Point of View Columns

A Celebration From Hell

I do not generally engage in forecasting and prognostication, but I can safely predict that on Thursday, April 7, 2011, there will be multiple celebrations throughout the southern states of this country noting the commencement of the Civil War. That such appalling and offensive revelry will be done in full view of the American public and the world is shameful.

Yet, this Thursday fools, buffoons and adherents to a cruel, vile and false version of history will parade down streets and in “secessionist balls” reveling in some romantic notion of states’ rights and the preservation of the “southern way of life”. In no other country on this planet is treason celebrated without censure and punishment.

Yet in the United States traitors, war criminals and slave owners like Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and Jefferson Davis are honored with their names on streets, boulevards and universities – indeed their portraits are still hanging in state capitols rather than being strewn on the trash heap of history where they belong.

And all the while black Americans are treated like the non-persons that the original Constitution of the Confederate States of America proclaimed them to be.

This is not simply a matter of racial sensitivity or political correctness. The mindset that celebrates treachery and treason cannot be fully committed to a truly united United States of America. The man or woman who believes that the “southern way of life” should be honored and glorified cannot also believe in racial equality or diversity in the twenty first century. There is simply no middle ground.

At the outset of the Civil War there were nine million people living in the South and four million of them were slaves. Four million black men, women and children were owned by white men, women and children and they had the same status as horses, cattle or other chattel.

Slaves were routinely beaten, tortured, killed and abused. Families were torn asunder to satisfy gambling debts, settle estates or to liquidate assets for an investment.

There was nothing good, pleasant, uplifting or ennobling about the peculiar institution of slavery in the United States. And the Confederate States of America was formed in order to protect and preserve the institution of slavery.

The Civil War had many ancillary factors that contributed to the bloodiest conflict in American history but there should be no doubt that slavery was the central cause. All sane and honest historians agree that but for slavery there would not have been a civil war.

And we should be clear that while slavery ended with the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States the spirit and heart of the South barely changed for more than a century. The Ku Klux Klan and its adherents tortured maimed and massacred black people with impunity throughout the South and beyond. Jim Crow laws not only segregated just about every aspect of life in the South, it degraded and debased the dignity of black men, women and children as a matter of law.

And it has only been in the last fifty years that real progress has been made although if you scratch beneath the surface in too many corners and nooks and crannies in the South the vile stench of racial hatred and white superiority wafts into the political atmosphere barely disguised with fig leaf phrases like “states’ rights” and “taking America back”.

It is amazingly sad that men and women of good will sit by idly while this celebration from hell takes place. We do not have to be Jewish to abhor the Holocaust. We do not have to be Native Americans to decry the genocide perpetrated against the original residents of this continent. We do not have to be Tutsis to denounce the mass killings in Rwanda.

Why then is there such deafening silence in the face of this ghoulish perpetration of the myth of the Confederate States of America and the celebration of a way of life that trafficked in human flesh and blood for centuries? I would hope that people – regardless of their political persuasion, could coalesce around the basic principles of decency and justice.

It is not right for the secessionist celebrants to dance on the graves of the men, women and children who suffered and died because of the southern “way of life” Their celebration is indeed ghoulish and mawkish and all the more wrong because they know better.

Their celebration is truly a celebration from Hell.

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Point of View Columns

When No Sense Is Sense

“For evil to flourish, all that is needed is for good people to do nothing.”
-Edmund Burke

We are drawn inexorably and tragically back to the raging controversy surrounding the proposed Islamic community center in Lower Manhattan. This country has been at war for almost a decade and that casualties mount daily. We narrowly avoided a cataclysmic collapse of the global economy and we continue to sort through the detritus of the damage wrought by Wall Street and our own inattention. Unemployment continues at effective double digit rates and hope is a flickering flame that has to be vigilantly guarded against the downdrafts of despair.

Yet, it would appear to a latter day Rip Van Winkle, if he were to awaken today, that the most important and compelling subject that has riveted the attention of the American body politic is the proposed Islamic community center in Lower Manhattan. All of the noted challenges and controversies are left in the shadow cast by this collision of titanic forces. One the one hand there is the Constitution of the United States and its very clear and unambiguous commitment to freedom of religion and its equally clear corollary that government will not interfere in the exercise of the right of religious freedom.

Arrayed against this seemingly formidable component of the foundation upon which this country was built is a gaggle of opponents with no coherent philosophy save a very ugly anti-Islamist undertone. That undertone is masked with calls for “sensitivity” to the feelings of the families of 9/11 victims and queries as to why the proposed center (which is not a mosque, although it will have a prayer room) has to be “so close” to the site of the new World Trade Center. And then there is an Alice in Wonderland exposition of the theory that while Muslims have the right to build their community center in Lower Manhattan, they have the responsibility to realize that some citizens would be offended by their presence and so they should move to another site. Perhaps in Siberia or Mars.

As we observe this conflagration of opposing views move across a landscape charred and scarred by extremism and venom, perhaps the cooling waters of fact and reason could be helpful. I am personally appalled at the vehemence of the expressions by opponents to the center. Could it be that 7 out of 10 Americans are against the site? Could it be that these 7 out of 10 Americans are unaware that Muslims died as innocent victims during the 9/11 catastrophe, as innocent as the Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, Hindu and atheist victims? Could it be that 7 out of 10 Americans are truly offended that an Islamic sponsored community center would be several blocks from the site of a World Trade Center?

Because, if that is the case what should be done about the two mosques that are already near the World Trade Center? One mosque is four blocks from the 9/11 site and has been there since 1970 – in effect before there was a World Trade Center. What should be done about the mosque that is 12 blocks from Ground Zero and has been in existence since 1985, or 16 years before 9/11? These mosques have been in continuous operation since 9/11 without question or concern and not once have the sensitivities and feelings of the families of 9/11 victims been mentioned. Not once.

Are we to infer that the opponents to the proposed center feel that 2 Islamic sites are enough? Or perhaps these two centers should also be dismantled and moved? Or is 4 blocks far enough away? Or 12 blocks? And, by the way, whatever happened to the Constitution of the United States?

Everything that is now being said about Muslims and mosques has been said about Jews and synagogues and Catholics and cathedrals and Protestants and their churches. Flames of intolerance have consumed untold legions of martyrs of every religion. The aspiration of tolerance is a very real aspect of what has made this country different. What a shame it would be for us to reverse the evolutionary process and return to the intolerance embodied by pogroms and holocausts and inquisitions since time immemorial.

If the rights of a minority are protected only when the majority is comfortable and looks favorably on that minority, then those rights are mere gossamer – a half-dream that disappears with the dawning of the dull sun of prejudice. If the exercise of rights set forth in the Constitution were subject to minority rule women might not have voted in Utah until very recently. If Constitutional rights were subject to a vote in North Carolina my father’s great grandparents might have never have moved from the Ford plantation.

There will always be a moment of pause between stated ideals and the full attainment of those ideals, but allowing the construction of the Lower Manhattan Islamic cultural center to be determined by some kind of neo-plebiscite a la American Idol would be shameful. To allow the exercise of religious freedom to be circumscribed because it is “insensitive” would make a mockery of the Constitution and provide the enemies of this country with custom made propaganda to recruit more misguided zealots.

Nonsense begets no sense. And we are all the worse for this very sad episode in the life and times of America.

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