The response to developers and supporters with connections to the Muslim community in New York City, who wish to construct an Islamic cultural center that many now refer to as the "Ground Zero Mosque," has a toxicity that is repulsive and entirely objectionable. Unfortunately, Democrats have shown an utter lack of leadership and continue to fail to confront the right wing’s whipping up of hysterical patriotism that has translated into fear and hatred toward Muslims.
This isn’t the first time they have been spineless or weak on an issue (which is why they should consider changing their mascot from a donkey to an invertebrate). And, normally, one may want to suggest that they are actually in agreement with Republicans so their words in opposition to the GOP are to appease Democratic voters because in the end they know they won’t be able to build political support in Congress to stop Republicans from getting their way. However, with leaders like Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Howard Dean out in front on this, it’s quite clear that many Democrats empathize with the Muslim community but subscribe to an inversion of a key belief that American abolitionist, orator, writer, statesman Frederick Douglass had about change.
Douglass is remembered for saying, "If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightning."
Howard Dean, who clearly subscribes to inverting this Douglass’ quote, suggested that the "mosque" be moved:
"This center may be intended as a bridge or a healing gesture but it will not be perceived that way unless a dialogue with a real attempt to understand each other happens. That means the builders have to be willing to go beyond what is their right and be willing to talk about feelings whether the feelings are "justified" or not. No doubt the Republic will survive if this center is built on its current site or not. But I think this is a missed opportunity to try to have an open discussion about why this is a big deal, because it is a big deal to a lot of Americans who are not just right-wing politicians pushing the hate button again. I think those people need to be heard respectfully, whether they are right or whether they are wrong"
Dean’s position subverts the tradition of progress in America. Glenn Greenwald suggested to Dean that is position was similar to if African-Americans, who wanted to sit at the front of the bus, had been told to be sensitive because some people weren’t ready for equality so why not compromise and sit in the middle of the bus. Certainly, if people like Dean had handled the situation during the civil rights era, they would have sought to minimize the struggle being waged against white supremacists by those who were for equality. And how much change would have taken place? What important conversations would have been avoided? What injustices would not have been corrected?
But, this is typical Democratic Party gutlessness and not surprising; it’s how Democrats approached the debate on health care. They maintained Democratic politicians needed to compromise with politicians promoting fear of a government takeover of health care and the notion of "death panels." They allowed Republicans to obstruct their health care agenda and, ultimately, Republicans won because no public option or Medicare buy-in made it into the final legislation.
This is also the same frail and hapless ideology Democrats have adopted in the face of the conservative media echo chamber who have won victories and hung the scalps of Van Jones, Dawn Johnsen, and Shirley Sherrod on their "hunter’s wall" as a testament of their power over Democrats. They’ve also successfully imposed career barriers for Yosi Sergeant, Shepard Fairey, Patrick Gaspard, Cass Sunstein, John Holdren, and Mark Lloyd all people who were going to be part of the Obama Administration until the right wing began to make insane claims about what the aforementioned people stood for.
The Democrats have treated this as a problem. Rather than work to shift the anti-Islam consensus growing in this country, party leaders have negligently hoped the resistance to the "mosque" would go away (liberal op-ed writers have even promoted this hope).
Sen. Reid (D-NV) has stated, "The First Amendment protects freedom of religion" but "the mosque should be built some place else."
Jeff Greene, a Democrat running for the Senate in Florida, has claimed, "President Obama has this all wrong and I strongly oppose his support for building a mosque near Ground Zero especially since Islamic terrorists have bragged [about] and celebrated destroying the Twin Towers." He makes a distinction between the right to build the mosque and the need for common sense and respect for those who lost loved ones in 9/11.
Rep. Jason Altmire (D-PA) has said, "There should be some discussion about what is right morally, as well as just what you’re allowed to do"I think that the people who are supportive of putting the mosque there are missing the point of the impact and the devastation that [Sept. 11] had to us as a country."
A number of New York Democrats have chosen to not stand up to those opposed to the project, who advance the belief that Islam is an entirely objectionable religion (as some in the movement against the "mosque" would contend, a "cult" religion from "the pit of Hell").
