What the hell is with this intolerance toward Islam? Honestly, I don't get it. I was watching a preview for the upcoming CNN program Unwelcome: The Muslims Next Door, a documentary about the fight in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, to build a mosque, and I found myself dumbfounded. I’m a child of the internet, so few things shock me anymore. But people outright burning mosque construction sites really throws me for a loop. As do malicious maniacs calling American Muslims “pedophiles” in front of their young children.
As it turns out, according to a new CNN poll, most Americans are totally fine with a mosque in their city, and that’s great news. But more than quarter—28 percent—aren’t fine with it. In the CNN video, a lawyer in a Murfreesboro courtroom even asks a man testifying if Islam is a religion at all, because of how they “blow themselves up.” In fact, Islam is the second-largest religion in the world. There are more than 1.5 billion Muslims in the world. Needless to say, only a vanishingly small minority of them—often manipulated by terrorist organizations for political ends—blow themselves up. For an accredited lawyer entrusted with protecting our basic rights to suggest that suicide bombing is pervasive among Muslims is outrageous.
Besides all that, if people hate Muslims because they're not attuned enough to American culture, what sense does it make not allowing them into American neighborhoods? If anything, people worried about the isolation of Islam should welcome Muslims into their communities with open arms, letting their children grow up playing with Christian and Jewish and agnostic children instead of, you know, isolating them.
To invoke the dialect of the Tea Party crowd: What happened to respect for simple freedoms? What happened to freedom of religion and freedom of speech? How can you hold high the Constitution with one hand while wagging your finger at people who believe in a different god with the other?
In my estimation, we celebrate these freedoms so heartily because, in other places, other governments have often restricted them. And they’ve made an effort to restrict them because, in many ways, it's easier to govern a population without them. As George W. Bush himself said in a 1998 interview, "a dictatorship would be a lot easier." If America were a Christian dictatorship in which we imprisoned or shot anyone with whom we disagreed, elections would be easy: “Vote for the Christian supreme leader or we’ll kill you.” OK!
But America is not a dictatorship, and our freedoms make things messy sometimes. Rush Limbaugh’s rants piss me off, but he has every right to say moronic garbage to whomever he feels. The fact that Jared Loughner was allowed to own a gun pisses me off, but, again, that was his right. In the same vein, it pisses me off that there are Muslims currently in the United States who hate us, and want to kill us. But saying that the response to that threat is to get rid of Islam is just as un-American as saying the response to Jared Loughner is a blanket ban on gun ownership, or the solution to radio hosts with whom we disagree is to censor them.
If America is to remain a truly honorable beacon of freedom, she needs to do so in spite of the challenges those freedoms entail. Sadly, by allowing every citizen to think how he’d like, America will every once in a while grow a Ted Kaczynski, a Timothy McVeigh, or a Faisal Shahzad. That is the cost of freedom of thought, and, in a word, that sucks. But the melancholy, sometimes frightening truth they don't tell you in grade-school history books is this: If you really love and believe in the experiment that is the United States of America, you need to be prepared to die not necessarily defending her freedoms, but because of her freedoms. And I’d rather die in a fire in my own home at the hands of a terrorist than try and banish from my city all Americans who worship differently from me.
Welcome to the U.S.A., people, it’s really hard work.
Unwelcome: The Muslims Next Door premieres Sunday, March 27, at 8 p.m. EST.