“My faith in the Constitution is whole; it is complete; it is total. And I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction, of the Constitution.”
When those words were spoken on July 25, 1974, they were eloquently put by an outstanding woman and fellow Texan, Congresswoman Barbara Jordan. She was a member of the House Judiciary Committee investigating the impeachment of President Richard Nixon.
And as I have listened and watched the stunning debate over the potential location of a Muslim community center and mosque two blocks away from where the World Trade Center towers were destroyed on Sept. 11, 2001, Jordan’s precise words keep coming to mind.
In the aftermath of the tragic 9/11 attacks, many Americans felt it was critical for the United States to not the let the terrorists — al-Qaida — win by taking from us what we succeeded in getting from the British between 1775 and 1783: our freedom and democracy.
Yet in our zeal to fight terrorism worldwide, we have chipped away at our precious rights, willing to surrender hard fought civil liberties under the guise of protecting ourselves from terrorists at home and abroad. And we stand today, a nation embroiled in a local zoning dispute over the possible building of a 13-story Muslim cultural center that will house a mosque, a theatre and other amenities.
It has been described as the “Ground Zero Mosque,” which is ridiculous considering it will be two blocks away from the site of the fallen World Trade Center towers. Yet what has been fascinating and demoralizing to watch is the clear and unmistakable religious bigotry that has taken over this conversation. Critics of the project contend that they are not trampling our precious constitutional rights of religious freedom by opposing the project. They contend that it is simply in bad taste to build it so close to ground zero, and that Americans are far too emotional about issue.
Other words really come to mind. Irrational. Hysterical. Intolerant. Hypocritical.
Over the last several years, we have witnessed Americans troops shedding blood on the battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan, fighting for American liberty and values. We hold ourselves up with self-righteousness as the paragon of democracy and freedom, yet we are quick to stifle the freedom of others we simply don’t agree with.
A lot of the hateful rhetoric spewing out of talk radio, on blogs and on mainstream TV stems from a deep-seated mistrust, hatred and dislike of anyone practicing Islam. In our politically correct way, we say that we respect Muslims who aren’t intent on launching a jihad, but the venom evident in the words of many shows that not to be true. As James Carville debated this issue on CNN with Bill Bennett, Carville talked about his Muslim friends being sickened by this, only to see Bennett demand if they publicly repudiated the Muslims involved in 9/11 and terrorism.
Is that what we’ve come to? We willingly want to demand to see IDs of Hispanic-looking folks who might be here illegally, but we also want any American Muslim to prove their patriotism by denouncing any and every crazed and deranged Muslim in the world who seeks to do us harm? Never mind that we have Muslims fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan — proving themselves to be worthy Americans who are on “our side.”
The pain and heartache that was created on 9/11 was unbearable for many Americans.
The nation was traumatized, shocked and paralyzed by the brazen acts caused by the bastards who didn’t swear allegiance to peace, but instead to a murderous man named Osama bin Laden and a loose-knit terror network named al-Qaida.
For some reasons, Republicans have lost sight of the fact that even President George W. Bush made clear that America hasn’t been at war with Islam. And clearly some Democrats are so afraid to stand up for the U.S. Constitution that they are about as weak as a wet sheet of paper.
Now instead of joining hands with fellow Americans, including Muslim Americans, our deep-seated hatred of Muslims is calling us to detest this community center and mosque.
As the drama has unfolded with rapid speed over the last several days, I’ve tried to understand how a nation so willingly to pronounce our “American values” across the world could so easily forget that the early American settlers left a nation to escape religious persecution. Our Founding Fathers could have easily created a national religion. But they had the foresight to see into the future and allow this to be a land where anyone could choose, or not choose, to practice their religion freely.
Years ago while interning at the Houston Defender, I remember writing an editorial about a Texas ACLU lawyer and member of the NAACP defending a leader of the Ku Klux Klan, who was being ordered to turn over membership roles of the group. No matter how much the attorney detested the KKK personally, he spoke of their rights being just as important as the NAACP, and he cited how efforts were made in the 1940s, 50s and 60s to force the NAACP to reveal their membership roles.
Fighting to protect and uphold the U.S. Constitution even means defending those we can’t stand. We cannot be so willing to exclude someone from the protection that the document affords.
Rep. Barbara Jordan also spoke to this issue in that tense hearing room on July 25, 1974:
“Earlier today, we heard the beginning of the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States: ‘We, the people.’ It’s a very eloquent beginning,” she said. “But when that document was completed on the seventeenth of September in 1787, I was not included in that ‘We, the people.’ I felt somehow for many years that George Washington and Alexander Hamilton just left me out by mistake. But through the process of amendment, interpretation, and court decision, I have finally been included in ‘We, the people.’”
Any American who claims to love this nation with all of his or her heart should take the same view — no matter how raw our emotions have been rubbed or how much anger we have for the despicable human beings who killed thousands of Americans on 9/11. None of us should be so angry and shameful that we trample the one document that has held this nation together all of these years.
I am a believer in Jesus Christ; He is my personal Lord and savior. I am an American who loves this country with all of my heart and soul. But I also believe that the building of a Muslim community center near the World Trade Center site will not be an insult to the souls lost when those planes flew into the Twin Towers. It will not be a slap in the face to others traumatized by the events of that day. Allowing this project to go forward will show the best of America. It will mean that we not only love and respect our values, but we also revere them to the point that we allow something to go forward, even when other Americans disagree.
Even the pain of 9/11 isn’t enough to turn our backs on the U.S. Constitution. THAT would simply be un-American.
Roland S. Martin is an award-winning CNN analyst and the author of the forthcoming book “The First: President Barack Obama‘s Road to the White House as originally reported by Roland S. Martin.” Please visit his website at www.RolandSMartin.com. To find out more about Roland S. Martin and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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