First Amendment at Stake

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Right-wingers’ inflaming dialogue, using issue for political gain

By Alan Chartock

Remember Nelson Mandela and his concept of “truth and reconciliation”?

In politics, you never know what’ll catch fire. Right now, it’s the mosque near Ground Zero. If you listen to right-winging, Republican gubernatorial hopeful Carl Paladino, the Ground Zero mosque is an affront to all Americans and more specifically to the Americans and foreigners killed in that awful attack. Furthermore it is a jab in the eye of the American people because, the multi-millionaire candidate says, the people who are putting up the mosque are “jihadists,” the very group of people responsible for bringing down the World Trade Center towers.

According to Paladino, jihadists are the people who flew planes into the buildings and who want to cause incredible harm to all of us. He is not alone in his opposition—some of the relatives, but certainly not all, of those killed in the attacks are opposed, as is the Anti-Defamation League, a major Jewish organization that usually speaks out for religious tolerance and understanding. Paladino and people like Pat Buchanan want to know where the money to build “Cordoba House” is coming from. Clearly, there is a suggestion that it is coming from the very Muslims who want to kill us. But, as with almost everything, there is another side to all of this.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and a lot of New York clergy, including several prominent rabbis, believe that New York has to be receptive to all religions and that’s the very thing terrorists are against. They believe that constitutionally mandated religious tolerance is at stake. These good people reject the Paladino line that is clearly intended to scare the stuffing out of New Yorkers. The Bloomberg view of religious diversity and tolerance is precisely the kind of thing that New Yorkers, real New Yorkers, have always subscribed to.

Put another way, if New Yorkers don’t understand the intellectual issue here, no one will. We all know the maxim that if you make an exception and allow the government to pick on one religion, there will be no stopping the power of the government from picking on any religion. Surely, every religious and ethnic group—including Jews and Irish and Italians—should know this. Our parents and grandparents faced it. Every group was called names when they got here. We were all “the enemy.” Even Paladino, who is busy tossing this red meat to the lions, is forced to acknowledge that more than 99 percent of Muslims are good people. He says that the “jihadists” putting up the proposed mosque have named it “Cordoba House” because of the tension between Christians and Muslims in Cordoba.

Such towering intellects as former Republican Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin have sided with the anti-mosque crowd. No matter how much those who want to put up the mosque claim that they see this project as a way to bring people together; to leave no one out and to honor those who were killed in the 9/11 attacks, there will be fear-mongers ready to exploit the situation. They say that those flying the planes will be honored in the mosque and we hear that the mosque and others like it will be used to train future terrorists. There is no substantiation to this but rumors continue unabated. Too many people are ready to hear this.

There are more than a billion Muslims. Even the vitriolic, fear-mongering Paladino admits that most of these people are good. The more we discredit the religion, the more we alienate the entire faith, the more of these people we will drive away. Michael Bloomberg’s eyes welled up with tears the other day as he argued that those Americans killed on 9/11 should be remembered for dying in the name of religious tolerance and that the murderers who brought down the towers were an affront to that tolerance. Mike Bloomberg is obviously a hero for being a leader and a teacher, and those who understand that are also to be honored. Those who don’t understand the true meaning of the First Amendment are helping to undermine this country and what it has always stood for. That’s a mistake. n
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Alan S. Chartock is president and CEO of WAMC/Northeast Public Radio and an executive publisher at The Legislative Gazette.

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