Thursday, August 19, 2010

Talking in Code

There has been such a hue and cry in New York City about whether an Islamic community center and mosque should be built at a location near Ground Zero. I listened to the outcry in its early stages, not particularly attentive because I just knew that common sense would prevail and the mosque would be built, freedom of religion and all that. Then I realized the rhetoric was getting more strident, not less, and soon the Tea Party was involved, marching in lower Manhattan with signs bearing hateful slogans, and the president himself was weighing in, and the polls this morning showed that 63 percent of New Yorkers and 62 percent of Americans were hotly opposed to locating a mosque near to the place where almost 3,000 Americans perished in the terrorist attacks on 9/11.

Would anyone have objected to a Christian church being built on the site of the Oklahoma City bombing? The terrorist in that attack was an avowed Christian, yet people would have seen any Christian monument as a gesture of hope and faith and healing. Four blocks from Ground Zero, however, a mosque represents to most of those polled a recruitment center for terrorists. In this equation, every Muslim is a terrorist. Some Tea Party members have even gone so far as to propose that the building of mosques in America be banned altogether. These, of course, are the same Tea Party politicos who advocate repealing the law that says all children born in the U.S. are American citizens, even those whose parents are not already citizens. Ironically, many of those making such statements are the descendants of immigrants and refugees themselves, only their ancestors came from Europe, not Mexico—brown babies is who they're really talking about here. Their outrage is code for "Brown babies will never be true citizens of America." It's part of the Tea Party's drive to "take back our country." But take it back from whom, exactly?

I'm naively dismayed by the ugly rhetoric about the mosque at Ground Zero, though I expected as much from the immigration debate. Tea Party conservatives seem devoted to whipping up racial fears as a means of securing their political base, and they rally arround any issue that holds the promise of that. But I refuse to believe that they will prevail. The young people I talk to on college campuses, those I meet through my children and in my work as a journalist, are far more open-minded that the epithets thrown around by Tea Party rabble rousers would indicate. By law, the forces of fear cannot stop the building of the mosque in lower Manhattan. Last I heard, the constitution of the United States of America was still the governing document. Freedom of religion. And all that.


  1. I think it's kind of scary, really.

    I really avoid talking about politics with people, because I've never found it to be anything other than pointless, but when several of my friends on Facebook posted status updates about how upset they were about the "Ground zero mosque", I posted this video as an indirect response, and I hope you don't mind if I share the link here:

    I think he makes a lot of interesting points.

  2. ellen, thanks for the link! It's such a powerful commentary.