Low road on 9/11

    It was inevitable that the high-road conciliatory spirit of the 9/11 anniversary would be shattered – somehow, somewhere – by a low-road act of stupidity. And the winner is:The New York Republican party.Given the current bullish prospects for a stunning GOP victory tomorrow night – winning a special House election in Anthony “E-Package” Weiner’s deep-blue House district – there’s really no need to descend to the sewer and wallow in Islamaphobia. But apparently these Republicans just can’t help themselves; even now, they can’t resist the temptation to smear all Muslim Americans for political gain.The other day, acting on behalf of GOP candidate Bob Turner, the state party sent a flier to voters in the contested district (comprising parts of Brooklyn and Queens), for the purpose of resurrecting the summer ’10 “Ground Zero Mosque” brouhaha. The front side of the flier is emblazoned with a faux photo of a golden-domed mosque rising like a phoenix from the ashes of the World Trade Center site, along with a quote from Democratic candidate David Weprin, circa one year ago: “I support the right of the mosque to build.”This flier was designed merely to underscore the images in Turner’s only TV ad, released last month. As the towers burn, a narrator intones, “Some, though, want to commemorate the tragedy by building a mosque on Ground Zero. President Obama thinks that’s a good idea. And so does congressional candidate David Weprin.” The new GOP flyer touts the Republican candidate by declaring, “Turner has taken a strong stance against the project and will always speak out against injustice.”There never will be a “mosque on Ground Zero,” of course, because the project – if it gets built at all – will be situated a few blocks away; and the “mosque” would actually be a community center complex featuring worship space, a pool, an auditorium, and restaurants. But facts can never compete with fear, and it’s regrettable that the New York Republicans have felt the need to stoke it anew, in the hopes that the heavily Jewish electorate would think ill of all Muslim Americans and then vote GOP.Even if we cut the party some slack for behaving this way – emotions run high in the heat of a campaign – its tactic is still a flagrant violation of the post-9/11 conciliatory spirit.One year ago, a legal expert put the mosque “issue” in proper perspective. Referring to the First Amendment, he said that “people of all religions have a right to build places of religious worship and study.” And referring to the 9/11 attacks, he said: “We don’t want to turn an act of hate against us by extremists into an act of intolerance for people of religious faith. And I don’t think it should be a political issue.”So said conservative litigator Theodore Olson, a former U.S. solicitor general under George W. Bush, and a 9/11 widower whose wife died in the Pentagon plane crash.And this, too, would be an antidote to the current poison: “Let’s be honest about it, the First Amendment, religious freedom, religious expression – that really matters to the Constitution. So, if the Muslims own that property, private property, and they want to build a mosque there, they should have a right to do so…We know there are Muslims killed on 9/11, too.”So said Utah Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, one year ago.Most perversely, the New York Republican tactics are a classic case of life imitating art. A powerful new novel, entitled “The Submission,” envisions what would have happened if a Muslim American architect had won an anonymous competition to design a memorial garden at Ground Zero. Hysteria naturally ensues when his ethnicity is publicly revealed. At a rancorous public hearing, a Muslim woman named Asma Anwar urges the hostile audience to support the garden and resist the temptation to stereotype an entire religion:”You have mixed up those bad (9/11) Muslims, those bad people, and Islam. Millions of people all over the world have done good things because Islam tells them to. There are so many more Muslims who would never think of taking a life…I think the garden is right, because that is what America is – all the people, Muslims and non-Muslims, who have come and grown together.”Asma’s real-life equivalents have voiced similar sentiments, none of which have apparently hit home with the New York Republicans. If they win tomorrow in that Democratic House district, congratulations; if they seek to tout that win as a thumbs-down referendum on Obama, then hey, to the victor goes the spin. But they didn’t need to cheapen the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Clearly, some urgent lessons – about community, civility, inclusion – still need to be learned.——-In my Sunday newspaper column, I talked about how 9/11 only briefly interrupted our standard political discord. “We now feel safe enough to overdose on domestic disunity.”——-Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

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