Rep. Mike McMahon has said, "Muslim Americans deserve the right to practice their faith — as we all do. I believe a new location is the right compromise so that Muslim Americans can worship without eliciting feelings that push us away from our country’s basic tenet of religious acceptance while the families of 9/11 victims obtain the peace of mind they deserve."
Rep. Steve Israel has explained, "While they have a constitutional right to build the mosque, it would be better if they had demonstrated more sensitivity to the families of 9/11 victims. I urge them to do so before proceeding further."
Rep. Tim Bishop, has asserted, "As a New Yorker, I believe ground zero is sacred ground and should unite us. If the group seeking to build the mosque is sincere in its efforts to bring people together, I would urge them to seek an alternative location which is less divisive. I dispute the wisdom of building at that location, not the constitutional right."
And, Democratic Rep. Michael Arcuri (D-NY) actually forced Republican challenger Richard Hanna to flip-flop. Hanna had said, "It’s extremely easy to understand why people are upset by this, but this country was founded by people who were running away from religious persecution." But, Arcuri asserted, "The pain felt by many Americans from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks is still very real, and I can understand how the thought of building a mosque near Ground Zero could reopen those wounds. For the sake of the victims and their families, I think another location should be chosen."
Rep. Anthony Weiner’s (D-NY) lack of leadership has muddied the situation by writing a letter with an incoherent position saying he supported the "constitutional protection of religion from the overreach of government" but that he wanted sensitivity and concern for 9/11 families to be displayed.
One Democrat from New York, Jerrold Nadler, has been sharp in his statements in favor of the Islamic cultural center. Nadler said on CNN’s "State of the Union":
NADLER: [W]hat they are saying essentially is how can you put a mosque there when, after all, Muslims attacked us on 9/11, and this is ripping open a wound? Well, the fallacy is that Al Qaida attacked us. Islam did not attack us. Islam, like Christianity, like Judaism, like other religions, has many different people, some of whom regard other adherents of the religion as heretics of one sort or another. It is only insensitive if you regard Islam as the culprit, as opposed to Al Qaida as the culprit. We were not attacked by all Muslims. And there were Muslims who were killed there, there were Muslims who were killed there. There were Muslims who ran in as first responders to help. And we cannot take any position like that. [emphasis added]
Representative Alan Grayson (D-FL) has been out in front on this. So has House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, but she didn’t help. Her statement, which was a call to investigate the "mosque opposition," was red meat for the wolves, who likely heard Pelosi and immediately thought Pelosi should be investigated to see if she is funded by radical Islamic charities.
The two Muslim-Americans in Congress have voiced support. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) has urged Americans to not let those opposed to the Islamic cultural center "write the recruiting script" for al-Qaeda and other radical Islamic groups. And, Rep. Andre Carson (D-IN) supports the "mosque" and asked, "Are we a country of laws and principles? Or are we a question who will be moved by the winds of emotion each and every time there are issues that come up to divert us from the true meaning and intent of the Founding Fathers?"
Americans have heard Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, Rep. Peter King, Rudy Giuliani, Rick Lazio, Carl Paladino, Tim Pawlenty, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, William Kristol, and a plethora of members from the anti-Islam industry who have appeared on FOX News and CNN (all supporters of the group, Stop911Mosque.com, which has made this a controversy. Unfortunately, when Democrats fail to provide a distinct position and alternative to the agenda of hate being put forth by right wing leaders and scholars, they become complicit and partly responsible.
The seething and venomous mob that has taken over the discussion on what Muslims will do if a cultural center is built near Ground Zero will not accept compromise. They don’t deserve any sympathy or understanding. They will never sit down and listen to the reasons why Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and others want to build the center. They will only make more citizens in the world think America supports a war on Islam.
Democrats, and, more importantly, Americans must use this struggle as opportunity to make progress. It is a chance for truth and reconciliation with the Muslim community in America, something Americans desperately need so they can abandon the post-9/11 mentality that has shackled this nation in chains of fear and anxiety and produced phobic movements like the one we are witnessing in New York against a so-called "Ground Zero Mosque" and other Islamic places of worship in the country.
The following is from the "Stop the Islamization of America" Rally held against the "Ground Zero Mosque" on Sunday, August 22nd. It shows protesters mistaking an African-American man for a Muslim, a prime example of the hatred fueling this movement against Islam.