in the midst of an ideological war with fundamentalist Islamic forces where symbols are
more valuable than military victories. The attack on the USS Cole, the destruction of the
World Trade Center, and hitting the Pentagon didn't defeat this country. They didn't lead
to any change in government or recognition of those who staged the acts. The practical value
was nil. The symbolic value was priceless. Our enemies know this is a symbolic war where
image trumps reality.
Imagine you are watching al Jezeera or another Arab language news network or reading
the foreign press or listening to a Friday sermon, and you see or hear about angry Americans
stopping the building of an Islamic center in New York. You are told anti-mosque protests
are occurring all over the United States. You read about public denunciations of Islam as a
religion of violence. Prominent Americans like Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, and Rep. John
Boehner are all demanding the center be built somewhere else, if at all. The imam and his
supporters are called "insensitive"and "tone deaf". They are accused by some of attempting
to rub our noses in the rubble of ground zero and delight in our anger and discomfort.
Meanwhile, American forces have invaded Kuwait, Iraq, and Afghanistan; and American
troops were stationed in Saudi Arabia, the home of Mecca and Medina. America props up
dictators in Egypt, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia; and Jordan is the number one ally of Israel as
it struggles with the Palestinians. Americans have killed tens of thousands of Iraqis and
Afghans; and currently maintain 50,000 troops in Iraq and over 200,000 in Afghanistan.
Add to all these images this condemnation of an Islamic center built near the World Trade
Center site and the symbol war for the hearts and minds of the Arab world goes badly at best.
We are letting American fundamentalists take center stage in defining America for the world.
America is a land of religious freedom. The concept is enshrined in the first amendment.
Yet, these American fundamentalists, these American regressives, project the exact opposite
image to the world. They wear their intolerance like a badge of honor. Their nativistic appeal
contradicts the best parts of the American experiment. For them, this is a Christian nation
and no others need apply. They want Christian prayers in school, at football games, and at
the opening sessions of Congress. They attack a Muslim member of Congress for wanting a
copy of the Koran with him when he takes his oath of office. They rail against the incoming
tide of immigrants and use their religion to justify prejudice against gays wishing to partake
in the American dream. They view September 11th through this fundamentalist prism which
turns all of this into a religious war rather than a political one. They ignore the Muslims who
died that day. Worse, they dismiss these deaths as meaningless. Ironically, they play right
into the narrative that bin Laden and his gang have been preaching in madrassas for the last
Americans need to embrace this Islamic center. There should be fundraisers sponsored
by Catholics, Protestants, and Jews. Can you picture the power of images of a fundraiser at
the Jewish Community Center in New York for a mosque? This project should bring out every
charitable impulse this nation has to offer. It should be beautiful and majestic; and it should
be a place where all faiths can come together to talk and share. There should be a constant
stream of pictures of children's programs and great meals, of scholars from various faiths and
disciplines meeting, and of Americans from all walks of life being welcomed. If we are who we
say we are and if we do not want American fundamentalists to hijack the best parts of this
country, this is a perfect opportunity to show a doubting Arab/Muslim world that we are who
we say we are.
Fundamentalism is the real enemy in this world. Fundamentalism is by definition
intolerant, closed to outsiders, anti-democratic, anti-pluralism, anti-intellectual, and
un-American. Whether it's Franklin Graham or Osama bin Laden, America stands in direct
opposition to fundamentalism. It's time to put up or shut up.
In the battle of symbols, the fundamentalists are winning; which means the majority of us
are losing. It is time to change the game. Supporting and helping to build a beautiful, popular,
and energetic Islamic center in New York would be a good start. What do you think?
I welcome your comments and rebuttals. Please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org