Monday, August 30, 2010


As the controversy over the Muslim community center rose to pelt the Democrats with turds of demagoguery, Democrats have again failed to answer the Republicans with effective rhetoric. The error of the demagogues is to conflate Islam with terror, and the error of the Democrats is to concede the point.

Opponents to the community center have described its location as "insensitive" to those whose loved ones were killed there on September 11, 2003. I see the apologists on the left as cowards who are afraid to name bigotry for what it is.

It is only by bigotry that all followers of Islam are thrown together with the extremists who carry a tattered flag of Islam. Was Timothy McVeigh an American terrorist? Do all Americans thus deserve to be cast in the mold of terrorist? We have White-Supremacists who claim inspiration from Christianity, but do Americans or mainstream Christians identify with them just because they claim to assert Christian values? If you do, are you not a terrorist? If you are, how are you better than an Islamic terrorist? Terrorism for any cause is venal. If you separate yourself from Christian terrorists, why clump together the peaceful community minded Muslims with the terrorists?

Even if a few terrorists might slip under the radar, is perfect security worth the cost of freedom, the object of our jealousy? To take the word of those building the community center and welcome them, while minding and listening to the lessons they teach, must be far better than assuming the worst, inspiring hatred and distrust, and excluding them from the privileges of being American. Only bigots would so prejudge these followers of Islam that their effort to build a meeting place for inter-religious studies would become an affront to those who died on 9/11.

I believe in the Democratic vision of a nation in which all persons can pursue prosperity, happiness and community without fear of denigration for being in a minority, and I believe in the ability of the right wing to churn up emotions for their cause. This leaves me angry with the Democrats for being impotent slaves to conformity and making nice-nice, and angry with the right wing for hypocritically espousing the freedom to pursue wealth, and protection of the Constitution, while attacking others who would exercise their American rights.

The error of the Democrats, allowing demagogues to conflate Islam with terror, is particularly true for our President, whose soaring rhetoric and leadership seems short in the moment of political need, but also of our Vermont politicians, who, taken together, have failed to challenge the idea that Muslim = Terrorist. Yes, there is a freedom of religion issue, and a question of the freedom to pursue happiness, but the emotional charge driving this hatred is that Islam promotes violence, and that those who practice it must provide a haven for those who would incite terror. If I had the ears of Mr. Leahy, Mr. Sanders, Mr. Welch, and the remainder of the Vermont Democratic Party, I would plea and demand that they condemn this assertion, the bigotry behind it, and the hatred it spawns, as the force that is most destructive to the American dream and the prosperity of our nation.

Hatred and the desire to terrorize others, it must be remembered, is made when hope is taken away and fear prevails over dreams. Then everyone not self is enemy, and the nation becomes a battle field, as those who fear terror extend terror over others.

In my view, the phenomena of Rush Limbaugh, now taken up by Glenn Beck, is a disease of the American mind in which demagogues exploit fear to destroy hope, and use that raw fear to maintain centrality in the public discourse, and finally to steer cultural changes to their inchoate purposes. The American left, and the Democratic party, if they are to recapture the hope and faith of the American dream and the Obama campaign, must counter that fear with an all-out assault on fear, reminding Americans that their prosperity is not guaranteed to them, that in times of change and adversity, the advantage goes to those who can adapt.

This is my definition of the progressive vision: Change will happen and we must be prepared to respond creatively and adaptively to it, as a community and as individuals. My definition of the conservative vision is: Do everything possible and necessary to prevent change. When it comes, resist it. And when wealth and power do slip away, do anything you must to keep what you have, even commit terror.

My key lesson in life and survival has been: own what you are. Cut through the noise and state the truth. Since the truth is usually not offensive, this engenders trust and respect. But when you speak truth that is offensive, those hearing you must trust your voice, because you have always been honest.

Now to resist the demagogues of fear, we must climb to the heights of our integrity, say what is true and condemn hatred as it happens.


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