Despite being a rather small community, the town where I was raised had a rather wide variety of religions and houses of worship from which to choose. At it's population apex during my youth, there were no more than 2000 people living there, and it was the most populous town in the geographically large county where it is situated.
I went to school for the first 12 years of matriculation with the offspring of those worshipers, who as far as I know, were all from varying sects of Christianity. Off the top of my head I can recall that we had Mormon, Catholic, Seventh Day Adventist, Jehovah's Witness, Methodist, Lutheran, at least 2 Baptist, Pentecostal and a number of non-denominational Christian churches. There were, at times, whispers and snippy remarks and perhaps even disdainful comments about the religious beliefs and practices of others. But at the end of the day, these were people that sat in the bleachers together at high school football games. They saw one another in the grocery store and met one another at the popcorn counter at the drive-in movies. We were all part of a community and even with our differences, figured out a way to be together.
Perhaps it is because of this backdrop to my life that I am so fundamentally disturbed by the reaction to the Cordoba community center and mosque, to be built a few blocks away from the 9/11 Ground Zero site in New York City. The visceral and ugly reaction from so many on the right to the notion that an Islamic center will go there, simply because its Islamic, is deeply offensive. Not only does it smack of religious persecution, it infers that our country and its ideals are so weak--so shaky--that fundamentalist extremists can tear it down--and we're too afraid, cowering in a corner in fear.
Yesterday, Ross Douthat's column in the New York Times recycled the Two Americas frame once articulated by John Edwards. He elegantly articulates the nature of the two camps when it comes to their basic natures: one believes in the Constitution and the equality of all, the other believes in an American "culture" where we all speak English and longs for a Judeo-Christian heritage--denying others the free exercise of the culture and beliefs that don't properly assimilate into the box that this "culture" demands.
Douthat then goes on to preach that "both sides have real wisdom to offer". That if it wasn't for those who put up roadblocks and social rules for those who emigrated, the "assimilation" would not have been so swift and they'd have had a lot more difficult time swimming in the American mainstream.
What utter revisionist bullshit. If one's only markers of US history include those who came through Plymouth Rock, Ellis Island or the boat from England or France during the Colonial era, then that point has the potential to hold some water. But there are Native tribes who have never assimilated completely, despite giving up almost everything in vain attempts to try. Not to mention Douthat's complete disregard for those who came here as slaves. How many decades and beat downs did it take for that assimilation to stick?
Not all ideas or beliefs are created equal. The right to live your life and express your beliefs ends the moment it infringes on mine. To refer to the notions of roadblocks to free expression and free practice of religion as "wisdom" is an affront to what our nation was founded on.
9/11 was an attempt by Muslim extremists to undermine who we are and what we're about as a country. To scare us into giving up those things. Conservatives in this country who are attempting to leverage this issue (and the immigration issue, for that matter) as a cynical way to regain power are doing so at the expense of giving those terrorists exactly what they sought when they flew those jetliners into the World Trade Center buildings. Shame on them.
They can keep that other America. I don't want it. Its not what those who founded this nation wanted--and it's not the community where I want to live.