Who Should We Hate Next?

Remember in grade school when one person would act up and your teacher would make the entire class stay after school? Didn't you hate that? Of course you did. Because that meant that the perfectly nice and well behaved children -- the majority -- were punished due to the actions of just one student -- the minority.

I'm reminded of that inequity as I follow the current controversy over the Islamic cultural center in lower Manhattan.

Let's put aside whether or not the original proposal was a prudent one. That's certainly up for debate. However, the fact is that we're past that point in time. We now have to deal with what is, and we have to do it in a way that we can be proud of.

Everyone will always remember the horrific events of 9/11. But who's to blame for that death and destruction seems to have already been forgotten.

People have taken to the streets and waved signs that decry all Muslims. It wasn't all Muslims who attacked us. It was an evil few, and they were all members of al Qaeda.

There are almost 1.6 billion followers of Islam currently residing on this planet and only a very small percentage of them wish us harm.

However, those adamantly against building an Islamic cultural center two blocks from Ground Zero seem to want to blame all Muslims for the horrible actions of a few. It makes no sense, but apparently it's easier to hate a large group of people rather than take the time to be more specific.

Those against the cultural center say it would be built too close to Ground Zero. They say that to build it two blocks away is disrespectful to those who perished on 9/11. Well, if two blocks away is an insult, how many blocks away wouldn't be offensive? Three? There's already a mosque four blocks away from the site. Is that okay? Maybe city blocks isn't a valid unit of measure. After all, the 9/11 attacks were hatched from thousands of miles away. Perhaps there's an algorithm that can calculate the proper distance. Maybe something like "faith times anxiety divided by distance equals safety."

No, I don't believe this is really about proximity. This is about fear.

And I understand that. When the twin towers fell, we all got scared. We all found out that it was possible for us to be attacked at home instead of half way around the world. That fear makes us more alert, but it's also tearing us apart. To use that event to deny any American citizens their basic freedoms because they happen to practice the same religion as people who hurt us just isn't right.

What would happen if the Catholic Church wanted to build a cathedral two blocks from an elementary school? Would there be an outcry to move the cathedral X number of blocks away to keep the children safe? Would people suddenly hate all Catholics? I certainly hope not. Because that would be insane. Yes, some priests were guilty of sexual misconduct, but to tar the entire religion because of that would be another example of blaming the many for the horrible actions of a few.

It's always wrong to generalize. But unfortunately it's easier.

Yes, a group of radical Muslims attacked us on 9/11 and continue to plot against us. As horrible as that thought is, they might succeed one day. But that doesn't give us the right to turn our backs on peaceful people...fellow American citizens...who practice the Islamic faith. They are protected by the same Constitution as we are. It's not yours, it's not mine, it's ours.

And who should we hate next? All gun owners because one person committed a crime while wielding a pistol? All car owners because one person drove drunk? All politicians because some are corrupt? All corporate executives because some are greedy? All white men who earned bronze stars in service of their country because Timothy McVeigh blew up the Federal Building in Oklahoma killing and injuring hundreds? Of course not. I'm sorry, but hating the many for the actions of the few is not only wrong, it's too easy. It's a lazy thing to do.

We'll always weep over what happened on that clear September morning, but we'll cry even more if we look back at this point in history and recognize it as the moment we allowed our Constitution to be set aside.

Think about it -- if the Democracy we want to spread abroad ceases to exist here at home, who exactly will we be?