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Prejudice at the Pivot Point

We have, thankfully, passed 9/11 without a major catastrophe . . . but we came close.  In the weeks preceding, the furor over the proposed Islamic community center near the site of the World Trade Center was compounded by the extraordinary news coverage given the Florida man and his publicity-powered bonfire.  Andy Warhol said, “In the future everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes.”  Thanks to the pernicious pervasiveness of the internet and cable news that time frame has been considerably extended.  In the case of these two recent events, I think fear is the root cause of near-hysteria of some.

Of all emotions, fear is one of the most potent of fuels; and sometimes appropriately so.  In conflict, fear can motivate one to survive but even that can be double-edged:  One can choose to fight, as the military medals often say, in disregard for personal safety, or one can run.  Either choice can be laudatory or cowardly, depending on the context.

Since that horrific day nine years ago we all live with a new idea of terror, which is fear run amuck.  When the airliner on which I am a passenger circles for an hour over LaGuardia (with no explanation) I find myself looking at my fellow travelers with special attention to those who don’t look like me.  It must be more than airspace congestion, I think to myself, particularly when the flight attendant screams at someone who inappropriately leaves his seat  Once safely on the ground, I realize that I was being irrational . . . but it will happen again when, in the middle of the ocean on a floating luxury hotel, I think what an indefensible target this ship could be.

I doubt that I am alone in these thoughts, but behind my paranoia are people who are not like me . . . and that’s probably a terrifically small number . . . the true radicals, whatever their cause may be.  I don’t suppose there is anything psychically unsound about my reaction, but it does feed the fire of my prejudice.

Had I lost my Beloved on that pristine September day my life would have forever been changed. My sense of personal insecurity might be even higher than it is and, certainly, I could never walk through lower Manhattan without the ache of her absence being intensified.  I would not presume to say what the true survivors must feel so my reaction may be quite different from theirs, but I hope I would not place the blame on an entire religion, but rather let it lie where it belongs.

I do believe those planes were flown by people who in no way represent Islam as the Qu’ran expresses it.  To think otherwise would be to say the Crusades and the Inquisitions, orchestrated by Christians against Muslims and Jews, represent the teachings of the Bible.

And yet, it is of such broad-brushed thinking that prejudice is born.  In the case of man (as they would say in Harry Potter) whose name shall not be spoken, the media and the internet share much of the blame for the uproar he caused.  Here is a person who marches to a god that speaks to him alone.  Such lunacy ought to be recognized for what it is, but ignored when it poses no threat to anyone.  By giving him an international stage to spew his spittle, everyone (including him) is done a disservice.

If one feels the Islamic Community Center is too close to the replacement for the WTC then, as Mayor Bloomberg has wisely asked, how far away should it be?  Is Murfeesboro, TN, Sheboyan, WS, or some town in California we never heard of, too close?  Obviously yes, in the minds of people who live in fear of those whose beliefs are different.

Fear can do another thing:  It can exaggerate danger.  There are those who suggest that the community center will become a training ground for jihadists. We should continue to be vigilant, but not at the expense of the freedom of others.

Sheik Abdul Rauf, leader of the mosque proposing to build the center, is a Sufi.  He has a decades-long record of peaceful reconciliation between Muslims, Christians, and Jews.  If ever there were a time to show that we believe in the first amendment, this is it.  To allow prejudice to pivot America away from that is to disclaim everything we say we stand for in the Bill of Rights.

We are all out here together on this molecule of the Universe and we must not let prejudice determine our path.

By Hayden Hollingsworth
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