Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Why You Gotta 'Mosque-at-Ground-Zero' Me, Man?

You know what it's like, right? You give a hitchhiker a ride and then he wants a cigarette, too. You go an extra mile and somebody wants another three past that. It seems like we all have had a situation when we've politely extended our hand only to have it bitten for our generosity.
Here's a great example of a 'mosque-at-ground-zero-me' moment. My co-worker is minding her business, getting product out, doing her job, and all of a sudden she hears Latino music playing nearby. What? Not only does she have to work with Mexicans here in New Jersey, but now she has to listen to their "musica Espanol" on top of that?
"This is America!" she sharply insists.
Yup. The whole darn hemisphere.
What is behind this xenophobic reaction to the proposed Islamic worship center? Is it just 9/11 and the soreness it engenders? Is it a real fear? Or is it what one could call "replacement bigotry"? This reaction seems to me to be severely overblown, so much so that I have come up with a few reasons for it:

1. November Elections: No doubt the peaceniks over at Fox are drooling over the chance to unseat the evil socialist/liberal cabal that has succesfully continued most of the more controversial programs of the previous conservative administration. This is one way to seperate the wheat from the chaff. Anyone who crosses that line is clearly batting for the wrong team!
2. Exhausted Homophobia: It's fair to say that US citizens are more or less tired of the gay marraige scare, at least as much as it could be a voting issue. What worked in 2004 with a Republican regime doesn't play as easily to  Democratic sympathizers. That leaves whatever victim you can grab onto and drag to your local polling place. In this case, it's the regurgitated Muslim menace.
3. Pre-Revolutionary Fervor: This may be the most serious possibility, in conjunction with doses of the above two. It is worth recognizing the extreme agitation Americans are experiencing today, especially those who are more right-leaning. Consider what they have endured; a Black president, Socialist healthcare, regulated financial institutions, and a failure on the part of our military to nuke Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea, OR Iraq. This is all VERY disappointing. But this is, of course, just the Glen Becks. The grassroots voters, the Tea Party people, are folks who have been raised in middle America on factories, pensions, farms, small towns, and that familiar "rugged individualism". And this should be admired, I think. Unfortunately, all of these things are evaporating, and the timing is just such that there are few good scapegoats. Those that can and should be blamed always seem to be out of the spotlight(because the pundits have no use for those without political capital). Confused, abandoned, and angry, they are led along by countless conservative mouthpieces who use hate and fear as tools to capture and harness all of that negative energy. They haphazardly glue together one frightening scenerio after another, along the lines of "If we let this happen, our RIGHTS, our FREEDOMS, will be GONE!" Those things are already gone, of course, for the few who have bothered to investigate. And it is not because our president is a different color or because the Islamic population edged up a fraction of a percent. It is because those in power we were told to trust proved untrustworthy--whether they be bankers, lawyers, CEO's, or congressmen. They were predominantly rich, white guys in any case, not brown-skinned Arabs. Christian, largely, and not Muslim.

It becomes a bit unnerving, I have to say, when it seems like the anti-Islamic pitch is getting to dog-whistle decibels. It means people are frightened enough and angry enough to react in ways they normally would not, such as the uptick in anti-Muslim attacks we saw after 9/11. With this supposed afront to good white people two blocks from the ex-World Trade Center, there is a virtual revenge motif about to play itself out.
What is most bewildering--and disturbing--is that these "mosque" foes don't seem to take into account the amount of damage the United States has already done to Islam and Islamic peoples. Over 3 MILLION Iraqis have died one way or another since March of 1991 as a result of US actions. To this day that nation is a toxic cesspool of depleted uranium, contaminated drinking water, deformed babies, and unbreathable air. In Afghanistan the toll of civilian dead continues to rise, the pilotless drone strikes taking 5, 8, 10, or 15 at a time, always "suspected" terrorists.
How many dead is enough dead? What level of bloodlust, what degree of utter humiliation and destruction is enough to satisfy the 3,000 victims of 19 radical hijackers?
That we can peruse these numbers and still have folks upset about a building anywhere near that fatal crime scene is a testament not to the "violence of Islam" but rather to the extreme prejudice and violence festering in the minds of a good many US citizens. What that means, as our economy seems to hobble down to both knees, is the potential for a very ugly brand of what we call "democracy"--perhaps the very brand that allowed a depressed and angry people to find a future in the election of an obscure Austrian artist in 1930's Germany and make him their god.
I hope we have not so easily come to that.

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