As Goes Cordoba House Goes America

The edges are fraying.  While xenophobia is nothing new in American life, the use of particularly rancorous and fear-inspiring rhetoric by prominent spokespeople, affiliated with mainstream institutions that have real power to shape our dialogue, is surely on the rise, and ideas that were once whispered (or grumbled under the breath, perhaps after one too many drinks) are becoming increasingly mainstream.  These ideas not only demean us all, but they are also one of the surest harbingers of those dark events in our nation’s history—the Red Scare, the Chinese Exclusion and Geary Acts, Executive Order 9066—that most fundamentally undermine our founding values.

The protests of the Cordoba House—a Mosque and Islamic community center planned for a private site two blocks from the former site of the World Trade Center—are ramping up, and what was initially a fringe idea is now endorsed by such high-profile political leaders and opinion makers as Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, and Charles Krauthammer.   Parallel to the mainstreaming of this message is an onrush of overtly anti-Muslim sentiment which extends across the country, from Tennessee to Wisconsin to California, and includes protests over the building of new mosques as well as a particularly stomach-turning plan by a Florida church to hold a mass burning of Qur’ans on this coming September 11th.

To be sure, many brave voices have spoken out, in spite of less than encouraging public opinion research, to support the Cordoba House and defend religious freedom.  New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg presented perhaps the firmest repudiation of the protestors, in a press conference in which he—flanked by religious leaders of all stripes and standing in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty—boiled the debate down to a single, essential question:  “Should government attempt to deny private citizens the right to build a house of worship on private property based on their particular religion? That may happen in other countries, but we should never allow it to happen here.”

In this point, Bloomberg presents the great hypocrisy of these so-called patriots, who wrap themselves in the American flag while attempting to undermine the closest thing we have to a unitary founding principle.  Mayor Bloomberg understands that the free exercise clause is not simply an amendment to the Constitution, but the first amendment to the Constitution.  He remembers that the early settlers of Plymouth colony, captured in the American imagination as the first European inhabitants of what would become the United States, were seeking, in large part, a place to practice their faith and preserve their cultural identity.  And he understands that, in contrast to Gingrich’s point that “There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia,” the United States is strongest not when it seeks the lowest possible standard, but when it lifts up a vision of openness that has largely driven its economic and cultural leadership.

Bloomberg’s voice, and the voices of hundreds of elected officials, faith leaders, and everyday Americans who embrace the pluralism of our nation’s roots, are our greatest resource in efforts to forestall a new dark era in our history.  The issues that we face as a nation, from economic recovery to energy security to health care to immigration, can be complex, but this one is not.  If you believe in America, you have no choice but to respect the rights of the builders of the Cordoba House.

Read more at The Opportunity Agenda website.

Tags: islam, cordoba, gingrich, Opportunity, Bloomberg, Palin, Newt (all tags)

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