I Sit And Look Out: Nothing does more harm than intolerance in society

By Kenneth Kowald

In the manufactured controversy over the planned Islamic center on Park Place, certain actors deserve special mention.

That pseudo-Christian, Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy and the beneficiary of religious nepotism, never misses a chance to denigrate those who do not agree with his narrow point of view. He does so in vicious and inflammatory words. Weak-kneed U.S. Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has forgotten the long periods of persecution suffered by his fellow Mormons.

Those supporters of local rule — when it suits their purposes — and family values Newt Gingrich (check out how he got his first divorce) and “mama grizzly” Sarah Palin (she just cannot get rid of Bristol and Levi) added their two cents. Carl Paladino and Rick Lazio should stand in a corner every day for the rest of their lives and repeat 100 times former U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s admonition to us all: “You are entitled to your own opinions. You are not entitled to your own facts.”

Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani keeps reminding us of how awful a mayor he was, except for the brief period after Sept. 11, 2001, when he showed true leadership and then blew it because he wanted a third term — illegal at the time. Our president finally upheld the First Amendment in a press conference last month, indicating he ought to do such events more often than every five months. Our accidental governor, coming out of his scandal-ridden and inept administration, inserts himself into a situation which does not need him.

State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) should be obligated to take a year-long seminar, taught by historians and theologians, on the subjects of religious warfare, discrimination and freedom. The Anti-Defamation League, throwing aside a century of its history, should be ashamed to make a statement contrary to its mission — which Islamophobes use for cover.

The U.S. Constitution is clear on this matter and there should be no exceptions to the First Amendment. As long as those who propose the Islamic center adhere to the laws and regulations governing such a building, they should be permitted to proceed.

The men of the Dutch East India Co., who founded this great city, were not religious zealots. If you were a decent, honest, productive person, they did not give a damn how you worshipped or if you did. They called Gov. Peter Stuyvesant to task when he tried to harass Quakers and others. In that spirit, non-Quakers wrote and signed the Flushing Remonstrance, in support of Quaker freedom of worship.

The Dutch had recently won their independence and they knew the horrors of religious warfare. In 1624, Europe was in the first stages of the Thirty Years’ War, which began as a conflict between Roman Catholics and Protestants and ruined Europe for generations.

There never was a ghetto in Amsterdam, perhaps the only major European city which did not have one. One of Rembrandt’s homes, which Elaine and I visited, was in a section with a large Jewish population. The Netherlands has been called — rightly, I believe — the first capitalist democracy.

But tolerance goes only so far, even in the center of the universe. The first Catholic church, St. Peter’s, opened in Manhattan in 1786.

Martin Niemoller, son of a Lutheran pastor, was a submarine officer in World War I. He became a Lutheran minister and early on supported Hitler. Then he and others formed the anti-Nazi Confessing Church and he spent eight years in concentration camps until he was liberated by the Allies.

In 1946, he wrote: “When the Nazis came for the communists/I remained silent;/I was not a communist./When they locked up the social democrats,/I remained silent;/I was not a social democrat./When they came for the trade unionists,/I did not speak out;/I was not a trade unionist./When they came for the Jews,/I remained silent;/I wasn’t a Jew./When they came for me,/there was no one left to speak out.”

Hatred, fear and paranoia should have no place in our political or religious lives. They that sow the wind shall reap the whirlwind.

Next time: Words to live by

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