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One of the most important time periods of my life was the summer I spent in England with my family back in the early 90's. I was about 14 years old and my father went to England on a sort of "UK tour," for lack of a better term. The Brits, they loved Pastor Johnson and his family. It was a great trip.

One of my favorite stops among the many cities we visited was Bradford. When I say this to people who have been to England, they invariably scrunch up their faces and ask, "Really, Bradford?" But I loved that place. We stayed with a really kind family in a gigantic house up on a hill. I became close friends with one of the sons, Richard. I looked up to him because he was 3 years older than me and had a driver's license. He looked up to me because I was a genuine American...from California!

Memory is a funny thing. I have only vague, fuzzy outlines of much of my time in Bradford. I remember bombing down the long driveway as a passenger in the family's Ford, Richard pretending to be a Rally driver. I remember his awesome collection of Legos. I remember the friends I made at the Bradford church where my Dad spent several weeks preaching. I remember feeling a bit like a rock star.

But one of my sharpest memories is from a car ride to the church one morning. The mother, whose name I can't recall, was chatting happily until we drove past a gigantic mosque. I remember the gold domes and the strange-looking spires. And I'll never forget what she said: "We rebuke that building in the name of Jesus! Dear lord, please destroy that building. Make those walls crumble down!"

I have sharp memories of that moment. I recall being absolutely shocked. I remember wondering what would happen to the people inside the building if the lady's prayers had suddenly been answered. What a shame it would be to destroy such a pretty building. Where did that nice lady go? Looking back on it now, I feel pretty nauseous.

I don't tell this story as a knock against Christians or any faith in particular. I tell this story as one of my clearest memories of encountering bigotry. Just raw hatred. That it was one of the otherwise kindest Christians I ever met makes it all the more scary. People are capable of harboring some really vile stuff while living perfectly normal lives in every other respect. I think that's what I find so scary about it. Anyone can wish for the violent destruction of a building just because of its inhabitants and how different those people are from us.

These days I'm filled with the same sickening, helpless feelings when I read about the protests against the Cordoba Center in New York City. If you haven't heard about this so-called "Ground Zero Mosque" and the protests against it, then be glad this is the first you've heard about it. Basically, there's a right-wing movement against the building of a Islamic recreational center that has been deemed "too close to the hallowed ground of the 9/11 attacks." Wow, where to start?

The arguments against building the Cordoba Center are so weak, so full of holes and so ridiculous that it makes my head spin. The counterarguments are so straight-forward that they shouldn't need to be enumerated. Hello, Constitution? However, the news media loves confrontation. Nothing sells commercial spots like unthinking, overly emotional people screaming at each other. I've so been hoping this whole thing would blow over. Sadly it won't, stoked as it is by all of the media attention.

This morning I read this story about a new viral video that shows just how ugly the ground zero protests are becoming. The video shows a protest rally at the building site. A man who looks a bit too Muslim walks through and is accosted by the crowd, who calls him a coward, among other things. The flustered man, who turns out to be a carpenter, yells back at the crowd to let them know that they don't have any idea who he is. The crowd doesn't care. Mob mentality takes over. Security steps in. Ignorance holds sway.

I'm so bummed by this whole thing. And it's likely to get worse before it gets better.

Imagine this happening in a slightly different setting. Recall 15 years ago when a different terrorist attack took place. An ideologue from a fringe religious group called the Christian Identity parked a moving van full of explosives next to the Alfred P. Murrah Federal building, set a timer and walked away. The blast killed 168 people, including many children in a nearby day care center. It was a disgusting, vile, cowardly act carried out by a religious, anti-American extremist.

A quick look at Google Maps reveals that there are two Christian churches less than a block away in either direction: The First Church and St. Joseph's cathedral. What if someone protested those churches, complaining that they were built "too close to hallowed ground"? Would anyone in America take the protests seriously? Would anyone expect the churches to relocate just because some fringe radical who associated himself with Christianity carried out a terrorist attack nearby? I sure hope not! I would certainly hope that people on either side of the political divide would step in and remind the dim-witted protesters that A) one person is not representative of a group of millions and B) we live in a country that provides constitutional protection for people of all religions. I seriously doubt that certain former vice presidential candidates would be weighing in on the side of the protesters via Twitter. Well, maybe not...

It is clear to me that there's nothing serious about the "ground zero mosque" protests. At best it's just a bunch of emotionally damaged people who left their thinking caps at home, egged on by cynical politicians. At worse, and sadly most likely, it's just a bunch of bigots who need a target for their hatred and intolerance.


Megan said…
I agree with you totally on the protests. It drives me nuts to watch the coverage on TV. I don't know if you watch The Daily Show, but last week, Jon Stewart played a clip of Charlton Heston speaking at the NRA convention in 1999, right after the shootings at Columbine. If you replace Second Amendment with First Amendment, you would've thought he was talking about what is happening today, just discussing tolerance. It was really amazing that something said 10+ yrs ago in a bit of a different context could still ring so true today.
JohnJohn said…
That was a great episode of the Daily Show. I might post that clip tonight. He was right on, and I like how Jon Stewart was willing to admit he was wrong.
blissful_e said…
One of my friends is an American pediatrician and a Muslim. It makes me sick to think that she could be subject to violent protests or discrimination simply based on her skin colour or surname.

Speaking of names, another friend of mine is Lebanese and his name translated to English means "holy war airplane." Even though he's a redhead and one of the nicest people you could meet, he's had some trouble traveling since 9/11.

I believe that if more people know and befriend individuals who are different from them - in any and every way - the amount of bigotry and prejudice in the world would be greatly reduced.
will vizuete said…
saw this one this morning
what an idiot

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