In the Same Boat

Ground Zero backlash shows the ease of intolerance

The man I am going to marry, who is of mixed Burundian/Congolese descent, was the target of an attempted Muslim honor killing in April 2002.

After a cousin snooped on Patrick’s computer and found our amorous e-mails, a group of relatives confronted Patrick in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, seized his clothing and travel documents, said that he had brought shame to the family and would be better off dead, and demanded that he go with them. He refused and said he would decide about his own life. His uncle lunged at him with a knife. Patrick cried out and kicked the knife out of his hand. Neighbors intervened. I was able to get him safely to Europe, where he lives today.

Years later, the uncle apologized and asked Patrick for help with (wait for it) his own gay son. Even would-be murderers can learn that violence is not the answer. Yet if Patrick had not stood his ground and fought back that day, his ability to teach anyone would have died with him.

I tell this story now because Patrick and I do not blame all Muslims for the attempted murder. We blame the perpetrator and those who condoned his acts. Group blame only plays into the radicals’ hands. Every social dispute does not lead to murder or a clash of civilizations.

The recent controversy over the planned Islamic center in lower Manhattan has led to a growing political assault on the Constitution that began by targeting the 14th Amendment’s provision on birthright citizenship and now targets First Amendment religious freedoms. In the name of defending America, so-called conservatives are attacking its foundations — with Newt Gingrich even invoking Saudi Arabia as a model for religious policy.

The leader of the Cordoba Initiative, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, is a moderate who condemned the 9/11 attacks as un-Islamic and seeks to improve relations between Islam and the West. You would never know this to read Charles Krauthammer and Andrew Breitbart, who smear him with misrepresentations and guilt by association.

Many agree with Anti-Defamation League National Director Abraham Foxman that, while the Cordoba Initiative has the right to build at 45 Park Place, it should desist out of sensitivity to 9/11 survivors. This overlooks the fact that Muslims were among the victims on 9/11. Muslims are our neighbors and co-workers. Indeed, lower Manhattan already has two mosques, one pre-dating the World Trade Center. They have to turn away worshippers for lack of space.

Infringing fundamental freedoms is too high a price for assuaging someone’s pain. Sensibilities do not trump the Free Exercise clause.

Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic posted a blog item on Aug. 9 titled ”Muslims Infiltrate Pentagon! Judeo-Christian Civilization Collapses.” It turns out that a worship schedule from the Pentagon chaplain’s office includes Muslim services. Goldberg writes, ”It is hard to believe that Muslims are allowed to pray in the building they attacked.” Goldberg is kidding. Unfortunately, many of our fellow citizens are not.

My partner Patrick escaped to the West for its freedoms. Those freedoms are under assault not just from radical Islamists abroad but from radical Christianists and xenophobes in America. Whether the scapegoats of the moment are Muslims, immigrants or gay people, the speed with which intolerance flares up is a reminder that the rights of LGBT people are interwoven with those of others. When Republicans in one breath decry ”judicial activism” and in the next call for slicing up the Constitution as a fundraising and voter-mobilization ploy, it is time to mobilize ourselves with new and renewed alliances.

As the old saying goes, we may have come here on different ships, but we’re all in the same boat now.

Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist whose work has appeared on Salon.com and the Independent Gay Forum. He can be reached at rrosendall@starpower.net.

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