“We can agree to disagree on this”, was her response to my assertion that I couldn’t get my ahead around what was arousing such intense emotion and passion with the proposed Ground Zero Mosque. “A woman who lost her son started crying when she learned about the Mosque” she stated, a little more agitated. “Yes but why is this woman getting so emotional, are they proposing to erect a shrine to Mohammad Atta? Does she think Islam and the roughly 1.5 billion people who practice this religion, attacked America? Is she not aware that this heinous deed was perpetrated by a handful of sick psychopaths who don’t represent anyone other than their small cohort of equally sick deviants?” I shot back. “Yes but they drew their inspiration from Islam”, she snipped, “so! there have been serial killers who have drawn their inspiration from Hollywood horror films, should we ban all Hollywood films in towns where there were victims?” And so our conversation went, becoming deeper and more nuanced, two non-religious friends in a passionate debate about the subject that has enveloped America.
I love New York City – it is a place where smart, cultured, creative, driven people from all parts of the world and all walks of life congregate to pursue their ambitions. New Yorkers cherish diversity and individual liberty, we know that these are the two critical and most important ingredients in the alchemy of this wondrously stimulating city. We understand that humanity is so much more interesting, so much more innovative and so much more productive when living as we do – together, integrated and harmonious. We know that liberty is what allows each one of us to create and pursue our own meaning, without which we are left with psychic emptiness and void. So when people challenge or threaten our diversity and liberty and the very core of our being, it concerns us very deeply, selfishly perhaps because we know that this is a unique and special place and we feel privileged to part of the human story unfolding here.
With the congressional elections around the corner, I’m concerned that the right wing has found a distracting wedge issue to be fully exploited for political gain. These opportunists, as all of our scheming politicians seem to be, will pervert and confuse the issue for short-term gains, ignoring the long-term detrimental impact to our union and cohesion – to the very values and ideas that have enabled America to be so incredibly exceptional at just about everything.
I’m not a fan of organized religion for many reasons but that falls outside the scope of this essay – the modern crusaders of reason such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris have argued the case against religion far more cogently and compellingly than I can. I also don’t intend to use my remaining characters to address the mosque issue – it has been debated from every angle and there are intelligent people on both sides of the issue who are too deeply entrenched in their position to be swayed. All I will say on this issue is this – I believe $100 million would be far better spent on poverty reduction and/or education for the youth of Islam. It is a very sad misuse and epic waste of resources.
When we go to the polls, I hope we clear our minds and vote based on the real and important issues facing our country and the world: too many Americans are hurting financially, our country is encumbered in two hopelessly tragic wars, the earth and the environment need our desperate attention, extremism is festering, white collar crime is rampant and there is immense human suffering all around us. This is not an exhaustive list, it’s just the tip of the iceberg of serious issues that we cannot afford to be distracted from.
There have and always will be miscreants among us – those who will use any means, including violence, to advance their interests. They will come in different shapes, colors and sizes and will hold a broad range of positions in society. We cannot allow these sociopaths to prey on our insecurities, highjack our discourse and weaken the very qualities that makes us beautiful and strong.