Tag Archive: Tolerance


They came first for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for me
and by that time no one was left to speak up.
—Pr. Martin Niemoller, (1892-1984)
German Anti-Nazi Theologian and Lutheran Pastor

It has been eighteen years since I traveled Europe as one of countless college students with a backpack strapped to my back. And like any other twenty-one-year-old in Germany, I visited  the Dachau concentration camp. I got up early with my roommate, got on a bus and saw what humanity could do if left to its hateful devices. It was raining, if I recall correctly, rather fitting for place. Didn’t bother with a guided tour. This was a journey I wanted to experience alone with my thoughts and my ugly brown umbrella. I walked past the site where barracks once lined the road. There are only cement blocks and trees there today as reminders.   I felt sick to my stomach as I walked through the crematorium, horrified that people were burned like stacks of firewood.

I spent a lot of time at the international memorial with its tangled iron, forged together to look like barb wire. It was only after I took a closer look did I realize that the barb wire was made from human forms. And then there was the simple phrase: Never Again written in Hebrew, French, English, German and Russian. The war was flaring in the Baltics at that time, and I prayed that we had learned from our mistakes and would not  repeat history.

I prayed for peace and tolerance.

And yet we don’t seem to learn from our mistakes. We’re still a world of intolerance, often in the  name of self-proclaimed political or religious superiority. Ethnic Muslims were still slaughtered in the Baltics in the 1990’s.  I can’t count how many were slaughtered in the genocide in Rwanda. What Stalin did to his own people, or Hitler to the Jews, Roma, and others is not a new concept. Purge those who are different while wrapping yourself in the flag and proudly smiling.

When one person hates, they can be signaled out as a bully. When that person hates with an audience they can go from shunned whack-job or hate-monger to a hero in a matter of moments. Remember how crazy that woman sounded during the 2008 when, while attending a John McCain town hall meeting, declared that Barack Obama was an Arab? (And by saying “Arab,” that as a buzzword to mean Muslim, which leads to the ridiculous syllogisms that equate all Muslims to terrorists.)   Sounded pretty insane right? Well don’t underestimate the power of the mob mentality. Nearly one in five adult Americans now believes that Obama is a Muslim. (And I am going on record saying, even if he was, WHO CARES? There is not a constitutional ban on non-christians holding public office in the United States. God help us that it remains that way!) Again it’s fear mongering. But apparently if you through enough of anything against the wall, it will stick.

And it’s not just fringe whackjobs that are trying to perpetuate fear. It’s very savvy individuals that know how to manipulate the mainstream media.  When Keith Ellison, Democratic Congressman from Minnesota was elected, Glenn Beck fanned the fire of fear by saying something quite obnoxious, “And I have to tell you, I have been nervous about this interview with you, because what I feel like saying is, “Sir, prove to me that you are not working with our enemies. And I know you’re not. I’m not accusing you of being an enemy, but that’s the way I feel, and I think a lot of Americans will feel that way.”

Translation: Others may not feel like I do, but I’m going to do my best to plant that seed of fear so that they they think like I do.

And then there is Beck asserting everyone’s First Amendment rights to religion, free speech and the right to assemble, but at the same time tries to propagate that any Islamic Center at the Park 51 site near–not at— Ground Zero in New York will hasten Sharia Law and the destruction of America as we know it. It’s just a nudge and a wink, but that seed is planted yet again:

Everybody is talking about Ground Zero and the mosque. Should it be there? Should it not be there? I believe, as a nation, we’re pretty clear: You can build any house of worship wherever you want to build.

But, shouldn’t we be asking a more important question? Who are the people behind this? Where are they getting the funding? What do they really believe?

According to our next guest (Frank Gaffney, the same anti-Islamic president of a lobbyist group that advocated that the US military take out the Al Jazeera news network–ed.), the imam behind the Ground Zero mosque, Imam Rauf, makes no bones about his goal to build a mosque near sacred ground and to bring Shariah to America.

But their definition of Sharia Law carries omnious overtones. Gaffney states: “Shariah is a political program that the authorities of Islam have long believed, a millennium or so, must be imposed over the entire world, to be ruled by a theocracy, a caliph and to impose Shariah as the rules.”

In other words, hide your babies and beadwork! The Evil Muslims are coming for your country!

Yet the opposition to mosques and the basic constitutional right to assemble is not something unique to the Park 51 location where the excuse of Hallowed Ground gets tossed around more frequently than a football. It’s happening all over the country, but it doesn’t get as much media play (or thankfully, the public media magnets such as Palin and Beck haven’t heard about them yet.) And I’m ashamed to say, it is happening in my own state. Time recently ran an article about Islamophobia. When a local physician, Dr. Mansoor Mirza, wanted to start a mosque in the tiny town of Oosburg, Wisconsin so that he and others could have a house of worship, he was met with nothing short of xenophobia and hostility:

But when the floor is opened to discussion, you hear things they would never say to you even in the privacy of an examination room. One after another, they pour scorn and hostility on your proposal, and most of the objections have nothing to do with zoning regulations. It’s about your faith. Islam is a religion of hate, they say. Muslims are out to wipe out Christianity. There are 20 jihadi training camps hidden across rural America, busy even now producing the next wave of terrorists. Muslims murder their children. Christian kids have enough problems with drugs, alcohol and pornography and should not have to worry about Islam too. “I don’t want it in my backyard,” says one. Another says, “I just think it’s not America.”

