try to.
However, that has not stopped many from attempting it, and the Park51 Islamic Community Center project (I refuse to call it the ground zero mosque because it isn’t actually on ground zero) is a perfect example of this. Over the past week, there have been protests at the site that condemn the religion, thinking that because one segment of a faith acts a certain way, then they all do. People with no concept or knowledge of Islam call it a ‘victory mosque”. In reality, it’s intended to be the Muslim version of the YMCA.
I’m not insensitive to the strong feelings the project has generated. However, simply put, the First Amendment does not care, nor should it, if someone’s feelings get hurt. We’re better off because of that. In fact, sometimes feelings are supposed to get hurt. Sometimes the pain that comes from having to deal with unpopular opinions or faiths lets us all know that despite whatever shenanigans are going on in Washington D.C., the country still works the way its supposed to. The unpopular and even the reviled, in some cases, still have a reserved seat at our American table.
Polls indicate, but they don’t legislate. Majorities rarely confer morality or truth. A majority of Americans oppose the community center. That’s interesting, but ultimately irrelevant. If a majority of Americans suddenly declared that two plus two equaled 43, that wouldn’t make it true. It would just demonstrate a stunning ignorance of mathematics.
For example, I hate the Westboro Baptist “Church” and the Phelps family. When I say hate, I don’t mean it like “I really hate onions on my pizza” or “I hate it when it rains after I get my car washed.” No, It’s pure, seething hate. If the place burned down, I’d probably throw a party.
However, as despicable, as heinous and as, in my opinion, evil they are, they have the right to be that way. As abhorrent and disgusting as their activities are, such as picketing funerals, desecrating the flag and claiming God hates pretty much everyone, they should not be legally prohibited from engaging in them.
Why? Because, in America, your rights are only as good as those of the people you despise. Your freedom to worship is only as secure as those of the people you consider to be “the enemy”. Your right to assemble and petition for a redress of grievances is only as valid as those groups you vehemently disagree with. The right to do with your property as you will is only as real as the rights of others to enjoy the same. The day we place these things in the realm of popular opinion is the day we should just shred the Bill of Rights. We won’t deserve it anymore. If that day comes, it won’t be because we forgot what these freedoms really mean, it will be because we simply stopped caring about them, opting for the easy way out.
If our current wars are truly about freedom versus religions extremism – if the extremists truly believe that we in America are anti-Islam – then the smart move would be to build the Islamic community center at the current site and prove the extremists, our true enemy, wrong. If the argument is that Christians can’t build a church in Mecca, so Muslims shouldn’t be allowed a community center close to ground zero, then, by extension, the argument is we should emulate bad practices rather than demonstrating good ones. We should repay ignorance with ignorance – hate with hate. You don’t defeat something by acting like it. You just wind up becoming it, inch by inch, day by day, fear by fear, until all you are is the other side of the same radical, hateful coin.
Despite what many pundits and tragedy exploiting politicians claim about this being a sensitivity issue rather than a First Amendment issue, it really is all about the First Amendment, and it’s gut-check time.
Nobody is saying you have to like the idea of an Islamic community center blocks from ground zero, least of all me. However, to whom much is given, like liberty for example, much is required. An Islamic community center blocks from ground zero, as much as it inflames our emotions, is another charge on the tab we started when we decided things like freedom of religion and property rights were a good thing.
It’s the price we all pay for living in the free world.