Friday, August 27, 2010

The Dangers of a Mosque Near Ground Zero


In our country, there is racial and ethnic prejudice that bubbles just beneath the surface, showing its ugly head on occasion. There is also real, palpable race hatred in this country, and we must face that reality. We cannot ignore the very real dangers to the Cordoba congregation and their building, of locating an Islamic center near Ground Zero.

It is such a complex situation! On one hand, I agree that our First Amendment freedom of religion is an inalienable right. On the other hand, I wonder why they would want to build a mosque in that particular place when it is so dangerous. Imam Feisel Abdul Rauf, the head of the Cordoba House project, claims that the project will foster better relations between Islam and the West. Daisy Khan, executive director of the American Society for Muslim Advancement is more confrontational: "The time for a center like this has come because Islam is an American religion," she says.

Survivors and relatives of the victims of the 9/11 attacks regard it as an affront and a way for Islam to trumpet its victory over American culture. I even read a letter from an Iranian-American, herself a Muslim, who believes that it is wrong to build it the Cordoba Center in that location.
While the Muslims have the right under our Constitution to build there, I regard it as an instance of whacking a hornets’ nest with a stick. I have no doubt that the center will become a target for violent backlash. They will spend a good part of their budget painting over the racial slurs that will be graffittied on the building. Its members will be at risk going and coming.

Our country has a violent history: synagogues are regularly desecrated. When I lived in Sunland, a suburb of Los Angeles, the doors to our synagogue were firebombed. They had been spray-painted with racial slurs many times. After we moved to the East coast, the Northridge Valley Jewish Community Center where my daughter had been in an after-school program, was attacked by Buford O. Furrow Jr., a self-professed white supremacist, who sprayed the center with bullets injuring an elderly receptionist and several children, and killing a Filipino mail carrier.

For many years, African American churches were targeted for destruction, sometimes with people in them, and not just during the height of the Civil Rights Movement. Even as late as the George W. Bush administration, the burning of black churches was a regular occurrence. As recently as November 2008, a church being built for a black congregation in Springfield, Massachusetts, was destroyed by arson.
Considering that we are still at war in two Arab countries and that relations with Islam are very rocky, it seems to me that the wiser course would be to build someplace that would not draw the wrath of the bigots and race haters.

Sad to say, the publicity around the Cordoba Center will very likely draw hatred towards other Islamic institutions around the country. While I am glad that both New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New York Governor David Patterson have done the right thing by being supportive of the Cordoba Center and that the building commission has cleared the way for them to build, I fear for the congregation. The law is on the side of the Muslims; the government is making all the appropriate moves but if I were a Muslim, I would stay away from it because the haters are the wild cards.

Do not underestimate the haters. Sometimes they are organized, sometimes they are singular, but too many of them have guns and malevolent intent. Remember Timothy McVeigh: his fury was so deep, he bombed a government office and killed hundreds of people including babies in the child care center. He was a lone wolf—a very dangerous lone wolf.

So what is the answer? Should we live in fear? Should we curb our plans so as not to draw the haters? I know many will disagree with me, but I counsel waiting. Time heals all wounds. We must be realistic: the haters are out there and many of them have guns. I am sorry to say that I doubt that the building can be built without incident. And if they manage to raise the building, it will be a sitting duck. Listen to me: go build somewhere else.

Published by MyLatinoVoice, August 23, 2010.
This column drew a lot of disagreement. To read the comments,go to

Monday, August 23, 2010

Immigration: Waiting For Obama To Pull Rabbit Out Of Hat

In November 2008, we elected a young, visionary president who we believed was going to fix everything, but he encountered a few problems. His predecessor did not tell him how bad things really were. He did not know that the greed-mongers on Wall Street were running wild. He could not have known that the economy was almost in ruins and the actual costs of the war were higher than we had been told.

Barack Obama is eloquent and very, very smart, but guess what? He isn’t Superman. Heck, he’s not even Spiderman. Eighteen months into his administration, he has stacked up an impressive list of accomplishments, but we still have over 9% unemployment. The GOP does everything it can to block anything he does, then they cry foul when anyone points out THEIR guy was the one who made a mess of things. Immigration was one of Obama’s stated priorities but you would not know it if you looked at what he has been doing. Then again, keeping our economy from slipping into a greater depression, the long and difficult struggle to get universal health care passed, and trying to cope with the disaster in the Gulf were not on his original list of things to do.

It is seems cold to counsel patience to the unemployed, the people who are losing their houses and businesses, or to immigrants who live in fear of being discovered and deported, but he can’t do everything at once and in the case of immigration, part of the problem is that the Republicans are so divided. You may be surprised to learn that the GOP talks out of both sides of its mouth when it comes to immigration.

Have you ever thought about why George W. Bush was so keen to pass immigration reform, or why it went nowhere even though he was able to pass huge tax cuts for the rich and start two wars?

Without question, the GOP is the party of the rich and of the business interests. Proudly, it is the incarnation of capitalism. I know I will sound like a “commie-pinko” when I say this but capitalism depends on cheap labor and on the exploitation of the poor, and that is one of the main reasons we will never have immigration reform if we wait for the GOP to act.

Think about the clothes we wear. Look at the labels: where were they made? If they were made in China, Thailand, Mexico, or most any other country outside of ours, you can be sure that the workers who made them are barely making a living wage, and they are not getting paid what United States union workers would get.

Why have so many American businesses have gone off-shore? Because they can get cheap labor and pay few or no taxes. Then we go to Walmart or K-Mart or Target and pay a few dollars for a commodity that, if made in this country, would cost at least twice as much.

One of the main sanctions in any serious immigration bill would punish employers for hiring undocumented workers. In other words, passing such a sanction would poke a finger in the eyes of GOP contributors; businessmen who depend on cheap labor to produce what they sell to Americans. But that’s only half of the problem.

There is a faction of the GOP comprised, in part, of the Tea Party Patriots who follow the nativist traditions of the most conservative parts of the Party. Because of the negative connotations of the term “nativists,” they prefer to call themselves “patriots.” They place the interests of the established population over those who are new to country. Typically, they are bitterly opposed to immigrants, especially those who are here illegally. They are determined to block any immigration reform that would allow the undocumented workers to remain here. They would rather spend millions to round up and deport 12 million undocumented workers and their children than allow them to be normalized, even though this approach makes no sense and spends even more money than they lose in allowing them to stay. They claim that undocumented workers take jobs that otherwise would go to real Americans and use public services and medical resources while paying no taxes. Meanwhile, the defenders of undocumented workers point out that they are doing the jobs that Americans will not do. The arguments are familiar and irresolvable.

If you put the two parts of the GOP together the result is inertia and it explains why John McCain, former presidential candidate and a long-time Senator from Arizona, is straddling the fence. On one hand, he is the self-proclaimed maverick who has taken pride, in the past, on working with Democratic senators on legislation. On the other hand, he is a Republican with deep ties to business interests in his state. Still, on yet another hand, he represents Arizona, now ground zero for the anti-immigration ferment. Once, he worked for immigration reform, now he is not so sure because the Tea Party Patriots are on his right flank, dogging his steps. How will he satisfy the competing interests in his party? How will he hang on to his seat as he fails to satisfy anybody?

President Obama said last week that the only way that there can be immigration reform is with bipartisan cooperation. I hope somebody tells him that so long as the Republicans are bitterly divided, and funded by business interests, there will be no bipartisanship on this issue. The Democratic Party will have to go it alone.

*Photo courtesy of the Seattle Weekly
Published on MyLatinoVoice