Not American. As in, We Don’t Want YOUR Kind Here. By the way, Dr. Mirza was even asked if there would be any weapons or military training at the proposed mosque. And the local clergy aren’t immune to fanning the fire. In fact, the local clergy started an effort to ban the mosque before it could even be built!  Rev. Wayne DeVrou, pastor of the First Reformed Church of Ootburg told Time, “The political objective of Islam is to dominate the world with its teachings … and to have domination of all other religions militarily,”

Someone once told me, it is very hard to publicly disagree with your doctor or pastor. When the local clergy gang up to perpetuate stereotypes and fear, is it any surprise that Islamophobia is gaining momentum on a national level?

This mindset terrifies me. And I don’t just mean it gives me a big case of the willies. I worry we are on a slippery slope, and if we don’t do something to nip this fear mongering and hatred in the bud, the atrocities of the 1940’s Germany will come back to haunt us.  The anti-Semitic pogroms of the 1930’s were fueled by hatred and fear on the local level. And look what that got us? Euphemisms such as The Final Solution to the Jewish Problem. The pogroms started with propaganda. It didn’t just magicly appear at the beginning of World War II.  It appeared long before that. And some of the words from the  1934 Deutscher National-Katechismus (German National Catechism) echo nearly word for word what we are hearing about Muslims in America today:

The goal of the Jew is to make himself the ruler of humanity. Wherever he comes, he destroys works of culture. He is not a creative spirit, rather a destructive spirit.

Sounds a lot like what the anti-Muslim pundits are screaming every day if you ask me. But it doesn’t stop there, the Nazi’s were very good at coming up with counterarguments like, “Religion is a private matter” or “There are decent Jews” or even, “Everything in the human race is equal.”  Again, these are arguments rightfully used today when the sane try to counter these ridiculous and hateful assertions. Kurt Hillmar Eitzen’s Zehn Knüppel wider die Judenknechte outlined the propaganda with its own rules of logic (unfortunately it was the type of logic that insane trolls speak) to dehumanize the Jews.

Funny how we forget how propaganda successfully manipulates the waiting mob. It can whip the mob into a frenzy and spark unspeakable violence. All it needs is a nudge in the right direction. September 11 means quite a lot to many. It is a day to mourn those who passed in the terrorist attacks. It’s a day to support the survivors, both from the actual sites and every one of us world-wide who watched the terror unfold. Shortly after the event, the United States Congress  darated a bill to memorialize September 11, but President George W. Bush reinvented Patriot Day to reclaim the day from those who wanted to main and destroy us, rebranding it as a day of Nationalism and pride. It’s now a public holiday along side Memorial Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc. Not sure if mail service is supsended that day.

Coincidentally, September 11, 2010 also marks the end of the Muslim month of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Muslim year marked by, among others,  fasting, prayer and reflection.

I, like others worry,  how these two entities will collide. And I’m not talking about attacks on America or others. I’m talking about how the mob will react to to Muslims.

There is already hype for an International Burn a Quran Day on September 11. And this “celebration” (Picture me making very sarcastic air quotes.) is the brainchild of a so-called Christian preacher Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainsville, Florida. It has a Facebook page that features photoshopped pictures of Iran and Mecca being destroyed by bombs.

What’s not to stop people from going one step further? All it takes is a small nidus for an infection to take hold. For Islamaphobes, September 11 is a rallying point. There is no question about it. Some will be clutching a cross and wrapping themselves in an American flag as the burn the Quran. What’s to stop anonymous cowards who already burned construction equipment at a building site for a future mosque in Tennessee from escalating the violence on a larger, more destructive scale?

After all, it’s not the first time in humanity’s long history that houses of worship have been burned to the ground in the name of extreme nationalism. It happened quickly, and countryBerlin Synogogue after Kristallnacht-wide on the night of November 9, 1938 in Germany. That night at least 91 Jews died, 25,000-30,000 more were arrested, 267 synogogues were destroyed in fires and thousands of Jewish homes and businesses were ransacked and destroyed. Some say it was this event that took Germany from petty pogroms to a full-blown steamroller of the Shoah that extinguished the lives of millions all in the name of nationalism and extreme religious/cultural intolerance.

Are we creating the perfect storm for the Islamic version of an American Kristallnacht either through active hatred and violence, or worse yet our own apathy? How much graffiti is enough? How many acts of arson will occur before “decent” Americans finally say No More, Never Again? When do we realize that we aren’t the puppets of dressed up pundits and finally put our foot down?

When will we learn from our own mistakes. Neimoller’s words still ring true today. I just hope people are still willing to listen to him.

