The Anti-Defamation League has just come out against situating an Islamic Center near the site of the World Trade Center. The upshot of their statement is that it’s really emotional. The ADL thinks freedom of religion is “a cornerstone of American democracy,” except where someone’s feelings might get hurt.
The bitchy half of me (ok, the bitchy 99% of me) wanted to ask whether we should object to Christian churches near the site of the Murrah Building or near any site bombed by Eric Rudolph? After all, Timothy McVeigh and Eric Rudolph were motivated at least in part by their Christian white supremacist views. Indeed, my bitchy side would ask: what is the diameter of the no-offense zone barring religious and other organizations that hurt the feelings of disaster victims? Did you know there is a guns & ammo store just over a mile from Columbine High School? How painful is that?
But (after unloading all that bitchiness) I’d like to urge a different way of thinking about it, for pissed off people on both sides. I’d like to urge that we respond with pride our country, its First Amendment, and its history of religious tolerance. And people who are feeling pissed off or hurt get to feel the proudest. Respecting civil liberties isn’t easy or comfortable. In a free country, feelings get hurt. But what’s great about our country is that we’re tougher than that. We have the ability to say, I’m hurt but my pride in my country outweighs my pain.
Indeed, our First Amendment and our religious tolerance is what makes us — say it loud and proud — better. Better than theocracies and totalitarian regimes. Better than the regimes and thugs who nurtured and sent the scum who attacked the World Trade Center.
My father had a great story he loved to tell about showing a Canadian friend around DC one day in the late 1970s not long after the Iranian hostage crisis began. As they toured the monuments and museums, they were stopped at one point by a demonstration. Standard fare for DC – someone’s always marching about something. But on this day, the marchers were marching in support of the Ayatollah. That’s right: marching unmolested down a major thoroughfare in our capital in support of our enemy. As my father would relate — with beaming pride in our country — the Canadian friend was simply in awe of the strength and openness that this showed.
That is the country I love.