As a kid, I never liked bullies. Who does?

Their thing is to intimidate, to make people cower and run for cover. They get some sick pleasure in making people quake in their boots. Sometimes they are successful. Other times brave souls challenge them and force them to turn tail and run. And who doesn’t like to see a bully in flight?

When I was young, I thought bullying was strictly an adolescent phenomenon. Was I wrong!

Which brings me to the adult bullies that are turning a planned Islamic center in lower Manhattan into an inflammatory issue.

If it were not for them, the location of the center would be a non-issue.

New Yorkers, by and large, are very tolerant and democratic-minded. You can do practically anything here and it will barely raise an eyebrow, provided no one is harmed by your actions or words. The city and its people allow space for diversity and difference.

Thus, the decision to establish an Islamic community and cultural center in lower Manhattan didn’t stir the city up, save for ex-Mayor Rudy Giuliani and others of his ilk.

Actually, the project is old news here and elsewhere. It was publicly announced a few months ago with no adverse reaction. Even Fox News reported on it matter-of-factly at the time, no big deal, end of story.

So what changed?

Apparently, this collection of phonies decided sometime this summer that the topic could be opportunistically exploited for political advantage in the near (November elections) and longer term.

Once that was decided, the right-wing propaganda machine – including Fox – and unscrupulous politicians like Newt Gingrich (that’s one guy I would have loved to have met in a bar in the ’60s) reintroduced the issue into the public discourse and in so doing turned a local non-issue into a very divisive national and international brouhaha.

To call them hypocrites is an understatement. If they are so concerned about the feelings of New Yorkers, how do we explain their failure to address the inadequate health care and compensation provided to first responders at Ground Zero on 9/11? Why didn’t they speak out with the same passion for the families of the victims of 9/11?

The answer is simple: this is a rogue’s gallery. Only profit and power drives them, not decency, not fairness, not democratic sensibilities, not people’s needs. They claim to be defenders of democracy and the Constitution, but their actions betray them, as evidenced by their efforts to deny people of Islamic faith their freedom to worship in a place of their own choosing.

In their hands, our most venerable national symbols, documents, traditions, legal precedents, and rights are putty to be shaped and reshaped to advance the interests of their corporate supporters.

Newt, Rush, Glenn, Sean, and gang will stop at nothing to turn our democratic heritage into a weapon to eviscerate democracy, manipulate public opinion, and, above all, crush President Obama.  

They could not care less whether an Islamic center with a mission of tolerance, respect and mutual understanding is established in lower Manhattan. It has meaning for them only to the degree that the manufactured furor can erode support for the president and Democratic candidates this fall.

We can’t let them!




Sam Webb
Sam Webb

Sam Webb is a long-time writer living in New York. Earlier, he was active in the labor movement in his home state of Maine.