NEW YORK - An angry mob showed up in lower Manhattan to protest the opening of an "extremist Islamic center that aims to mock the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, and create an army of jihadists who'll wage a battle that will eventually, if successful, destroy the America."
Sound far-fetched? That's because it is.
The above statement is pure fabrication. Pure fabrication - with the exception of the angry mob. They actually did show up.
Egged on by right-wing talk radio and the rest of the tea party crowd, these people descended to protest a "mosque" they perceived to be too close to Ground Zero.
Every mosque, they argued, is a "breeding ground for terrorists, as Islam is based in cruelty and terror and its logical outcome is the fight against modernity, democracy and tolerance."
Further, given that the 9/11 hijackers were Islamic, the hate-talkers say, the "mosque" must certainly be a slap in the face to those who perished. (Whether or not this would be an insult to the several hundred Muslims who also died there was never explicitly said.)
What's being built two block away from Ground Zero isn't even a mosque at all, but a community center based on Islamic values. According to the website for Cordoba House, the center's name, the mission will "[promote] tolerance, reflecting the rich diversity of New York City."
While these are likely not values appreciated by the frothing demonstrators, they are a far cry from mocking 9/11 victims.
Then there's the concept that if people of one religion do something wicked to some particular group or in some certain place, it naturally follows that the presence of that religion near the people or area where the atrocities occurred is somehow an insult. But except in the case of Islam, no one in America believes that. If that were the case, there should be no Christian churches near any synagogue, given the horrible persecution that Jews have experienced for centuries at the hands of Christians. But there are synagogues and churches side-by-side all around this city.
And, of course, Catholic churches are allowed not only to be near, but also to run, elementary schools.
Most nakedly obvious is the blatant bigotry against Islam. Those protesting the "mosque" argue that it is a religion of hate based on violence. A fair reading of the Koran will reveal some truly ugly verses-but the same can be said of the Bible. There are acts of genocide, incest, hatred, collective punishment, and so on in both the Old (Torah) and New Testaments.
But millions upon millions of religious people, Jewish, Christian and Islamic, base their faith not on this or that terrible verse, but on a perception that their preferred holy book tells them to love their neighbor.
Sure, Osama bin Laden calls himself a Muslim, but Pat Robertson (who told America we deserved 9/11) calls himself a Christian. In Israel, the hateful settlers take the Torah as their basis, but so do the progressive and democratic sections of the Zionist movement.
Just as most Christians and Jews are not extremists, neither are most Muslims. In fact, the very center being protested has as its aim to "provide a place where individuals, regardless of their backgrounds, will find a center of learning, art and culture; and most importantly, a center guided by Islamic values in their truest form - compassion, generosity, and respect for all."
Compassion, generosity and respect for all: These are values common to billions of Muslims, Christians and Jews, as well as any nonbeliever, Communist or true progressive.
Perhaps, most chilling of all is what these demonstrators were demanding: the government to stop the construction of a community center specifically because of the religion of those building it. In short, they wanted the suspension of the Bill of Rights.
Is there anything more chilling than thousands of people demonstrating against fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution?
Osama bin Laden and his thugs wanted to destroy the west, particularly the United States. They failed miserably. Only seven years after 9/11, the American people elected the first ever African American president, a man who grew up in a Muslim country and whose middle name, Hussein, is the same as that of two current or recent Middle Eastern rulers.
There is a huge democratic movement in this country, with labor at its core, that is white, African American, Asian, Latino, Arab and that unites people of all faiths or lack thereof. Its aim is to continue the very American tradition of the fight for peace, equality, democracy, civil rights and freedom-including of religion.
In an ironic twist, though many of them sported American flags, those protesting downtown had much less in common with this movement-and much more in common with bin Laden.
Photo: Rudi Odeh-Ramadan, of New York, speaks in support of a proposed mosque and cultural center near Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan to be named Cordoba House at a community board meeting in New York, May 25. Odeh-Ramadan stated she was a first responder on 9/11 in the wake of terror attacks in New York, and also supported the proposal. Craig Ruttle/AP