Robert Koehler: Large-Spirited America
“The holiest of all spots on earth is where an ancient hatred has become a present love.”
All along, Sept. 11 has cried out for words like this, for such a vision of global compassion. Instead, of course, we launched the 100 Years War, or whatever this goldmine for the war complex and the American empire now calls itself. And just as the war effort has started to flag (no pun intended), America is under attack again — from a proposed Muslim community center a few blocks from the site where the World Trade Center once stood.
Let’s bomb Iran!
The xenophobia may be mostly on the margins of American society, but it gets mainstream play. Consider the holy war that Fox News was egging on last week, as it reported on Christianist goofball pastor Terry Jones’ scheme to stage a Koran bonfire on Sept. 11 at his church in Gainesville, Fla. Maintaining a sort of ironic neutrality about Jones, Fox focused on the fervor of the international protests over the planned burning — my God, 100 Muslims picketed the U.S. embassy in Jakarta, “with some demonstrators threatening jihad.” In the skilled hands of the Fox news team, geopolitics is indistinguishable from pro wrestling.
The words at the top of the column are from A Course in Miracles. My friend Sukey Hughes emailed them to me a few days ago, in connection with the “ground zero mosque” controversy. She added: “I have been thinking that a high solution to the whole debate would be a multi-denominational, multi-cultural center to celebrate the oneness of humanity.”
My sense is that a huge percentage of Americans — and most of the rest of the world — would love such a monument as well, but it has no traction in Media World, which may or may not be serving an agenda larger than its own financial desperation. Patriotism in this world takes the shape of a large, gated community, huddled in fear of everything on the outside.
And now, as a number of writers have pointed out, there has been a paranoia shift over the past year or so, with the “enemy within” gaining increasing dominance in right-wing discourse: Muslims, illegal aliens, etc. Arizona has legalized racial profiling.
The sudden furor over the proposed Park51 community center in Lower Manhattan, after months in which nobody cared, fits neatly into this trend. As Deepa Kumar pointed out recently in theMonthly Review, a right-wing blogging campaign launched by Pamela Geller found play in papers such as the New York Post and, pretty soon, “Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin, among others, injected their vitriol into the mix.”
So far this is just politics as usual, with the know-nothing crowd shamelessly conjuring an enemy out of thin air. The racists and race baiters have always been with us. Half a century ago, Large-Spirited America found its voice and courage and began standing up to them, and the civil rights and other movements of extraordinary social change began transforming the country’s legal, cultural and political landscape. But that was then and this is now.
As Kumar notes, once the right-wing bandwagon of hate started to roll, “leading Democrats like Harry Reid and Howard Dean . . . jumped on” — and a positive asset to the community turned into the “ground zero mosque,” a deep offense to bigots and warmongers everywhere . . . I mean, to the victims of 9/11. And the wishy-washy Democrats strike again, betraying their electorate and playing their essential role in the national devolution.
Large-Spirited America no longer has a serious voice in Congress or the political establishment, and this is why we live in an increasingly fragmented country.
As the New York Times pointed out last week, in a story about Gainesville Koran-burner Jones, not only is anti-Islamic activity on the rise (a pipe bomb set off at a mosque in Jacksonville last May, an Islamic school south of Miami riddled with bullets), but also, “anti-Islamic rhetoric has begun to enter the mainstream through Republican political candidates.”
The article, by Damien Cave, does, to its credit, acknowledge the existence of a Large-Spirited America standing not simply in opposition to the Islamophobes cavorting in the spotlight, but standing for a great intangible wholeness. Cave wrote that neighbors of the Dove World Outreach Center, Jones’ church, “are already planning to protest with signs calling for unity.” And other churches in the area “intend to respond collectively on the weekend of Sept. 11 by ‘affirming the validity of all sacred books.’ . . . Some pastors even plan to read from the Koran in their services.”
Here is the America that refuses to rally around a common enemy or live in denial over our sins of empire. I’d like to see Ground Zero honor the Iraqi and Afghan dead as well as our own, and grieve for all civilians murdered in the name of ideology. Most of all, I’d like to see a plaque announcing humanity’s commitment that this will never happen again.