Debates, Distractions and Religious Freedom

I sometimes find Glenn Greenwald to be a bit much. I know that makes me a blasphemer in the progressive blogosphere, but here I stand and I can do no more. That being said, his post about the furor over the Park51 Islamic Center in Manhattan made me think about the current “debate” over the undebateable (Private Property + Freedom of Religion = Essential Core of American Values) differently.

If you chose to narrowly define the topic of the controversy as nothing more than the Manhattan address of Park 51, then obviously it pales in importance to the unemployment crisis, our ongoing wars, and countless other political issues.

But that’s an artificially narrow and misguided way of understanding what this dispute is about.  The intense animosity toward Muslims driving this campaign extends far beyond Ground Zero, and manifests in all sorts of significant and dangerous ways. – Glenn Greenwald

All too often, pro-Christian protests are not so much pro-Christian as against other faiths, or even against other threads of Christianity, let alone faiths that do not accept the divinity of Christ.

Which brings us to the relevance of the Park51 protests to Loudoun County: the revisiting of Courthouse displays that will take place before the Board of Supervisors in September. If you believe that the crazy that is going on in Lower Manhattan couldn’t happen here, rest assured that the irrational vitriol so prevalent there will be appearing shortly before our elected officials in the form of a re-energized false controversy over Christmas displays.  It is important to remember that we all agree that freedom of speech is a correct basis for determining what should and should not be permitted on public, courthouse grounds. It’s also important to remember that this is a manufactured controversy meant to allow the empowered majority (white, Christian males) to play the part of the victim even while persecuting real minorities. Thus, back to Greenwald:

To belittle this issue as though it’s the equivalent of the media’s August fixation on shark attacks or Chandra Levy — or, worse, to want to ignore it because it’s harmful to the Democrats’ chances in November — is profoundly irresponsible.  The Park51 conflict is driven by, and reflective of, a pervasive animosity toward a religious minority — one that has serious implications for how we conduct ourselves both domestically and internationally.

If Park51 ends up moving or if opponents otherwise succeed in defeating it, it will seriously bolster and validate  the ugly premises at the heart of this campaign:  that Muslims generally are responsible for 9/11, Terrorism justifies and even compels our restricting the equals rights and access of Americans Muslims, and more broadly, the animosity and suspicions towards Muslims generally are justified, or at least deserving of respect.  As Aziz Poonawalla put it:  “if the project does fail, then I think that the message that will be sent is that bigotry and fear of Muslims is not just permitted, it is effective.” – Glenn Greenwald

And that is why it is critical to watch the activities around the September hearings on Courthouse displays so closely. The forces of intolerance in our local society (not just our nation, but here in Loudoun) want to know how far they can push the envelope. They want to legitimize bombastic bigotry as an acceptable form of civic discourse. It is important for the voices of reason and compassion among neighbors to be heard in the face of what is sure to be a litany of false hyperbole from conservative-organized speaker after speaker.

I make a bold prediction that I pray is wrong: The September hearings about Courthouse displays will feature anti-Islamic language and anecdotes. That is, after all, the theme in the air on the right. When the Board of Supervisors held a hearing about the Chesapeake Bay Act, more than one speaker cited such regulation as a outgrowth of fascist progressive policies originating in 1930s Europe, a talking point which was then making the rounds on Glenn Beck and right-wing talk radio. So do not be surprised when anti-Muslim intolerance makes its appearance in discussions of Christmas displays. That’s the current talking point (well, that and hatred of babies).

Stands against intolerance, bigotry and, yes, crazy, must be taken locally, not just nationally. It is at the local level that these divisive impulses calcify and metastasize to become feeders into a negative national discourse. It is here, at the root, that they must be cut out. And it is up to us, the citizens of Loudoun, to do the weeding.

That’s exactly the message that will be sent, and that’s what makes this conflict so significant.  Obviously, not all opponents of Park51 are as overtly hateful as those in that video — and not all opponents are themselves bigots — but the position they’ve adopted is inherently bigoted, as it seeks to impose guilt and blame on a large demographic group for the aberrational acts of a small number of individual members.   And one thing is certain:  if this campaign succeeds, it will proliferate and the sentiments driving it will become even more potent.  Hatemongers always become emboldened when they triumph. – Glenn Greenwald

Remember this, come September’s hearings: If you stay silent in the face of crazy, you let crazy win. Take a stand for reason and faith. Don’t let this “debate” be dominated by false ideas and abhorrent policies. Stand up, take the microphone, and show what Loudoun’s real values are.

[Update] – If you think this courthouse displays hearing isn’t a political setup by the Right, consider that AG Cuccinelli is making a national issue of it!

Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) writes in a new opinion that local governments do not have to ban holiday displays that include religious symbols, including Jesus Christ.

Cuccinelli’s opinion was a response to a request from Del. Robert G. Marshall (R-Prince William), who asked whether Loudoun County, under the U.S. and Virginia constitutions and state law law, must prohibit holiday displays on public property. – The Washington Post

And I love how a Delegate from Prince William County and an AG from Fairfax is sticking their nose in Loudoun’s business. I guess that makes PWC’s anti-migrant policies fair game for Loudoun to criticize.

2 thoughts on “Debates, Distractions and Religious Freedom

  1. Pingback: “War on Christmas” gets an early start this year – Loudoun Progress

  2. Epluribusunum

    “It is important to remember that we all agree that freedom of speech is a correct basis for determining what should and should not be permitted on public, courthouse grounds. It’s also important to remember that this is a manufactured controversy meant to allow the empowered majority (white, Christian males) to play the part of the victim even while persecuting real minorities.”

    I cannot overstate how perfectly you have nailed this. It is tempting to roll our eyes at the crazy, and think that because it’s so ugly, and so obviously a fabricated “controversy” designed to stir up the base, it’s beneath our dignity to get involved. But ignoring it and assuming it will die on the vine is not an option. What we are seeing here is a dangerous hate movement trying to get traction. “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” To remain silent.

    As a member of a previously scapegoated minority group, I can tell readers that it makes all the difference in the world when our straight allies stand with us and speak up. Now we all have to stand together with our neighbors and say no: Not in our town, not in our community. It’s not necessary to take a position on public displays, only to expose the real agenda behind this “war on Christians” scam.

    If the normal schedule is followed, the public hearing will be Monday, September 13 at 6:30 pm. If that changes, we will be sure to post updated information. In any case, please make it a point to be present and be counted. The future of this country depends on how we respond to these attempts.

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