Thursday, August 19, 2010

Another Democratic Politician Punks Out

Image credit: National Park Service

Quick, don't look down at the paragraphs below this quote. Tell me who you think said this yesterday:

"I've gotta believe there has to be a compromise here. This isn't about the right of Muslims to have a worship center, or Jews or Christians or anybody else to have a place to worship, or any place around Ground Zero. This is something we ought to be able to work out with people of good faith. And we have to understand that it is a real affront to people who've lost their lives -- including Muslims. That site doesn't belong to any particular religion, it belongs to all Americans and all faiths. So I think a good, reasonable compromise could be worked out, without violating the principle that people ought to be able to worship as they see fit."

Transcript by Talking Points Memo

So, who was this guy? Was it:

  1. Barack Obama

  2. Newt Gingrich

  3. Harry Reid

  4. Howard Dean

This time, the answer that looks like the easy one you can eliminate right away is, in fact, the correct one.

Howard Dean said this.

Apparently, Dr. Dean thinks that a symbol of overcoming the sort of religious bigotry that was at the heart of the World Trade Center attacks would be a whole lot more poignant if it were relocated to New Jersey.

Are there any Democratic politicians left in DC who aren't afraid to use their minds?

Let me try to make clear for Dr. Dean, and anyone else who thinks this is something other than another example of Democrats pandering to bigots whom they should have learned to ignore years ago, why this is quite possibly the most egregiously stupid thing to come out of his mouth since he graduated from college.

First of all, there are plenty of Muslims who lost someone in the WTC pile, like the family of this young man:

Imagine being the family of Salman Hamdani. The 23-year-old New York City police cadet was a part-time ambulance driver, incoming medical student, and devout Muslim. When he disappeared on September 11, law enforcement officials came to his family, seeking him for questioning in relation to the terrorist attacks. They allegedly believed he was somehow involved. His whereabouts were undetermined for over six months, until his remains were finally identified. He was found near the North Tower, with his EMT medical bag beside him, presumably doing everything he could to help those in need. His family could finally rest, knowing that he died the hero they always knew him to be.

Muslim Victims of September 11th AttackMuslim Victims of September 11th Attack

In a nutshell, this story explains what this is really about - suspicion and ostracism of people who are different, both in their ethnic background and religious background. Salman Hamdani was doing something heroic - seeing if he could help out in a dire situation. He died trying to help his fellow New Yorkers in that disaster, but the first act of his government was to suspect him of being a terrorist, because he was from the Muslim world (he was born there, but his family moved here when he was one year old, according to Wikipedia), and because he was a Muslim. As one of Hamdani's friends wrote a year and a half later:

Salman illustrates for me the best about humans, but his story also illustrates the worst about us: the hostility, the suspicion that surrounded him because his name, nationality and faith were different. Today, American society has caved in under the shock of the World Trade Center attacks, while powerful opportunists have used our fear as a jumping off point for their pre-existing agenda to wage war and cancel civil liberty.

In Memory of Salman Hamdani

Those opportunists haven't gone away, and the so-called leaders who should be have learned to resist by now are still caving.

In the long history of immigrants coming to America, this has been a common theme. The Irish weren't accepted until the end of the 19th Century. Germans were discriminated against, sometimes violently, during World War I. One of the particularly ironic things about this is that there was a time when many Americans thought going to war on the side of Germany was better than siding with England, our old enemy. The Chinese and Japanese who lived in America until the latter part of the 20th Century have even worse tales to tell.

There's also no small irony in this: there are many synagogues within a few miles of the WTC. Israel's perpetual war with its neighbors was one of the underlying causes of the 9/11 attacks, as veteran foreign correspondent Peter Bergen wrote:

By Bin Laden’s own account, this is why al Qaeda is attacking America. His critique has never been cultural; he never mentions Madonna, Hollywood, homosexuality or drugs in his diatribes. US support for Israel, especially the support it gave to Israel’s invasion of southern Lebanon in 1982, first triggered Bin Laden’s anti-Americanism, which during the 1980s took the form of urging a boycott of US goods. He was later outraged by the “defiling” export of 500,000 US troops to Saudi Arabia after Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

What Were The Causes Of 9/11?

