Everyone has their underwear in a bunch over the proposed plan to build a mosque only 600 feet from ground zero in New York where the World Trade Center once stood. Some are protesting the plan, saying that it would be a disgrace to those who died on 9/11 to have a mosque built so close to where they died. Some are fighting the protesters saying that our country was actually founded on some arcane principle known as the freedom of religion.
For my part, I don’t really care where any mosques are built. Maybe I’m a fool, but I don’t think all Islamic people are terrorists. Oh, and I don’t think that those who are would ever set up shop in a huge building that used to house a Burlington Coat Factory only 600 feet from their last big target. I tend to think the bad guys will probably try to stay on the down low. At very worst, if they do try to hide in plain sight, then maybe that’s not such a bad thing. I have to imagine that even our inept intelligence community can keep track of the terrorists if they all congregate in a well-known place.
I’ll leave the arguing to those more passionate than I though. The more I hear about the situation though, the more I’m drawn to our country’s past and I can’t help but be a little proud of how far we’ve come. It may not seem like a natural time for pride, but compared to our history, those of Middle-eastern decent are getting a pretty good shake. Don’t be naïve, this isn’t an easy time for people who have immigrated to this country from that region, but ask any Japanese American who was alive during World War II if they’d rather get dirty looks at the airport and have protests over where they worship, or if they’d rather get locked up in internment camps and I’m guessing they’ll say the former.
We have a history of hatred and a track record for treating those we hate pretty poorly. The Japanese and some Germans were imprisoned when we hated them. So were the Africans who arguably got the worst of our hate. Of course the Native Americans might argue that point. When the Irish first came to our shores during the Potato Famine we gave them a case to make and the Chinese who came to build our railroads were little more than slaves themselves.
We’re flat out mean to the people du jour who we hate. We always have been. It’s in our blood. We’re good at it. We look at them as less than human because it helps us rationalize them. We call them savages, niggers, micks, the yellow peril, Japs and slant-eyes. We have believed them to be less than human and then we proceed to treat them as such. We’ve put them in chains, given them blankets infected with small pox, we’ve locked them in prisons and placed them in ghettos.
That could have happened after 9/11. In fact, if 9/11 had happened earlier in our history it certainly would have. We’d have locked the “ay-rabs” up in camps. We’d have torn down all of their mosques. But that’s not who we are anymore, at least not all of us. We can’t expect the world to change at the drop of a hat or in the blink of an eye and we can’t cure centuries of ignorance overnight. I’m certainly not arguing that we’ve acted in a Christ-like manner in the way we’ve treated Middle-Easterners but I do think, we’ve treated them less in the way of the devil than our own ancestors would have.
It’s easy to pick sides in this current debate. It’s easy to be mad at one side or the other. It’s easy to be outraged by obvious insensitivity or appalled by the ignorance to our founding principles but when you take a step back and you look at it all from a distance, I think you can’t help but see how times have changed. Tempers are flaring, sides are standing opposed and the argument rages on, but arguments are better than chains, better than prisons, better than viewing a people as sub-human. Because while some would support those very thoughts in a heartbeat most of us would never stand for it.
It’s an interesting point in history. The unenlightened are still loud and garner a great deal of attention in their ignorance and hate, but somewhere along the way, we’ve moved past the days of old. We’ve chosen a new way. It’s far from perfect. We have a long way to go. Make no mistake though, we have come so very far from who we were at our worst.
I went into a convenience store today and there was a WWII veteran at the lottery counter sporting his Navy hat commemorating the ship he served on during the war. He was chatting with the man behind the counter, a man of Middle-eastern heritage. They spoke like they were old friends and maybe they are just that. They weren’t talking about mosques or wars or rights or freedoms. They were talking about their grandchildren. Perhaps the future for those grandchildren isn’t as dim as it looks. Maybe all it takes is a clearer perspective to see that even if we take one step back for every two steps forward, we’re still getting somewhere. Maybe the idea of America isn’t quite dead yet.