For the sake of resting my soul, while I was on vacation with my wife and boys, I was sure not to watch any cable news. We chose beaching, biking, reading, baseball, clamming, crabbing, (and watching the Little League World Series Tournament) instead. So, this Sunday morning was a jarring return to the media realities of the religious and political wars. I got home from vacation late on Friday night and was soon asked to join in the fracas around the planned Cordoba House two blocks from Ground Zero. In less than 36 hours after getting back to Washington, I was walking into the Fox News studio on Sunday morning. Welcome home.
They asked about a letter that I had just signed supporting religious freedom for Muslims. I said we should ask three simple questions:
- Should we as Americans be able to worship and pray when and where we choose? Haven't we fought for that?
- Are American Muslims ... Americans?
- And, for those of us who are Christians (and I am an Evangelical Christian), are we obeying the commands of Jesus to love our neighbors? Aren't Muslims our neighbors? So what might Jesus say to this controversy?
There was a brief silence from the Fox and Friends anchors. OK, they said, but what about "sensitivity" to the families that lost loved ones in 9/11? Well, I said, 59 Muslims also died on 9/11 because of a vile, cowardly, and criminal attack by al Qaeda. Does it honor them, or their families, by somehow connecting all American Muslims to that horrible attack?
Well, thank you for joining us today Reverend, they said. Thank you, I said, but how we handle this is very important--to what it means to be Americans or what it means to be Christians.
I was ready to talk about my friends Imam Feisal Rauf and his wife, Daisy Khan, who are among the leaders of the vision to build a new community center committed to peace, interfaith dialogue, reconciliation, and bridge-building. I know them both and can testify to their long record on denouncing terrorism in the name of their religion and their consistent work for peace. Until very recently, Daisy says her main concern about the new interfaith center was whether there would be enough stroller space. Daisy called me Sunday to describe how their lives have been turned upside down. If Ground Zero is the "gaping wound" my Fox and Friends anchors described, what could be more helpful than a religious center dedicated to healing?
That morning, as I watched continued coverage, I was disappointed to hear the low level that discourse has dropped to. The politicians who spoke to it sounded more like the people leaving nasty and false comments on YouTube videos than anyone deserving of public office. Well, it is the election season again.
This guilt-by-association "sensitivity" argument is very dangerous stuff. Millions of American Muslims are not responsible for the heinous crime of 9/11. And an imam's desire to heal and build bridges should be a welcome thing. Exactly how far away from what places should Muslims be able to pray in America? Is there a measurement requirement that is emerging from all the other places in the country now where mosques are also being opposed?
Fundamentalism doesn't only exist in Islam. The things someone like Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell have said certainly are an embarrassment to other Christians -- remember Robertson's assertion that 9/11 was the judgment of God on America because of liberalism and feminism. So how about preventing fundamentalist churches that like Robertson from worshiping within 3 blocks of Ground Zero because of "sensitivity"?
How we handle this one will affect our future as a nation. Do we believe in our principles or not? Do we believe Muslims are also Americans or not? Are we an inclusive and pluralistic nation, or not?
Jim Wallis is the author of Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street -- A Moral Compass for the New Economy, and CEO of Sojourners. He blogs at www.godspolitics.com.