Elections are always an exciting time for a political geek like me. There are always the tell-tale signs that election day is drawing near. The coolness in the evening air, the changing of the leaves, and the Republicans trying to scare up irrational fears about brown people, and to exploit tragic memories about September 11, 2001 for political gain.
To their credit, this seems to work. It's not always race issues, and not necessarily about 9/11, but they always try to find a wedge issue. In 2004, for example they had all sorts of people scared to death that the gays were going to break into their homes, force them to sign divorce papers, and proceed to have their way with their teen-aged sons. The result, the GOP won the election, and 11 states amended their constitution to bar gays from marrying.
This year's election cycle is proving to be par for the Republican's Boogey Man, Election Day course. The fear mongers at Fox News and the folks at the RNC have calculated that, facts be damned, they were going to create hysteria to drum up votes. Luckily for them, they had a big win with the racists "Papers Please" immigration law in Arizona. Despite facts to the contrary, they made it look like the immigration problems in this country happened over night, that the federal government under Republican rule had somehow secured the border until Jan 21 2009, that immigrant communities didn't have record-low crime rates, and that we had an invading illegal army raking havoc on society, decapitating farmers and having their way with their teen-aged sons. The immigration discussion is very complex, and I think I will leave further words on the "debate" for another day.
I wish to address the hullabaloo du jour that has been festering in the hateful bowels of the GOP for this election. By this, I mean the alleged "Ground Zero Mosque." This has apparently been a gold-mine for the "thinkers" and strategists in the GOP based on the huge amount of air time the the issue has received. It has brought up emotions from victims of those who were involved in the heinous acts of that horrible day, and has allowed them to act like they are emotionally invested in their pain, while those who wish to build the GZM are heartless, and insensitive to their suffering.
Let's set some facts straight first: One, there is no "Ground Zero Mosque." The proposed building is to be a 13-story cultural center known as Park 51. Similar to a YMCA which serves for recreation, education, and happens to have area dedicated to prayer--like a chapel in many recreational facilities. Also, the building will not be located at Ground Zero. It will be two blocks away. In my neighborhood or yours, two blocks may seem nearby. However, in the concrete jungle that is New York City's financial district, one block may as well be a mile. It won't be possible to see the WTC site from Park 51, nor will Park 51 be visible from the WTC site. No one going to that hallowed ground will see the "mosque" unless they actively seek it out.
People are up in arms about this issue, and the flames of intolerance and hatred are being stoked by prominent leaders in the GOP--most notably, Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, and Sean Hannity.
The problem with the opposition to building Park 51 is the assumption that because one group of Muslims wish to build this site, that they are somehow related to the murderers from 9/11. They say that a mosque would be a shrine to honor the killers, not differentiating those extremists from the vast majority of peaceful worshipers of Allah. This assumption would be similar to saying that all Baptists are murders because one of their extremists killed a doctor who provided abortions, or to assume that all Catholics are similar to the IRA in Northern Ireland, or, for that matter, that all Mormons have multiple wives. The assumption based on ignorance plain and simple--considering the source, though, it's pretty much standard fare.
What's worse in this chaotic mess is that people are suggesting that planners of the development abandon their constitutional right to build. They are suggesting that we limit the freedoms of others because it is a sensitive issue. The truth is, it's not a sensitive issue, no one would even know of Park 51 if it weren't for the agents of hate and their microphone being supplied by a media that thrives on sensationalism.
This country has from its founding been a bastion for religious tolerance and religious freedom. To take away a religious group's right to construct a building because the majority doesn't feel it is right it anti-Constitution, and frankly, un-American.
If the terrorists wished to destroy our way of life and ruin the freedoms we as a society enjoy, the mere fact that this argument is being made today is proof enough that our society is willing to throw away the rights we hold dear.
What's worse however, is those politicians who are willing to encourage the trampling of constitutional rights shrouded in patriotism all for their political gain. It's disgusting, and frightening.
I am reminded of the quote by Sinclair Lewis, and I will leave it as a closing thought, not to frighten, but to invoke thought:
"When Fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."