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Please listen closely, because this bears emphasis:

We, as a country, are not at war with Islam.

Nor do we want to be.

The recent hullabaloo over what is, depending on who you’re talking to, either an Islamic community center a few blocks from where the Twin Towers once stood, or a 9/11 Victory Mosque constructed solely from the bones of children and is visible from space, has brought a lot of this country’s fringe racism and xenophobia to the forefront.

This should, of course, have been a settled matter before it even got out of the gate.  Constitution class is required for both junior high and high school diplomas in this country, so we should all know that we have a little thing around here called "Freedom of Religion."  If local zoning laws allow for a house of worship to be built on a piece of land, then the law cannot differentiate between a church, a mosque, a synagogue, etc. End of story.  

And that’s even assuming that a house of worship is being built, which isn’t even what we’re talking about to begin with.  Just a place for people to peaceably assemble, which is another one of those rights thingies we were talking about previously.

It’s sad enough to hear how many folks out there are surprised, enraged, and frightened to discover that certain browner peoples enjoy the same freedoms as the rest of us, and even sadder to realize that this is all simple exploitation of people’s fears for political gain.

Because these frightened hicks protesting new mosque construction are almost as much victims as our American muslims.  The Republican party is blatantly siccing one group of Americans on another, disregarding both our constitution and a decent-sized group of their fellow citizens in order to gain a temporary political advantage over Barack Obama.

A goodly chunk of our population is under the impression that we are, currently, at war with Islam.  This nebulous group of "they" destroyed the Twin Towers, is waging war on the United States across a multitude of nations, is trying to topple our government, and is preventing the return of Christ by stopping the Jews from reclaiming the Holy Land.

Taking ahold of this symphony of stupid is Newt Gingrich, who by making a large fuss over this not-really-a-mosque, guaranteed a response from the White House, which is of course in charge of enforcing the Constitution.  He has therefore steered Obama, who is only doing his duty as President, into reaffirming the wrong as well as irrelevant belief that Obama is a Muslim.  According to recent polls, fully 1 in 5 Americans now believe this, a higher number than when he took office.  This is almost at least certainly in part due to Obama’s insisting upon enforcing the rights of all citizens, rather than just the white Christian ones.

If this manipulation is allowed to stand until November, Obama’s proxies in Senate and House races may be toppled by right wingers vaguely promising to "take back" the country for the trembling masses.

Please listen closely, because this bears emphasis:

We, as a country, are not at war with Islam.

Nor do we want to be.

Democracies have generally small tolerance for war, and the hardships and casualties that come along for the ride.  In representative government, elected officials get ousted from their jobs if they can’t adequately explain why our boys are dying out there.  This is why democracies rarely, if ever, fight each other, and this is also why we have small tolerance for terrorism.

The Irish used terrorism successfully to gain an independent state in the 1920’s.  Spain withdrew their forces from Iraq following the subway bombing a few years ago.  Terrorism is a political tool, and an effective one- it very quickly makes certain conflicts too costly to continue for re-election-minded politicians.  Religion is not the motivating factor for these attacks- they’re political, social, economic.

Religion is just the P.R. aspect, the words terrorists use to sound virtuous on TV, and hopefully gain more recruits they can use as human projectiles toward their goal.

Terrorist groups no more represent all of Islam than the Irish Republican Army represented all of Christianity.  But the more we decide to paint all of the Muslim faith with one brush, the more in trouble we’re going to be.

People don’t like it when you declare war on their most deeply-held beliefs.  The supposed "War on Christmas" a few years back turned otherwise normal Christians into frothing-at-the-mouth protestors, and that was just over clerks saying "Happy Holidays" at the register.  Imagine if they thought people were trying to confiscate their basic liberties?  Perhaps kill them?

There are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world.  They make up 23% of the world’s population, they’re the second-largest religion in the world, and they’re growing fast.  They are, quite literally, everywhere.  And reports from overseas indicate that our efforts to block the "Ground Zero Mosque" is leading people around the world to believe that we’re out to get ALL Muslims, not simply the perpetrators of 9/11.  We’re driving up recruitment numbers, pushing more people to extremism.

And one day, within our lifetimes, they will actually outnumber us.

While we’re in the majority, we can set a precedent.  One of tolerance, and coexistence, and free expression of differing beliefs.  Or we can treat others a way we wouldn’t like to be treated.  And once we’re in the minority, all we’ll have is the legacy we’ve left ourselves.

Originally posted to Vox on Mon Aug 30, 2010 at 06:55 PM PDT.

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