Monday, August 23, 2010


Not long ago I visited Manzanar – you know, the internment camp in the Owens Valley where Japanese Americans - loyal Americans, fellow Californians - were incarcerated for "the duration." It was the annual reunion of surviving internees, whose only "crime" had been that their skin was yellow and that others who looked like them had attacked our shared country at Pearl Harbor.
Wandering the dusty camp, I was surprised that so many of my fellow visitors were young Muslims, many in hijabs. I asked a Japanese American friend what that was about.  She told me how, on September 11, 2001, Japanese Americans, especially in Los Angeles, had flocked to local mosques to stand in solidarity with their Muslim neighbors in their hour of vulnerability.
And from that spontaneous gesture there sprouted several groups of high school-age Japanese and Muslim American youngsters who meet regularly to share their cultures and experiences, to learn from each other, and to seek ways to promote tolerance.
In this, our summer of discontent, Muslim Americans – and tolerance - are again at risk, as the fires of racial and religious enmity are enflamed by those on the right who would invoke hatred and division for short-term electoral gain.  It is an unworthy and dangerous game, this morphing of anti-immigrant xenophobia, of racist appeals to white fears, and, now, of anti-Muslim hysteria.
The story-line of this anti-Muslim hysteria was artificially concocted out of whole cloth by one of the most extreme voices in the blogosphere – Pam Geller of Rupert Murdoch's Newsmax and New York Post who launched her "Monster Mosque" campaign in May and is now organizing rallies against what she's labeled the "Ground Zero Mosque."  Her attempt to link all Muslims with the terrorists who attacked us on September 11 - killing nearly three thousand Americans, including dozens of Muslim Americans - and her cruel and cynical manipulation of the emotions of those whose loved ones died that day were quickly injected into the national bloodstream by politicians like Newt Gingrich and the all-too-quick-to-tweet Sarah Palin.  And, since July, these divisive calumnies have been beaten like a tin drum by Murdoch's Fox News.
It's no wonder Speaker Pelosi raised questions about the money woven through this "journalistic" thread.  Might the FCC consider whether some are using the public airwaves to propagandize rather than inform?  Are they not our airwaves?  Are there not still licensing requirements?  And what about the media itself?  Who's asking the tough questions, digging out the truth?  To be sure, CNN has done a decent job of late, separating the orchestrated fantasies of a "Monster Mosque" from the facts of the Cordoba Center, putting Geller on the air, and asking her the tough questions.    
But these issues of journalistic ethics and political decency pale before the greater task facing us as the hateful hysteria spreads across the land…as mosques are opposed in places like Tennessee, as Florida churches organize Qur'an burnings, as people around the country call for banning hijabs and minarets…all in a time when those who would gut the First and Fourteenth amendments call for "Second Amendment solutions" to our problems.
It is a very dangerous time.  It is a time for all Americans – Christians, Jews, those of other religions, and of none – to stand beside the most vulnerable among us, as Angeleno Japanese Americans did on September 11, and as Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, and Manhattan JCC Executive Director Joy Levitt are doing today.
It is time to recall those words of a German pastor, Martin Niemoeller – to paraphrase, first they came for the socialists, then the Jews….I didn't speak…and when they came for me. there was no one left to speak.
In the spirit of those words, I call especially on my fellow Christians to speak.  The silence is deafening.  For God's sake, speak…for those who pray to God in perhaps a different voice, but who pray to the same one God.
And, please, no more next-morning backtracking, no more "buts," no more "I support your right to worship, but not your right to exercise it…not there, not now."  No more ifs, and, or buts.  "But" is a big word, but it's not in the First Amendment! 

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