1 September 2010: Mosque debate rooted in hysteria

Mosque debate rooted in hysteria

One good outcome of the debate over the construction of a Muslim center that includes a mosque in proximity to the site of the Sept. 11 attacks is that it is engendering a national dialogue, if one calls shouting matches suited for football games rational debate.

Let’s face it: As a people, history is not our forte, and we’re dumbing down even more.

Hysteria is a time-honored American tradition beginning with the Salem witch trials of 1692. In the original 13 colonies, religious liberty was rare, with only Pennsylvania and Maryland initially permitting Catholics, Jews and Quakers to worship as they wished.

Scapegoating, hysteria’s kindred cousin, traces its lineage to the anti-immigrant Know-Nothing Party, the 19th-century version of today’s Tea Party, many members of which, given their Irish and eastern and southern European heritages, would have been targets of their Know-Nothing predecessors. I suppose, though, that is evidence ironically of growing tolerance.

Hatred and dehumanization find their roots in our slave-owning, Jim Crow past, and paranoiac fear saw its ugly head rise in the 20th century with the Palmer Raids in 1919 and black-listing Sen. Joe McCarthy in the 1950s finding communists under every bed, on movie-screen credits and in President/Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s state department. Lest we forget: John F. Kennedy was to be the lackey of Pope Pius XII.

The first decade of the 21st century has been a futile time for Americans. Despite more attacks on American soil not occurring, the mastermind Osama bin Laden remains free; the war in Iraq has been a trillion-dollar disaster, with Iraq poised to morph into a complete Shiite state; and in Afghanistan, the Taliban are threatening to return to power, if not by putsch then incrementally.

Economically, our corrupt system has been laid bare with trillions in bailout dollars for too-big-to-fail banks, and morsels for millions who have lost their jobs and homes and are teetering on the brink.

We’re in a frenzy. Like the economy recovering, it might take a long time for saner, cooler voices to be heard above the ruckus and din. Even normally cerebral minds are descending into the fire of acrimony. Note the tenor of their voices when they speak of the frustration they feel with blow-hard commentators and politicians who are not about calming the waters, but stirring them. Listen to your own and measure your pulse rate and blood pressure when thoughts of such dance in your head.

I am no fan of dogmatic religion. Especially repugnant are those in which women are second-class members, at times finding themselves recipients of horrendous abuse and torture, and those in which being gay earns a man condemnation, damnation or capital punishment often without his genitals.

Some argue Islam is where Christianity was 600 years ago, and given the six-century historical advantage Christianity enjoys, developmentally that makes sense. Still, it would be daunting to fast-forward a billion souls into the 21st century who are only stepping gingerly into the 16th century, the era of the Inquisition and a nascent Protestant Reformation. Even if that were possible, it would not solve the extremist, fundamentalist aspect of Islam: American Christianity remains replete with Talibanic personages.

There are those protesting the construction of the site that are Americans second — second to their fundamentalism. For them the Bible trumps the Constitution, and the rapture, which includes the destruction of America, cannot come soon enough. Timothy McVeigh, America’s homegrown Osama bin Laden, was a Christian who blew out the lives of 168 of his fellow Americans. If the Muslims planning to build the center are culpable for the near-3,000 deaths at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and aboard Flight 93, then every Christian shares in the responsibility for the Oklahoma City bombing. It’s that simple.

The only way we can save America and prevent her collapse is to remain steadfast to that which has seen us through every crisis we have faced in the past 221 years: the Constitution. With that in mind, a question arises for so-called constitutionalists such as Tom Tancredo, the head of the American Constitutionalist Party, and his disciples: Which part of the First, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments don’t you understand?

Having said all that, there is one reason, I hold, to oppose the center: It would be another piece of property removed from the tax rolls. But given the innumerable churches, temples, chapels, synagogues, cathedrals and mosques already awarded that exemption, that argument seems to be without merit.

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