The one constant in our nation’s history has been hatred of difference. From the genocide of Native Indians, the enslavement of Africans and legal discrimination and violence against Blacks, to the treatment of Chinese laborers and Irish immigrants, and right up to the vitriol against Mexican immigrants, the United States has wallowed in hatred. We do not like to admit it because it runs counter to all the flowery language about human rights in our Declaration of Independence and the pronouncement of citizenship rights in our Constitution. A history of exceptional intolerance of groups outside of the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant typology, that manipulated its way to dominant group status, contradicts the popular mythology of an exceptional nation. Today, we are witnessing the spoiled fruit that this rotten branch of our nation’s history has borne.
Plans to construct an Islamic cultural center near the site of the World Trade Center terrorist attack in lower Manhattan has unleashed a torrent of hate against a single group that we have not seen since, well, perhaps since the xenophobia in Arizona over Mexican immigrants. How bad is it? Former Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich compared Muslims to Nazis in his criticism of building a “mosque” near “Ground Zero.” The proposed building is not a mosque but a cultural center and it is a couple of blocks from the actual site of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack. More importantly, an estimated 300 Muslims lost their lives on that fateful day. Those who smear Islam in the name of patriotism now cheapen the deaths of these Americans. It is a sad commentary on intolerance.
What critics of the proposed Islamic cultural center, and other planned mosques around the nation, fail to acknowledge or even understand is that Islam did not attack the United States on September 11, 2001. Men who bastardized their own faith were responsible for the carnage at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in a field in Pennsylvania. They claimed an evil act in the name of God, as was the case in the genocide of American Indians and the enslavement of Africans. The Ku Klux Klan used, and still uses, the Christian cross as a symbol of hatred of Blacks and Jews. If Islam is the culprit on 9/11, was Christianity the culprit in the treatment of Indians and African slaves, and the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City? Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, was a professed Christian and he took comfort in the paranoia of the white militia movement, a terrorist network that claims Christianity as the foundation of its white supremacist teachings. Have we forgotten that prior to 9/11, the Oklahoma City bombing, that killed children, was the deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil?
The shameful nature of the current demonization of Islam exposes the degree to which our nation is in denial over its embrace of hate as a definer of patriotism. Politicians on both sides of the political aisle are pandering to ignorance, and even our President, who initially said the right thing, is buckling under the weight of intolerance. The result? Across the nation, we are witnessing a wave of hatred against Muslims and Islam. In some instances, residents oppose the construction of a mosque because they don’t want “terrorists” in their community while in another community a Christian church plans the burning of copies of the Quran. Score one for the 9/11 terrorists and Timothy McVeigh because flag waving Americans are embracing the hate these “blood brothers” unleashed on our country.
There are certain moral tests our nation has had to pass en route to the day when we can truly claim to be an iconic democracy, the abolition of slavery, the recognition of Indian sovereignty, the adoption of child labor laws, the defeat of Jim Crow and the fulfillment of voting rights for women are just a few. We still have a few to go, with the current mania over Islam being one of them. If we fail this test, we will take a giant step backward in the world community.
What better example can we set for the world than to support the construction of the Islamic cultural center and mosques around the country as the ultimate proof of our commitment to human rights and the ideals espoused in the Constitution? In fact, I have always believed that the United Nations should relocate to the World Trade Center site as a true living memorial to the men and women of all faiths and nationalities who lost their lives in the terrorist attack. If we fail to stand up for what is right, right now, then we will honor the terrorists and dishonor our nation.
Walter Fields is Executive Editor of NorthStarNews.com.