On the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, and 50-some days before the midterm elections, hate-filled rallies at the World Trade Center site, and elsewhere, were staged against the “Ground Zero mosque.” The New York rally was organized by right-wing blogger, author of Obama Adminstration’s War on America. And the keynote speaker was Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders who supports banning the Koran and elsewhere has described Islam as not a religion, but as “the ideology of a retarded culture.” Nice memorial to 9/11 victims, right?
Media Matters gives a longer, depressing litany of intolerant quotes from anti-mosque commentators, and their intention is clear. They are exploiting 9/11 to create political advantage in the upcoming fall elections, based on fear during this time of great economic upheaval. Fear and hate is a tested and sadly, all too often, effective tactic that wins elections.
All of the usual distortions were part of the rallies:
1. Misrepresentation of facts (it is not a “mosque,” but a cultural center; it is not “at” Ground Zero but several blocks away, in an area currently shared with pizza parlors and porn shops).
2. The invocation of closed-minded absolutist religious views—the certainty that their version of Christianity is correct, as well as their distorted views of Islam.
3. Their explicit desire to break down one of America’s greatest political historic achievements—religious tolerance (this is an achievement that always needs protecting—among many, many examples, Georgetown University was formed because Catholics were not admitted to Harvard and Yale.)
These 9/11 rallies add hate to fear: hate towards Muslims or those who support their exercise of constitutional rights, and fear evoked by the 9/11 terror.
These spectacles are a part of a larger ideological assault. Recently, Glenn Beck held a religious festival at the Lincoln Memorial to simultaneously take over the memory of both Abraham Lincoln (who recommended behaving “with malice towards none, with charity for all”) and Martin Luther King, Jr. (who supported national health care, massive reductions in military spending, and redistribution of income to the poor). Beck held off on his usual invective for that one day, but returned to form the next day, presenting his own distorted interpretation of Obama’s religious and political beliefs, and then claiming “It’s a perversion of the gospel of Jesus Christ as most Christians know it.”
As I watched this theater of fear and hate; I remembered a day when I felt deeply patriotic. In August 2009, after Senator Edward Kennedy died, his coffin was flown from Boston to Washington for burial at Arlington Cemetery. The funeral cortege stopped on the way, at the U.S. Capitol, where the public and hundreds and hundreds of former Kennedy staffers had gathered on the steps of the East Front to pay their respects.
It was broiling hot that day in D.C., and the funeral procession was very late in arriving; you could see people affected by their sweat and fatigue. Surprisingly, you could hear coming from the staffer crowd a muffled, then loud and clear “God Bless America” and “America the Beautiful.” I confirmed from my friend who was there that the song just started somewhere among the group, and within a few lines, everyone was singing. My friend felt good singing, moved by the powerful emotions, but later angry that Senator Kennedy’s patriotism—as well as that of liberals and progressives—was, and are still, attacked by conservatives. “I’m sick of these right-wingers lecturing me on how to be patriotic,” he fumed.
So on this day after 9/11, memorialize the people who died on 9/11 —Christians, Muslims, Jews, atheists, and others. And work hard to defend a tolerant and diverse America: a core value at the beginning. George Washington memorably described it in a letter to a Jewish congregation in Newport, Rhode Island, envisioning an America where “every one shall sit under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.”
Washington’s words challenge the hate and division on view yesterday and throughout the campaigning: “For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection, should demean themselves as good citizens.”