Letter From New York August 25, 2010

Or, as it seems to me…

Sitting down to write this evening, I find myself in a predicament – the most important thing that happened this week, which I find myself wanting to write about puts me in the middle of one of the great controversies of the moment.

This past Friday I was asked by Odyssey, my bread and butter client, to attend a meeting regarding the hugely controversial Cordoba House, the Muslim center proposed for a site two blocks from Ground Zero. Disturbed by the clamor that has arisen and the vitriol tossed about, Robert Chase, the head of a not for profit group called Intersections, which is an interfaith organization which is a member of the Odyssey family, called a meeting of other interfaith organizations to discuss the issue. And Odyssey was one of the invitees.

It was a small group, thirty or so that gathered Friday morning at the Intersections office on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. I was struck by the fact that half the attendees were from the Jewish community in New York and were among the most concerned about the tenor of the dialogue surrounding the Cordoba Center.

This is a controversy that has risen to national prominence over the last few weeks, inspiring some really hateful things being said about the individuals involved with the Cordoba Center. As I headed to the meeting I read the New York Post while on the subway, a conservative newspaper owned by Rupert Murdoch. It is a tabloid and is as close as we get in the 21st Century to the “Yellow Journalism” of the 19th and early 20th Centuries. It is doing everything it can to swirl the Cordoba Center situation into a full-blown crisis of national proportions.

The Murdoch organization, owner also of Fox News, is doing all it can, it seems to me, to imitate William Randolph Hearst in its playing of the matter. [Don’t remember William Randolph Hearst? With his newspapers he probably single handedly stirred the country up to engage in the Spanish American War after the battleship Maine mysteriously sank in Havana’s harbor. Remember the Maine! was the battle cry and the U.S. got Cuba for awhile after that and the Philippines too – for about forty years until they became independent after WW II.]

This Cordoba “crisis” is a complicated thing. It’s been planned for years but only now has it become a cause celeb for Fox News and the rest of the Murdoch organization. Nine months ago they were pretty benign about it, treating it pretty much as a non-event until there was the smell of blood in the water.

One local politician is publicly calling Islam a “terrorist organization” which it isn’t. It’s a religion in which there are some pretty scary organizations that are terrorists. But not all Muslims are terrorists. Not all Christians are good. Some Christians do some pretty despicable things. Christianity and particularly my tradition, Catholicism, have done some pretty horrific things along history’s way.

Last Thursday I had a conversation with a young woman, a Hindu journalist pursuing a story in Pakistan on the dichotomy there between the secular and radical Islam, of how that country is being torn apart and that, as she sees it, Islam is being hijacked by radical elements that have arisen over the last thirty years, since about the time of the fall of the Shah. And these folks are really, really, really scary. I acknowledge that. I find them terrifying.

But that is not every Muslim. They are not my Muslim friends, who have endured hard things since 9/11. There are Muslims to be feared. But not every Muslim. There are Christians to be feared. But not every Christian. Have we so quickly forgotten that Timothy McVeigh, who committed the largest act of domestic terrorism prior to 9/11, was not a Muslim but from the Christian tradition?

The tarring of an entire religion with a label so powerful should give us cause to think hard, very hard.

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