“Those who begin by burning books will end by burning people.”
—Heinrich Heine, German Jewish Poet

For more about this, I highly recommend Rabbi Arthur Waskow’s article Qur’an Burning: The 5 Steps that Brought Us to this Point and Why Religious Communities Must Resist.

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Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

It was one of the first bits of legalese that was ever crammed into my brain during some civics class in junior high. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution is something people love to hold dearly, defend loudly (especially when they’ve recently been caught red-handed after saying or doing something in an incredibly and often publicly heinous manner.)  It is a right guaranteed by law that no one can take away.

But so many political factions want to claim the high ground when it comes the First Amendment, that for whatever reason they are more American than others, more “patriotic” than others and their rights matter more than others.

The First Amendment did not have a majority rule clause to it where one groups needs and rights supersede the rights of those, well, who are carbon copy white Christian duplicates of them.

Enter the New York Ground Zero debate. We don’t need to rehash September 11, 2001. Unless you have been living under a very large rock, I think most of the world knows what happens. It was my morning off. I got a phone call from one of my best friends telling me to turn on the TV.  I mowed the lawn later that day, and yes, did notice that the sky was completely devoid of jet vapor trails. It’s why I had a full blown panic attack five weeks later when I was trying to get on a plane. It’s why the US is currently at war.

And now an Imam wants to build an Islamic Center a few blocks away from Ground Zero and we have quite the uproar. Those groups who hold the First Amendment close to the proverbial breast are up in arms complete with some very hyperbolic arguments.

Of course there’s the famous word salad Twitter post from Sarah Palin, Ground Zero Mosque supporters: doesn’t it stab you in the heart, as it does ours throughout the heartland? Peaceful Muslims, pls refudiate. (Original post has been deleted because someone discovered that refudiate is not a verb apparently.)  Actually, if you read Palin’s Twitter account it is filled with a lot of hyperbole when it comes to the planned Islamic Center.

But the criticism isn’t something merely coming from the political right. Sen. Harry Reid has jumped on the bandwagon of the First Amendment applies to everyone, except when we don’t want it to apply to everyone. His spokesman Jim Manley has said, The First Amendment protects freedom of religion. Senator Reid respects that but thinks that the mosque should be built someplace else.

Funny how those making the biggest stink about this are pandering for your vote in November.

The arguments seem to be a variation on a theme: it’s insensitive, it’s a slap in the face to the victims and survivors, it’s an insult to America, blah blah blah. But people realize that it wasn’t just Christians that perished in this catastrophe. Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists and atheists all died that day.

Take a look at the neighborhood around the World Trade Center site and St. Paul Chapel is a block away. A few blocks south is near World Trade Center 4 is St. Paul’s sister church Trinity Wall Street. Do the 1 million New York Muslims feel threatened by these Episcopal worship centers? Or what about St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church which is literally kitty corner to Ground Zero?

Why can’t there be a mosque or Islamic community center in that area? Every Muslim is not a follower of Osama bin Laden nor do they all agree with his policies of fear and violence.  England did not ban Roman Catholic churches near the numerous sites that the Irish Republican Army has bombed in London.  And I don’t think there has a ban on worship centers in the wake of the subway bombings.

Like him or hate him, even President Obama has weighed in. And it surprises me (actually, no it doesn’t surprise me. People’s unabashed hatred and intolerance has ceased to surprise me. Disappoint me, yes.  But surprise me? Unfortunately, not any more.) that people are willing to ignore that First Amendment that they cherish so dearly and bash him for defending it. For the record, the president didn’t say anything scandalous. He said the following:

As a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country. That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable.

But opponents say it is insensitive or offensive to be that close to hallowed ground. But what is too close? Two blocks? Ten? A half of a mile? The other side of Central Park? Brooklyn? There are 1 million Muslims in New York City. Are they all a slap in the face to the Offended? Where are they allowed to peacefully worship in pray? In hiding as second class citizens? In a prapproved Muslim ghetto?

It’s a pity humanity doesn’t learn from the past. Not to be completely hyperbolic, but when politicians start seeking out religious groups different from their own for scapegoating, persecution and discrimination, it leads to such blights on humanity that go by such dubious euphemisms as The Final Solution.

There are no caveats to Freedom of Religion. We are not a theocracy where one faction gets to decide where and how we worship. We are not a theocracy. There is no state-sanctioned religion that dictates these rules.

If people want get frothed up with moral indignation then why don’t they crack down on the drug dealing or gang activity in neighborhoods around Ground Zero. Why don’t they advocate for women who are victims of domestic violence or help the children who are abused or neglected in the surrounding neighborhoods. Crack down on sex crimes and human trafficking in the neighborhood.

But don’t crack down on people’s rights to faith however they may chose to worship. It creates a slippery slope where those in power can limit how any of us gather to worship. Do you want to be on the receiving end of such an edict?

Yeah, I didn’t think so.

Photo: the Blue Mosque in Istanbul.  Haven’t been there but the Mom and Dad have. According to them, it is as beautiful as it looks in print. The other one is a bumper sticker.