Dominating the news in recent weeks has been the proposed building of a mosque near 9/11's ground zero, further fueled by the threatened burning of the Quran by a fundamentalist Florida preacher. Among cries of bigotry, much of the battle has invoked the rights of freedom of speech and expression as enumerated in the First Amendment.
Initiated by purported Muslim moderate Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the intent to construct this mosque has widened the rift between faiths, right and left factions, the reasoned and the unreasoned, politicians and civil liberties proponents — all egged on by a gleeful media. The controversy has been painted by progressives and intellectual "elites" as a choice between religious freedom and bigoted ignorance.
Supporters of Imam Rauf's "Cordoba House" include New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts, New York Congressman Jerrold Nadler, the ACLU and similar political, entertainment and media celebrities. Collectively, they have panned the opposition as right-wing Republican and tea party Neanderthals, naming the likes of Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck as the lightning rods for bigots.
Add obscure Florida preacher Terry Jones and his highly reported threat to burn copies of the Quran on 9/11 to this mixture and you have a circus. Jones, the pastor of a tiny congregation, got the attention of both the civilized and uncivilized world with this crackpot theme — even to the point of generating the obvious from General David Petraeus that such an idiotic act could endanger our troops.
It should be obvious to the majority of Americans that it is time for grownups to take the wheel. The notion that those who oppose the mosque are ignorant rednecks under the spell of right-wing talk show hosts is as nonsensical as the idea that these same Americans regard all Muslims as either terrorists or supporters of terrorist attacks.
Ironically, it is virtually impossible to find anyone — Republican, Democrat, independent or other, who disputes that, under the First Amendment, not only does there exist the right to build the mosque but also the same right prevails to burn the Quran, the Bible or the American Flag. The freedoms of religion, speech and expression are non-negotiable — nevertheless, the right to act does not necessarily render it appropriate nor wise to do so.
Polling of the American people indicates that while these rights are understood, 71 percent oppose the mosque at ground zero, and about 70 percent favor a prohibition on burning the flag. Consequently, contrary to that which we are expected to believe, mosque opposition is not limited to right-wing, anti-Muslim bigots — instead, nearly 3/4 of Americans are on the same page when common sense governs the outcome. Not surprisingly, this mirrors the percentage of Missouri voters — 71 percent — who rejected Obamacare in August.
Mosques are present or under construction in many cities; however, resistance to this one is an emotion not difficult to understand. The memory of that tragic and horrific day is etched in the memory of most Americans who, particularly among New Yorkers, consider ground zero sacred. Rightly or wrongly, a majority believes the proposed location of this mosque to be insensitive to the 9/11 families or a deliberate gesture of rubbing it in by Islamists.
Presidents Bush and Obama have reiterated that while the attackers were Muslim, we are not at war with the religion of Islam — a position to which the majority ascribe. Nevertheless, the 9/11 forays on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon caused a greater loss of life than were sustained at Pearl Harbor. That and the televised images of people in Muslim nations' capitals dancing in the streets in celebration of those strikes is difficult to put out of mind.
I am uncertain as to an answer or solution in terms of today. There was a time in these United States when there were consequences for one's behavior. The idiots, particularly of the domestic variety, who would desecrate or burn Bibles, flags or Qurans were loathe to do so because of peer pressure — such activity was unacceptable. Those familiar with the 1940s will remember the animosity against Japan for the sneak attack and against Germany — they were the enemy. Soon after VE Day and VJ Day, the enmity was set aside and we became allies.
Accordingly, one has to wonder why, when approximately 75 percent of Americans agree most of the time, must we experience such adversarial relationships, finger-pointing, name calling and related tomfoolery? There is no reason for governing the United States to resemble the herding of cats.
What we have here — and it did not happen overnight — is a failure to lead.
J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at JKarlUSMC@aol.com.