Monday, August 02, 2010

When the few do not represent the many

On April 19, 1995, an American terrorist named Timothy McVeigh blew up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. McVeigh's horrible crime killed 168 people and injured 450; many young children who'd just been dropped off at the on-site daycare center were among the casualties.

The enormous explosion not only destroyed McVeigh's target building, but also damaged many nearby structures. One of them was the St. Joseph Old Cathedral, some of the interiors of which are shown in this video, along with a little history of the building's renovation:
The old cathedral endured tremendous damage during that megaton explosion. Amazingly, the tabernacle candle remained lit throughout the violent blast. And the beautiful old crucifix with its life-size corpus remained unscratched by the flying glass and debris. [...]

After being closed for almost two years, on Dec. 1, 1997, a joyful re­dedication Mass was celebrated in the newly restored cathedral.
Here's a Google street view picture of the renovated building, which as you can see, is a traditional cathedral, complete with a crucifix atop its centermost spire:

Here's another photograph, taken from the website of St. Joseph Old Cathedral, which shows the restored building overlooking the Oklahoma City National Memorial itself (the rebuilt cathedral is across the street and half a block down from the memorial):

And here's a map view, to give you a better idea of the buildings' locations:

Jesus Wept is a moving and beautiful statue commemorating the tragedy; it's located at St. Joseph's. Jesus is shown turning away from the disaster, his hand covering his face:

Although not an official part of the memorial itself, the statue nonetheless draws many of the same visitors who travel to Oklahoma City to visit the site across the street and bear witness to the horror, destruction, and loss endured there, all at the hands of hatred and violent madness.

They come to reflect; to remember; perhaps, even, to find comfort.

No-one questions the appropriateness of rebuilding a Catholic facility, overlooking the site of the bombing, where the memorial now stands--and rightly so--even though Timothy McVeigh was raised as an Irish Catholic.

Yet right-wing demagogues, with disgraced Newt Gingrich and demented ex-governor Sarah Palin leading the way, are protesting the conversion into a Muslim community center and mosque, of an old Burlington Coat Factory building in southern Manhattan. The center will be located 2-3 blocks away from "Ground Zero", the site of the 9/11 terrorist attack wherein nineteen Al Qaida members flew planes into the World Trade Center, killing nearly 3,000 people, including Americans and citizens of some 70 countries.

Quoth Gingrich:
The proposed "Cordoba House" overlooking the World Trade Center site - where a group of jihadists killed over 3000 Americans and destroyed one of our most famous landmarks - is a test of the timidity, passivity and historic ignorance of American elites.
Despite numerous leaders and journalists having pointed out that the building wherein the community center and mosque will operate does not overlook Ground Zero--and indeed could not do so unless one is claiming its residents and visitors have serious X-ray vision of the sort that would permit them to see through various concrete and steel buildings--as well as the fact that the 3000 figure actually included citizens of 70 different nations, including the United States, Newt Gingrich is still, to this day, spewing his ridiculous, hate-fomenting lies on his own website (which caused my laptop and Robert's desktop computers, both Macs, to freeze and crash, by the way, so consider yourself warned.)

Is this a fair comparison, though? I can almost hear the right wing mosque-protesters whining from my house (which is in St. Petersburg, yes, but nowhere near Russia proper). Their argument, if you insist on calling it that, is bound to be a variant of this:
McVeigh wasn't a real Catholic--be was a violent radical whose behavior reflected neither the teachings of Jesus nor the lessons of the Bible!
Well, according to Muslims around the world as well as in my own sphere--including one of my sons' martial arts teachers, a devout Muslim who organized blood drives in the aftermath of 9/11; who personally drove to New Orleans with food, water, and supplies immediately after Hurricane Katrina; who continues to throw holiday parties for St. Pete's underprivileged kids every year, and who is both an outstanding example of good citizenship as well as an all-around-wonderful, community-devoted human being in my eyes--those 19 hijackers were not true followers of Islam, but rather, were violent radicals whose behavior reflected neither the teachings of the Prophet, nor the lessons of the Qur'an.

In fact, I'd highly recommend that Gingrich, Palin, et. al. familiarize themselves with the history of the religion that renders them so petrified (and that they continue to demonize in an attempt to frighten their ignorant base).

Many rights, freedoms, and moral philosophies that only came into being as underpinnings of our society in the past couple of hundred years have in fact been integral to Islamic ethics for the past millennium.

Newt Gingrich and his ilk throw around terms they believe are loaded, like Shariah law, yet they seem to be dreadfully ignorant about the actual meanings of the words that tumble from their ugly, twisted mouths and are obviously counting on their followers to focus on the horrific examples of punishment meted out by extremist governments and thus view all Muslims, and all Muslim nations, with the same level of suspicion and fear.

They speak as though the eastern philosophers of the ninth century never existed, and they babble about "freedoms" and "rights"--the very things the Party of No have been busily stripping away from Americans for the better part of the 21st century thus far--while conveniently omitting mention of the scholarly origins which gave rise to many of the tenets of modern American jurisprudence:
To many, the word “Shariah” conjures horrors of hands cut off, adulterers stoned and women oppressed. By contrast, who today remembers that the much-loved English common law called for execution as punishment for hundreds of crimes, including theft of any object worth five shillings or more? How many know that until the 18th century, the laws of most European countries authorized torture as an official component of the criminal-justice system? As for sexism, the common law long denied married women any property rights or indeed legal personality apart from their husbands. When the British applied their law to Muslims in place of Shariah, as they did in some colonies, the result was to strip married women of the property that Islamic law had always granted them — hardly progress toward equality of the sexes.

In fact, for most of its history, Islamic law offered the most liberal and humane legal principles available anywhere in the world. Today, when we invoke the harsh punishments prescribed by Shariah for a handful of offenses, we rarely acknowledge the high standards of proof necessary for their implementation. Before an adultery conviction can typically be obtained, for example, the accused must confess four times or four adult male witnesses of good character must testify that they directly observed the sex act. The extremes of our own legal system — like life sentences for relatively minor drug crimes, in some cases — are routinely ignored. We neglect to mention the recent vintage of our tentative improvements in family law. It sometimes seems as if we need Shariah as Westerners have long needed Islam: as a canvas on which to project our ideas of the horrible, and as a foil to make us look good.

Just as Timothy McVeigh, and his radical beliefs and violent behaviors, did not represent Irish Catholics--or white men, or Americans--the radical extremists who wrought the destruction of the World Trade Center did not represent all Muslims.

And I believe it's worth repeating, for the benefit of the unfortunately hard of head and broken of soul, and in light of the possibility of redemption--slight though it may be--for the deafening demagogues who sing to them:

The extremist few do not represent the human many.

Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, and other stone-cold bigots, do not represent me; nor do they represent my New York-born husband; nor do they represent my children.

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