Dear America (or at least the American Newsmedia),
Can you please stop acting like a particularly brain-damaged hyperactive dog?
Seriously, there are real things happening in the world. There are real concerns that deserve to be reported. A sizable portion of Pakistan is underwater. Russia has been on fire for weeks, and now in addition to facing concerns about nuclear plant safety and radioactive material left over from Chernobyl, they’re also facing major storms. Whooping cough is making a resurgence in the United States, and has killed several people already. The Taliban recently stoned a couple to death for adultery. Google and Verizon are working on a deal that may have serious implications for net neutrality. The ban on gay marriage was overturned in California.
But the American newsmedia doesn’t seem to care about those kinds of things, because some Muslims want to build a community center in the same general neighborhood where some other Muslims knocked down a couple of buildings nine years ago. This non-story results from the usual set of demagogues, fearmongers, and asshats, pissing and moaning that some non-Christians would dare have the sheer unadulterated chutzpah to think they could exercise their First Amendment rights and legally purchase a real estate property for private use! I guess it’s because they’re doing it in within a three-block radius of where something particularly nasty happened due to people of the same general religious faith almost a decade ago. It’s the same reason that those same people go into a tizzy whenever a Christian church opens up within a few blocks of an abortion clinic, or when a Japanese restaurant opens in Hawai’i.
Oh, they don’t? But wouldn’t that make them terrible hypocrites?
Seriously, America. You’re outraged over a couple of liberal Muslim immigrants from allied nations (one-half of the couple behind the community center is from Kuwait. You know, the country we protected from Saddam Hussein in the first Gulf War) building the Muslim equivalent of a YMCA (called “Park51”) in the general vicinity of the Twin Towers. People are saying it’s “in bad taste.” And yet, you seem to be just fine with the strip club, Off-Track Betting place, and Hookah Bar in the same radius. Are you telling me that the strip club is in good taste? That Off-Track Betting is in good taste? That tobacco hasn’t killed large numbers of New Yorkers in the recent past? You’re being stupid, America.
There are so many ways in which this attitude is wrong that I scarcely know where to begin. Let’s start with that popular conservative meme that New Yorkers are out-of-touch elitists, not “real Americans,” an idea that, just a few short weeks ago, was exemplified in the confirmation hearings over Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan. It’s nice to see the same people who use “New York” as a slur care so much about real estate dealings in lower Manhattan. Perhaps those people would like to purchase or lease some of the empty buildings in the area, to improve the local economy and contribute something to the area. You know, the way the Park51 folks are.
There’s the matter of Islam, which is a pretty diverse religion. Even some skeptics and atheists are falling into this little trap, in part because we tend to be an American or European bunch, and are not as familiar with Islam as we are with Christianity. Yes, sure, the couple behind Park51 believe in the same religion with the same holy book and the same basic tenets as the people who crashed airplanes into the World Trade Center and Pentagon. But keeping them from opening this place because of the actions of some of their fellow Muslims is like barring Fred Clark and John Loftus from opening up a YMCA near the Centennial Olympic Park. Blaming and discriminating against individual Muslims because of something that different individual Muslims did, because they share a religion (even if their actual beliefs are very dissimilar) is plain old bigotry. It’s no more valid than the idiots who try to tar all atheists with the reputations of Stalin and Pol Pot.
Sure, you could argue that moderate and liberal Muslims legitimize the radicals and conservatives, even if they don’t share the same politics. I make the same argument regarding Christians. That’s a reason to argue forcefully against the beliefs and tenets of Islam, and to not give moderates and liberals a free pass for being less crazy than the radicals; what it’s not is a reason to discriminate against them on the basis of their religion. I’ll argue against Barry Lynn about religion if it’s appropriate, but I’m not going to tell him he can’t open up his own business because some other Christian killed people nearby once. That’s unfair, unreasonable, and un-American.
There are people who see this as a potential rallying point for the same kinds of radical Muslims who conducted the attacks in the first place. I fail to see the relevance. First, I think the radicals would be just as scornful of the westernized liberal folks behind Park51 as they are against the rest of us western infidels–potentially moreso, because they’re defying conservative Islam while still professing to be Muslims. You see the same in Christian circles; liberal Christians and Catholics and so forth are fallen backsliders and false prophets, pretending to preach the faith while actually doing the Devil’s work or overly concerning themselves with “this world.” But let’s say that Osama calls up the next meeting of al-Qaeda and says “Oh, right, a new Muslim community center went up near the place where the Twin Towers fell. So our conquest of the West proceeds apace; next, we’ll be looking into getting Quran verses on the bottom of In-N-Out Burger cups.” Who gives a damn? I would think the bigger victory would be that they blew up the damn World Trade Center, and that we still haven’t fixed it. The victory would be that the people of the Great Satan have revealed their anti-Muslim bias by trying to make Muslims into second-class citizens and loudly proclaiming the infidel Christian basis of their nation and laws and motivations. I hardly think that treating Muslims like everyone else could look bad for us.
I can’t even get behind the idea of a ban as an atheist. Yeah, yeah, I’m generally against religion, and I think worship buildings are a general waste of real estate. I think churches and mosques and temples ought to be taxed unless they can show a clear benefit to society, the same way that other non-profit organizations do. But looking at the actual plans for this building, I think it would easily meet those criteria: it’s a community center dedicated to the arts, classes, and fitness, with a prayer room for Muslims. I wonder if the nearby St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church has so much as a stationary bike, let alone a swimming pool. I’m all for religious buildings that actually serve a secular good–I’d prefer they were secular buildings, but I’ll take what I can get–and Park51 looks like just that kind of place.
And so the news cycle turns on another day of this shit, with reporters bothering the President wondering what he thinks about this terrible example of the free market in action. It’s another reason that I could never be President; while Obama has given a measured response couched in Constitutional terms, my response would be more along the lines of “Jesus H. Christ, don’t you people have better things to worry about?”
And the worst part is that they do. There’s still a whole bunch of oil in the Gulf of Mexico, the job market is still complete shit, a crowd of Juggalos attacked Tila Tequila, and so on and so forth. But the Republicans are constantly trying to keep people hateful and fearful and distracted and outraged–it’s the only way they can get elected, since they don’t actually do anything–and their drummed-up scandals are like shiny things to the infants of the mainstream media. And the Democrats, being as they have evolved beyond the need for a spine, are happy to oblige and try to engage the idiots and the imbeciles in conversation as if they were saying reasonable, important things. Meanwhile, real concerns go unanswered and real news goes unreported. Because Republicans think Americans are stupid, Democrats think that’s a reasonable position even though they disagree, and Americans will obligingly prove the Republicans right.
So America, please stop being idiots. Let’s all take our collective Adderall and focus on real concerns, rather than letting the right-wing hate machine and the left-wing acquiescence machine distract us with shiny things and butterflies. I promise, we’ll all be better for it. You, me, and New Yorkers who like to swim.