The following essay contains material about politics and religion. I fully understand that this is not what some people come to the Chelsea Drugstore for and I'm not asking anyone to read it. However, if you do, I'd ask that you read it all the way through, since it has been a journey and I need to explain the beginning for you to understand the end. It may also prove triggering for those who were in Manhattan on 9/11 or have strong feelings about the event. Please read at your own risk.
I'd like to thank filthgoblin for the look-over, however the opinions expressed below are mine and do not necessarily reflect anyone else's.
How do I feel about the planned Cordoba House Cultural Center to be built at 51 Park Place in Manhattan?
I agree with eloquent statements of Keith Olbermann, Jon Stewart, President Obama, and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg
That’s where I am now.
It’s not where I would have been as little as ten years ago.
How did I get here?
#1-I’m Jewish. Typical East-coast, liberal, secular-Jewish background. I had a bat mitzvah. I went to Hebrew School. We lit candles on Friday night. The fact that I now identify as an imperfect atheist doesn’t make me any less culturally Jewish.
The ethnic back-ground is Russian. Parts of Russia, Poland, Lithuania etc. The only reason I can’t identify anyone who died in the Holocaust is because either the Pogroms got them first, or they got out.
My father’s father deserted the Czar’s army and made his way to Palestine, where according to family legend, he built some of the first street’s of Tel Aviv, before coming to Bayonne NJ to start his family there.
#2. I’m a Zionist. I believe in the right of Israel to exist. Pretty much along the lines of the theme from Exodus. “This land, this land. God gave this land to me.” (This in spite of the whole imperfect atheist thing.)
#3. As of this writing I am 45 years old. I was born in 1964. I can’t remember the Six Day War (1967), but I do remember the Yom Kippur War (1973.)
#4. As a result of 1, 2, 3, I have to admit that I was raised to hate Arabs. I was taught to believe that it was the goal of every single Arab country in the middle east to drive Israel into the sea. Period. End of Story.
The best analogy I can think of (with apologies to my Catholic friends) is that if I were raised in the United States in the 30’s or 40’s in a devout Catholic family, there would be an excellent chance that I might be an anti-Semite or at the very least harbor suspicions of Jews.
You’ll notice I said Arabs and not Muslims. My memory is that it was never a discussion about Muslims or the Islamic faith. It was always Arabs. In other words, an ethnic and territorial conflict, not a religious one, unless it was framed as Jews VS THE WORLD. As we all know, there are Christian Arabs, and in fact, I think I was more focused on the idea of Christian Arabs trying to destroy Israel than any focus on Muslims. When I read about the Crusades, I didn’t really get that the problem was Christians trying to get Muslims out of the Holy Land, because the focus I got was how bad it was for the Jews who got slaughtered along the way.
I don’t think I became Muslim-conscious until (possibly) the first Gulf War, or possibly at the time of the Fatwah against Salman Rushdie, neither of which did much for the Muslim PR image.
I had a professor back at Bergen Community College, who had an Arabic type name that I can’t remember and who was teaching a class that I have no idea what it was, but one day he said, “You can’t tell me there’s any more difference between Christianity, Judaism and Islam than there is between Tide, Fab and Gain. It’s all the same message: Love and Brotherhood.” I was too young and stupid to believe him at the time.
When I worked at Getz Travel (RIP) we had a guy working for us for awhile named Xavier. Red-headed, freckle-faced. All American boy type. And a Muslim convert. I never understood it. I have to admit I still don’t know as much about Islam and the Koran as I should, but I do know that in it’s pure form it’s a religion of peace, that was progressive and revolutionary for its time and place, just as Judaism and Christianity were at their beginnings.
Then came 9/11.
I was already living in San Francisco and I happened to be in the gym that morning. I saw the images on the news but had no idea what was going on, and when I did find out, the first thoughts in my mind were “Now we’ll never get rid of him,” meaning George W. Bush.
Perhaps it’s because I wasn’t in New York. Maybe I’m too much of a San Francisco liberal. But after the initial fear and shock that this could really happen and making sure all my East Coast Relatives were OK, I never had that “this is the worst thing that has ever happened and everything we do now is justified” feeling.
I don’t think Ground Zero is “sacred ground.” (This may be the most controversial thing I say in this whole piece and it’s not written to offend those who disagree with me, especially those who were there when it happened.)
Somehow after 9/11, it stopped being framed as an Arab/Israeli cause and became Muslims vs THE WORLD. I think Aaron Sorkin missed the point in “Isaac and Ishmael”. Because it’s certainly not about Israel anymore.
Which means I also have to talk about the Palestinians. Another journey for me to accept that refugee problem may not be completely the fault of the neighboring Arab states who encouraged the Palestinians to leave, which is the narrative I was raised with. I’ve even arrived at a conviction that there will have to be a two-state solution and the Netanyahus of this world are not interested in solving the problem. Bibi is a hate-monger.
The people peddling the “Ground Zero Mosque Outrage” are peddling hatred. If I was ever inclined to oppose the Cordoba House project, all I would have to do is take a look at the people lined up to froth at the mouth and raise money and get votes by opposing it.
A short list:
Etc etc etc.
(I am saddened that some politicians I would otherwise admire have felt the need to pander…Harry Reid, I’m looking at you.)
These are people who would in general, be as didactic as any Imam in speaking and acting against the two causes that are most important to me: Reproductive choice and gay rights.
The seething hatred and vitriol that I have read in every single right-wing post in the blogosphere that I have seen on the topic absolutely resonates with wording that could have come from Father Coughlin in the 30’s or any anti-semitic demagogue you want to name, if you just swap out the word Muslim (and the various nasty epithets for it) for the word Jew.
The one thing that I am most revolted by and that pushes me to say, “build, baby build” is that the folks who want to spew hatred, while still trying to present themselves as being in favor of the constitution are getting around the “Freedom of Religion” thing by insisting that Islam is not a religion.
It’s a “cult.” Or a “political system.” Or a “philosophy.”
UH….NO! (As if Christianity didn’t start out as a cult and doesn’t essentially function as a political system in many parts of the world.)
That is so unacceptable, I can’t stomach it, and no right-thinking person should. If you want to hate---go ahead. But be honest. You don’t get around the first amendment by using your free-speech rights to deny someone else the right to worship who and what they choose and identify it as a religion.
My professor was right, and I wish I could remember his name and track him down and let him know I finally got there.
Fab, Tide and Gain.
Love and Brotherhood.