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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Stephen Jones: A Band of Cowards

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This is a post by contributing writer, Stephen Jones, who is a progressive political activist and a resident of Las Cruces, New Mexico.

It is another week and with it, yet another grating message of intolerance from the Republican Party. Fast on the heels of last week’s assault on the 14th Amendment of the Constitution and birthright citizenship, the party of “no” now aims to overturn the 1st Amendment and trample upon the most deeply held conviction of the framers of the United States Constitution, cast at the very inception of the nation’s founding, the individual right of conscience.

This time Republicans have taken aim against the planned Islamic community center to be opened in a former Burlington Coat Factory storefront and office building two blocks from the site of the 9/11 World Trade Center terror attack. The center (and not a mosque) is intended to serve New York’s large Muslim community, along with members of other faiths, who live and work in the lower Manhattan neighborhoods.

Fear Mongering For Votes
This predictable and unseemly GOP attack on New York City’s Muslim communities would be laughable if it weren’t so brazenly calculated to stir up unfounded fears among the base of Republican voters nationally, and to generate divisions between Americans for the purpose of garnering a few extra votes in the upcoming midterm election.

Over the past weekend, Republican Presidential hopefuls were out in force to bash Muslims. Sarah Palin has been pandering to the hateful for weeks. Muscling his way to the forefront, Newt Gingrich, the one-time Speaker of the House said, “There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia.” Appearing on FOX Gingrich compared Muslims to Nazis. “Nazis don't have the right to put up a sign next to the holocaust museum in Washington,” Gingrich said. Joining the over-the-top chorus, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty said the so-called “mosque” would “degrade or disrespect” hallowed ground. Mitt Romney, another Presidential hopeful, suggested the center might become a recruiting ground for terrorists.

Beyond the GOP Presidential rivals, all of the usual right-wing operatives have jumped aboard from FOX and the talk-radio media machine. Rush Limbaugh, the de facto leader of the Republican Party, told his audience that the New York Islamic center was tantamount to the Japanese opening a Hindu temple at Pearl Harbor.

I suppose I might point out here that Japan is almost entirely a Buddhist and Shinto nation, and probably has few Hindus other than those natives of India who are travelling on the east Asian archipelago, but the obvious lack of basic grade-school international knowledge of the Republican leadership is not the point. The issue here is the use of pathetic primal fears and hatreds to generate a few extra votes. Lacking any platform or program to meet the real challenges facing Americans today, the Republican Party has simply fallen back into its customary comfort zone, namely stirring up tribal bigotry.

Radical Islamic Power Center?
The so-called “mosque” is, in reality, to be a community center modeled on the YMCA, with a swimming pool, and sports and exercise facilities. It will include a prayer room. Muslims, who pray five times a day, require quiet contemplative areas to separate themselves from the bustle of urban life. The center plans to provide that space. As any resident of any large city knows, there are many similar Muslim prayer rooms across the United States, including at the Pentagon. The center received the approval of the City of New York’s zoning board by a 29-1 vote. The Mayor, the New York City Council and the citizens of New York all support the opening of the center, overwhelmingly.

Far from some radical Islamic power center, the facility was organized by Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, a moderate clerical leader. In 1997, he founded the American Society for Muslim Advancement to promote the positive integration of Muslims into a pluralistic American society. He has participated regularly in Christian/Muslim/Jewish dialog groups and according to the FBI has worked with its anti-terrorist efforts. In short, he is a mainstream religious leader.

It is not Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and the planned community center that stand outside the mainstream of American society. Rather it is the Republican Party that stands in contempt of our cherished American values. The founders of our nation held that the freedom of conscience was first and foremost among our rights as citizens, rights that could never be abridged by pandering politicians. They cast that right of conscience into the 1st Amendment.

Framers Embraced Religious Diversity
Unlike today’s GOP leadership the framers of the Constitution were not afraid of religious diversity. Islam has always been a part of the American fabric. President Thomas Jefferson was the first American President to officially observe Ramadan at the White House in 1805. As a secular republic, our nation has welcomed all religions since its founding.

