THE MOSQUE, MEDIA AND NATIVE AMERICANS
This just in: Native Americans have decided that every Christian church and center in America should be torn down because they were built on sacred ground. Furthermore, since Native Americans were decimated by terrorist acts in the name of Christianity, hence forth and forever more, all Christians are suspected terrorists.
If that sounds ludicrous, it’s because it is. And yet here we are in America involved in a national debate in which supposedly intelligent people are using the same logic to oppress Muslims who – get this – want to construct a center to help foster cross-cultural understanding and peace.
If I didn’t know the jaded history of this nation, I wouldn’t believe what I am seeing and hearing as this debate rages on. But since I am very familiar with the delusional thinking that has been entrenched in the fabric of this country, which by the way for centuries sanctioned slavery, the breadth of this mosque controversy is really no surprise.
Does that mean I have no compassion for those who lost loved ones at what is now referred to as Ground Zero? No it doesn’t. No one can know the depth of the pain that those people feel.
At the same time, we have to understand that, as much as we want to pay our respects to those who died at that site in New York, opposing the construction of a mosque blocks away is not going to bring about the healing that needs to be done. Nor is condemning all Muslims for the acts of a few.
It’s no more fair to blame all members of the Islamic faith for what happened on 9/11 any more than it’s fair to condemn all Christians for the acts of say, George W. Bush, a professed Christian who sent thousands of American soldiers off to die in a trumped-up war.
They condemned the words of Obama’s former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, from sea to shining sea. Yet we barely flinched when so-called Christian leaders like Franklin Graham publicly claimed Muslims want to dominate the world. And we do little more than shake our heads at the news that some pseudo-Christian pastor in Florida plans to burn copies of the Quran on 9/11.
What’s worse, my colleagues in the media, who are supposed to help the public understand complex issues, instead engages in its own ratings-driven feeding frenzy. I watched tonight as CNN reporter Soledad O’Brien badgered Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf in an interview in which she pretended to try to shed more light on the issue. Imam Rauf calmly explained that he conceived of the mosque idea in the spirit of Christians and Jews who, years ago undertook similar projects to help bridge cultural gaps in various American communities. That’s how organizations such as the YMCA were formed.
Still, Sister Soledad refused to hear the man out. She badgered him unrelentingly on one issue: Why, she asked, won’t he back away from the plan to build the mosque since it is upsetting to so many Americans?
The imam explained that if he backed away from the plan now his retreat would be used by radical Muslims around the world to strengthen their case that America has declared war on Islam.
The problem was, the imam was thinking on a deeper level, in international terms. Soledad O’Brien was focused narrowly on how to placate Americans.
But isn’t that usually the case? Americans demand that others be sensitive to us but we feel inconvenienced if called upon to try to understand them.
My ongoing problem with my colleagues in the media is this: they often create conflict for entertainment and conflict’s sake. Soledad treated this very important interview as a chance to boost her own career. It was an opportunity to prove how tough an interviewer she could be.
And what did we viewers get in the end? We got the same thing we started with at the beginning of the program: controversy which did nothing to advance our understanding. I sure would like to hear some Native American perspectives on this thing.