The current dust up around the intent to erect a Mosque near 9/11 saddens me greatly. It saddens me over the seeming insensitivity to it all to those deeply wounded by the events of 9/11. It saddens me over the vituperative responses. It saddens me over what I fear might be reprisals revealing an ugly underside to our culture.
I get the emotion of it all. My parents were of the WWII generation. My own mother had irrational contempt for the Japanese. I heard it often. She and I travelled past the spot where she and my father pulled over in 1941 as he was driving her back to Smith College to listen to the radio report of the attack. I knew every time we neared the location that I would hear the rant.
This is my generation’s “Pearl.” I watched the towers collapse on CNN with my son home from school sick. I knew three people who perished. I know of a mother who was watching on television while talking to her son on the phone until the line went dead and she watched the tower collapse with him in it. I ache for her over this even though I have never met her, knowing only her husband from years ago.
So I did not like it, but I understood it. I did not necessarily like Reverend Wright’s heated rhetoric around race relations, but can understand that as well. Research indicating a generational divide around that in the African American community appearing in the Wall Street Journal around the same time Obama made his speech on race relations helped cement it. I don’t recall separate lunch counters and likely few under 50 do. Reverend Wright did. I get it. I do not like it, it hurts to hear and is hard not to personalize, but I get it.
And that is the problem with core principles and empathy. Sometimes you have to simply tolerate what you do not like.
And this brings me to the comparison of the Mosque to the infamous American Civil Liberties Case from 1977 when it defended the right for a neo Nazi organization to march in Skokie, Illinois. At the time, Skokie had a population of 70,000 and 40,000 were estimated to be Jewish.
Hurtful and insensitive, but the skin heads had the right to march.
And so private property owners around the 9/11 site have the right to erect what they want within normal building code guidelines. A politically convenient act to bar construction of places of religious worship won’t fly. It’s grandfathered.
So we as a nation have to let it come to pass. It’s too strong a principle to violate to achieve a desired outcome.
It takes courage to live by principles when such principles insure an outcome we may find distasteful.
Barry Goldwater was excoriated by the left and exalted by the right when he opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 on the grounds it usurped states rights. Later in life he came out against federal bans on abortion and gay marriage for the exact same reasons. He felt it usurped states rights. Those who exalted him for this principled stance with respect to Civil Rights excoriated him as senile and soft when he applied the exact same principle in a way they did not like.
I would love to hear Rand Paul step forward and support construction of the Mosque. He created a stir talking about private property rights that was conveniently spun into racist insinuations about segregated lunch counters. Let him come out now and make the same stand on that principle when it will anger those who are his natural base. (I understand the principle to which he stridently hews, and wince at it. I understand it. But if it is that strident, then how can he oppose property rights now in this case? All this proves is that Rand Paul is no Barry Goldwater.)
Freedom so integral to the core of our national being comes with a price. We bristle at travel restrictions that are in reaction to terror infecting our shores. We allow for free movement in this country. We make it easy for a handful of folks to infiltrate, set up shop, and deploy tactics against us that violate the Geneva Conventions designed to protect lawful enemy combatants.
We encourage property ownership, individual liberty, and pursuit of happiness. That happiness pursuit is up to the individual owning the property, not We the People in a collective fashion.
I want to believe the purity of intent for those seeking to construct the Mosque, but I have to admit to suspicion. As difficult as it is, it has to be viewed dispassionately.
It’s their property, it’s their call. They can do with it as they see fit as much as what they wish to do saddens me terribly. It is a true test of the loaded term tolerance to force yourself to apply it to something you find personally unsettling.
America needs to “walk the walk” now more than ever when it comes to the concept of tolerance that is the bedrock of the personal freedom we purport to hold so dear and which distinguishes us from so many other nations.