Do you suppose there are WTC survivors who blame the Jews for the attacks? They are no less right than survivors who blame Muslims, if, indeed, there are any of either. Should we not honor their wishes, too? A member of my extended family was working not far from the WTC that day, and all religious institutions tend to remind me of the fanaticism that was behind the attack. If I were a New Yorker, wouldn't my feelings count?

Trying to not offend anyone is an impossible task. Sisyphus had an easy job, comparatively speaking. Sometimes, even when there are a lot of people who are angry about something, it's best to ignore them. Why are our "leaders" not doing that here? There are times when people just have to get over things, and this is one of those times.

Besides, why let terrorists think they've won? As a commenter to an article on Decrepit Old Fool wrote:

Let’s assume for the purpose of discussion that the proposed building would in fact be a mosque (it won’t be), and that it actually would be within sight of Ground Zero (it won’t be). Let’s further assume that rather than an antiterrorist Imam who plans to include a 9/11 memorial within the building, the prospective builder of the facility were a radical Wahabbi cleric from Yemen. Despite all that, it should still be allowed.

As many of my conservative friends have pointed out to me on numerous occasions, freedom requires sacrifice, and I totally agree. Sometimes that sacrifice is of a physical nature; sometimes it is emotional. There’s no question that the presence of such a structure will be, however irrationally, a source of pain for many 9/11 victims. But one of our fundamental freedoms, considered so vital by the founders that it was the first one named in the Bill of Rights, is freedom of religion. If preserving that freedom results in pain, that is simply part of its price.

Kathleen Parker, who is generally known as a conservative, summed it up very well in her newspaper column yesterday by writing, “The mosque should be built precisely because we don’t like the idea very much.” That’s the counterintuitive nature of a free country. As pornographer Larry Flynt once said, “If somebody like me can have freedom of speech, then we can be damn sure everybody does.”

I believe this building will send an important message to al-Qaeda, to the effect that whatever they do, we will continue to be a free country and proud of it.

Dismayed To Incoherence: Comment #23

You'd think that in the land of the free and the home of the brave, people would be proud to put a Muslim institution so close to the WTC, to tell those terrorists in the strongest terms possible You don't matter. We will not be afraid. Sadly, that's not where we live. At least, it isn't if you believe what our leaders seem to expect of us.

Besides, as The Daily Show mentioned the other night, how far away would this community center have to be for it to be OK? It's already two blocks away. You can't see the thing from the WTC unless you're at least ten floors up, I would imagine. At Ground Zero ground level, it might as well be in Brooklyn.

This isn't the first time that a politician has said "Can't we all just get along by having you people go elsewhere?", but usually they're the sort of spineless cretins we tend to think of when we conjure up a negative image of politicians. Howard Dean should know better, and in contrast to what his clarification of this statement says, he should be deeply ashamed.

That Dean isn't ashamed tells you a whole lot about why progressives aren't listened to by any "serious" people in politics. If you listen to our "leaders", we don't have the courage of our own convictions.


lawguy said...

I think you kind of touch on what I've been thinking there. A why don't you and him compromise. First, you give up what you want and then you can see if the other guy will give you something in return, or not.

Although now that I think about the way the democrats have acted here for the last year and a half, perhaps that is what they think compromise means.

Cujo359 said...

I suppose you could view it as a part of that larger class of behavior, lawguy. My own view was that this is a particular way politicians have washed their hands of their obligation to look out for the minority view. Just let the mob run those "troublemakers" out of town, and the problem's taken care of.

Still, the Democrats do have a penchant for the sort of behavior you're referring to lately. You could see it in any one of a number of legislative initiatives. They give the Republicans most of what they want, and then seem to expect something in return, like cloture. Partly, I think that was for their own convenience - they are after the same political money that Republicans are. The GOP was just the excuse. But there have been times when that explanation hasn't been a particularly cogent one, as with the stimulus bill.

They really do look like people who don't stand for anything.