This Op-Ed appeared in the Wall Street Journal on Friday.
Come with Me to Tennessee or Stay out of My Backyard
By Russell Simmons
Chairman of The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding and a UN Goodwill Ambassador
We hear a lot these days about how this famous conservative, or that one over there, has nothing against Islam.
We hear that the opponents of the Muslim community center planned for a site two blocks from Ground Zero, don’t question the right of American Muslims to worship where they choose – that, in fact, the Newt Gingriches and Sarah Palins of this country are all about tolerance and the Constitution. They’re just asking for compassion for those grieving the losses of 9/11.
Well, I’m reminded of a passage with which both Mr. Gingrich and Ms. Palin should be familiar: You shall know them by their fruits.
In the New Testament, Jesus warns against false prophets, explaining how to judge truth-tellers from snake oil salesmen: How do they act – what are the fruits of their labors? “Do people pick grapes from thornbushes,” Jesus asks, “or figs from thistles?”
If Gingrich, Palin, or any who claim their problem with the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” is not one of religion but location want to prove themselves, I have a simple suggestion: Come with me to Tennessee. Or California. Or Wisconsin.
Because there are mosque projects on hold in all those places, too – held back by hate, pure and simple.
In Murfreesboro, hundreds of protestors recently marched in protest of a Islamic community’s construction plans. In Temecula, tea partiers have picketed the Muslim community’s Friday prayers. In Sheboygan, a group of pastors have led the fight to keep Muslims from establishing a mosque in an abandoned health food store.
Are these protests also a result of the Islamic community’s insensitivity to the larger community’s needs? Why haven’t Palin, Gingrich and their ilk defended the rights of Muslims across the country, if they’re so comfortable with Islam?
It seems to me that their silence speaks volumes.
Unlike many who speak so authoritatively about the Manhattan neighborhood for which Cordoba House is planned – I actually live here. The gapping hole of Ground Zero lies just outside my windows; when I leave my apartment, I pass by Ladder 10 and Engine 10, the firehouse that lost so many firefighters that horrific day. Gingrich, Palin, et al, are speaking not of some abstract stretch of land, but of my home.
And in my home, I will not stand for fear-mongering or hate speech.
[pagebreak]The blocks around Ground Zero make up a neighborhood blessed by a dizzying diversity – of colors, faiths, and political opinion. My neighbors are an embodiment of the American Idea, a collection of individuals who don’t have to conform to the expectations of others, but are free to flourish and thrive in all their humanity under the protection of that finest of American documents, the Constitution.
And in this neighborhood, of all places, we cannot honor the memories of those lost by spitting on the very values that make us a nation. We do no honor to our dead – many of whom (the protestors conveniently forget) were innocent Muslims – by making a scapegoat of an entire religion, and the 1.5 billion people who follow it.
As Americans, on the contrary, we have a sacred responsibility to defend the most vulnerable among us and minorities who ar
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