I got caught in the quagmire. Worse, I found the quicksand pit and fell in headfirst. It was ugly.
I wanted to stay away from writing about Sept. 11, 2001, this year. I have not watched the documentaries on television for years. Though lessened by time, seeing “my” towers fall and remembering that former students that died that day still causes pain.
I did not see the controversy of the Cordoba Center, the Muslim Civic Center to be built at 51 Park Place in New York, as a 9/11 issue. I did not make the connection. I saw it as a group of borderline Islamophobics and people claiming sacred instead of hallowed ground, calling for the center to be moved somewhere else. Anywhere else, but they had offered no suggestions. They were, and still are, “NIMBYers,” “Not In My Back Yarders.”
I read and heard about similar incidents in Tennessee and California, but they seemed to have a religious tone, that America is a Christian nation. Some claimed that Islam is not a religion. Those people are wrong in both opinions.
I wrote about the Cordoba Center in this column asking if the United States is becoming a religious-intolerant nation. I received a large number of e-mails and comments in support and in opposition of my opinion. I declared this a good column from the responses alone. As I have said before, the real job of a commentator or editorialist is to start the conversation.
My growing anger over the intolerance only increased on Sept. 7 when I heard about the Rev.Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center, which I would later describe as “an ironic name for a church with such anger.” His wanting to burn 200 Qurans while urging others to do the same on 9/11 was too much for me to bear. That chased me into the swamps.
The Constitution gives us the right to practice our own religion, as it requires tolerance to all religions in our pluralistic society. It also gives us the right to speak freely — with limitations.
On Sept. 9, I wrote “An Open Letter to the President,” published on my blog. It was a letter to President Barack Obama, Sens. Claire McCaskill and Kit Bond, and Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, a very angry letter. My anger concerned Jones and his following, and the possible violation of the First Amendment right to free speech.
What violation? Jones had created a threat to United States national security and the security of our armed forces serving overseas. Gen. David Petraeus said so on Sept. 6.
New Yorkers knew about the Cordoba plans as early as December 2009, when the New York Times ran a front-page story concerning the purchase of the closed Burlington Coat Factory. National Public Radio reported that Jones’ YouTube video was online in April. (As of this writing, the Dove Outreach Center website and Jones’ video are offline.) So why wait eight months before protesting?
According to LexisNexis, the American press did not pick up the Jones story until August, about the same time the Cordoba Center was taking a political hit from the neo-conservatives and religious right. Why? Fear is the fanatics’ political power. The fanatics now had their power.
On Monday, NPR’s "All Things Considered" reported that listener comments concerning Terry Jones leaned toward one conclusion: “Why are you giving Jones any publicity at all?” And it is a good question. Why did we?
By Sept. 10, I realized that I too had taken to politicizing the terrorist attacks of nine years ago. I was being drawn into the quicksand of media frenzy by the act of a fanatic minister of a 50-member congregation in Nowhere, Fla., who only wanted his 15 minutes of fame. I was sucked in by the anti-Islamic messages broadcast hourly. I was pulled down quickly.
I believe most media did not make the immediate political connection with 9/11. And if they did, they blew it off. American Islamophobia took on a life of its own with the media’s help, professional and citizen, mainstream and blog. And me. I apologize for giving Jones and the other Islamophobics their undue platforms. Forgive me.
David Rosman is an award-winning editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics. You can read more of David’s commentaries at InkandVoice.com and New York Journal of Books.