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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

It's Never Too Late For An Epiphany

Article first published as New America, Old Ideas : When Right Goes Horribly Wrong on Blogcritics by yours truly.

There is a lot of opinion since right-wingnut Pam Geller started the controversy over a mosque being built on private property in New York City, and some of those thoughts turn into actions.
I have weighed in on it before, and I'll admit that even I was caught up in having to re-evaluate how I feel about others. It's easy to jump on a bandwagon because strength seems to be reinforced by others. The debate about the mosque has brought out the worst in many folks on both sides of the coin, with many demonizing Muslims as terror supporters and others calling opponents of the mosque racists.

The mass hysteria encouraged by protesters was in full force in lower Manhattan yesterday as a man was harassed and physically threatened simply for looking different.

The man's name is Ken and his crime is his pigmentation and his taste in hats. Unbeknownst to the mob, folks other than Muslims wear tight caps; Jews and some other observant folks cover their domes, and athletes and construction workers frequently wear tight lids underneath their helmets. Ken is a long-time union carpenter who works at Ground Zero. He's one of the good guys.

The reality is that people are so blinded by hatred that they mistook a man for something sinister when he was just trying to live his life. And carpenter Ken is absolutely right in the fact that even if he were Muslim, the hate is not justified. There is already a mosque in Manhattan. The Manhattan Masjid has been around for 40 years and nobody seems too upset about it being there, with the exception of these new protesters, most of whom aren't even New Yorkers.

The new protests have not just come against the proposed Cordoba Center, but have now come against all mosques, all Muslims, and anyone who might look like a Muslim. Because of the blind nature of the fear, blacks and browns have been attacked and harassed by those afflicted with the new hysteria. A Canadian rabbi was even incarcerated because xenophobia is that stupid at its core. The new right wants to make being Muslim a federal crime and will confuse lay folk in order to meet their ultimate goal.

Muslims have replaced gays, blacks, and the Japanese as the new enemy. It's easy to point the finger at someone else in order to compensate for our own flaws. The Koran indeed holds a load of horrors, but so does the Bible. It's far more convenient to quote Surah 9:5 than Judges 19:25 because one of those books belongs to the Big Bad Them, and They are coming to get us.

The truth in the matter is the fact that Muslims often come to the West seeking moderation and freedom from societies that have bastardized their faith. Quakers and Mennonites and Jews have all come to America to escape religious radicalism and bigotry. Muslims who grew up in Iran and Syria have witnessed their religion used as a weapon against those with more open minds. America seems more like home than what their former homes have become. At least it did, until a demented propaganda-fueled segment of society saw the world change and them left in the dust.

There was a time not so long ago that Americans were controlled by scared men. Thousands of people of ethnic minorities were sterilized in Virginia under the guise that whites were ethnically and morally superior. People of Japanese heritage where taken from their families and Eastern Europeans were incarcerated as possible spies. Women could be forcibly raped and beaten by their husbands and gays were lobotomized. These horrors and more are stains on our past, but today's neo-cons seem very in love with the same ideals that inhibit progress and oppress citizens.

Building the Cordoba Center might not be wise, given the appalling political tenor of today, but the right to do so is ingrained in the constitutional documents referred to by the segment that wants to have the right to own rocket launchers. Hating a man because you believe him to be an inferior is contrary to a document that precedes the Constitution by a decade. The Declaration of Independence was indeed controversial, but held that the new union was to be different from the totalitarian monarchies. Moreover, the First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees freedom to worship whatever metaphysical overseer the citizen chooses.

Amendments 1 through 10 comprise the Bill of Rights. As much as people would like to mess with them, they are not the Bill of I'll Do What I Want To Whomever I Want. An American is permitted to worship a doorknob as a god, and while you're allowed to have an opinion about The Loyal Order of the Shining Knob, you are not allowed to infringe on your neighbour's right to call a brass doorknob God.

Americans enjoy freedom of assembly, but those powers are limited. One cannot promote hatred, cause mass disorder, or threaten the life of a guy because of the way he looks. There is indeed a fine line between free speech and hate speech and the far right has climbed over the wall into the pits of rancorous Hell.

If you think that your right to bear arms is more important than freedom of faith, open a history book or look at that Constitution hanging on your wall.

And if you think that the sweeping acrimony has nothing to do with you or people like you, Sunday's victimization of a common blue-collar guy like yourself is the reality check that we all need.

"Hatred is the madness of the heart" — Lord Byron

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