The Treaty of Tripoli, sent to the Congress by President Washington in 1796 and signed by President Adams in 1797 declared a state of harmony between this nation and the other nations of the world specifically in the area of religious belief. It reads, “As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.”

Stand Up for American Ideals
Largely due to the rhetoric of bigots inside the United States, many of nations of the world are still doubtful as to whether we are, truly, a country based on principles or just one made up of petty tribal fears. The Republican Party has shown itself to be a band of narrow and hateful cowards. The rest of us need to stand up for the ideals of our heritage and for our genuine American values, including the founding creed of our nation; the recognition of the right of conscience for all people, both for ourselves, and for those who live beyond our shores.

To read more posts by Stephen Jones, visit our archive.

August 18, 2010 at 12:43 AM in By Stephen Jones, Contributing Writer, Civil Liberties, History, Minority Issues, Religion, Republican Party, Right Wing | Permalink

Comments

I just did a search for mosques in New York City, and got 47 results for NYC and the surrounding area. Several are listings for cultural centers, learning centers, and societies. So do the Republicans want all of them to be shut down?

Posted by: Ellen Wedum | Aug 18, 2010 6:08:34 AM

I think that few people realize what is really going on underneath the issue du jour of the week.

For several decades the evangelical right has moved through local school board elections, the Texas school book adoption process and the establishment of numerous "grass roots" organizations to change history, specifically to re-write that associated with the wall of separation between church and state.

Evangelicals will tell you that they don't feel that they are adequately treated because of this concept, that their vision ought to be more prevalent.

Check out "Dominionism." This is a movement within a movement which seeks to establish a state religion essentially, and of course this would be evangelical.

They are bent on this because there is a core belief that everyone else is in error and only the evangelical view is the correct one.

That is why they are so intolerant of Islam. Shades of the Crusades from 1,000 years ago. Bring back the Inquisition.

This could be mildly amusing were it not for the fact that this comes with a zealous persistence that most people cannot match.

Karl Rove's insight was that whole faith communities could be mobilized as a voting bloc, and that this could tip elections. This is where W came from.

It is not far fetched, for those of us who witnessed the rise of this, to consider the possibility of a President Palin. Not a joke.

This only way to put this genie back in the bottle is to sharpen the Democratic Party up so that the swing voters recognize intellectual honesty and realistic grasp of the issues.

Posted by: Stuart Heady | Aug 18, 2010 8:52:03 AM

There is a Muslim prayer center like the one that will be in this community center in the Pentagon. Is that "dishonoring sacred ground" too? Republicans will do or say anything to jack up hate and fear. I wonder if they realize more than 300 Muslim Americans died in the attacks on the Twin Towers. Democrats needs to get the facts out better and stop caving to the mob mentality that Palin and the rest are feeding.

Posted by: Jonathan | Aug 18, 2010 8:55:18 AM

Fox News had this false post about an Obama appointee supporting sharia law...in the link within this Daily Kos article.

http://www.dailykos.com/tv/w/001090/

Newt Gingrich is running on a platform stating that we need some legislation that opposes sharia law.

Sigh, the times we live in....

Posted by: cwlange | Aug 18, 2010 10:43:57 AM

The Republican Party has been all about denying basic rights and services to non-white men (i.e. the vast majority of the populace) for longer than I've been alive. They've finally arrived at repealing the Constitution if they can't stack the courts to ignore it altogether.

Posted by: Proud Democrat | Aug 18, 2010 11:34:55 AM

I totally agree with Stuart Heady about this. One third of our country doesn't believe in evolution, but do believe in rapture. And they want to be back in control, like they were when W was President and Tom Delay ran Congress. The mosque is just the newest wedge issue, to get their folks agitated. What is strange is the silence from the Catholics and mainline Protestants. When the Palinites take control again, they will come after them too.

Posted by: Jim Hannan | Aug 18, 2010 3:51:54 PM

Good point, Jim. Catholics were long one of the favorite targets of the right wing. Their us vs. them orientation has gotten stronger and more extreme and I think you're right that Catholics will again be a target. In fact they will hound anyone who is not with them 100 percent.

Posted by: Old Dem | Aug 18, 2010 4:39:20 PM