Monday, August 23, 2010

Bigotry, intolerance...hurt feelings?

Watching the protests between the two opposing factions in the fight to build an Islamic Cultural Centre some two or three blocks from Ground Zero, reminds me of a wrestling match, where the fight is more for theatre than substance.
Religious tolerance, George Will, is not the same thing as "hurt feelings" on the part of those whose religion is the one experiencing the intolerance. Will announced on ABC's This Week, Sunday, that no one is entitled to go through life without having his feelings hurt. To which, to his everlasting credit, Robert Reich, sitting just to Will's "right" (as if there were any room to Will's right) retorted, "It's not feelings, George, it's about tolerance!"
And therein lies the crux of the debate. Whether feelings equal tolerance...and one can only try to deconstruct Reich's perspective by noting that the debate is not about hurting the feelings of the other, in this case the Islamic faith leaders who want to build the I.C.C., but rather about tolerating the faith, religion, right to worship, of a large group of Americans.
The building permits needed for expansion of mosques across America are being blocked by the same people who were carrying placards opposing the building of the centre "so close" to Ground Zero. And the New York opponents, just as their rural colleagues, are hiding their bigotry under the cover of "honouring the families of those who lost loved ones" in the 9-11 attack.
And the rabbi who represents the Jewish Cultural Centre, built in the early 1990's, recounts, on the same ABC program, a storied history of opposition to their centre.
Putting the appropriate words into the constitution, guaranteeing religious freedom of worship and of expression, and then blocking the application of that "right" is sending a message out of both sides of the nation's mouth. The founding fathers wrote the constitution; the contemporary intolerance is the expression of a different time.
Ideals everywhere are tarnished. Churches no longer wear the mantle of "holiness" they never deserved in the first place. And only those churches prepared to acknowledge their imperfections publicly and honestly will have any chance of survival. Those clinging to a "perfect image" will burn in the fire of their own pride and denial.
Banks, likewise, are the greedy graspers their board members would like hidden from public view. In the words of a radiologist, in a conversation just last week, "I have come to believe that if all the medical specialists were taken out and shot, the world would be a better place." Corporations hide their secrets from public view, even, and perhaps especially when those secrets would demonstrate their conscious choice to put profit ahead of human lives, both workers and clients/customers. Sports franchises, also, have members on their rosters who would find it troublesome to work in a normal work environment, given their lifestyle and self-interest.
Our's is a sullied world, with the reputations of those placed on pedestals inevitably falling back to "just like all others" and thereby much less than perfect.
What has, however, gone the other way, in an inflation of the desire to hide, is our tolerance of the failures, sins and attacks of others. We have become a society of intolerance, of even the slightest imperfection.
And George Will's perfect argument about no one having the right to go through life without having his feelings hurt, is precisely the opposite of the more appropriate, "No one can deny his own imperfections, and no one is entitled to the perfect intellectual argument, or the perfect faith, or the perfect holy writ, or the perfect mask in any sense!"
And because we are all imperfect, and all sinners, it is time to stop pointing the fingers thereby demonstrating our own lack of tolerance.
Bigotry, as Joe Biden once put it while running for president, has become so highly sophisticated that it no longer can be detected as what it truly is, in most cases. Nevertheless, the bigotry of some is only the sign of the bigotry of all, perhaps toward different targets. And we choose the objects of our intolerance...and were we to choose bigotry instead of another faith to fight against, we would at least have climbed up one step on the ladder towards maturity.

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