How Hard is This?

Polish President Lech Kacszynski and 95 others were killed in a plane crash in Russia last April. A few days later, Polish boy and girl scouts erected a four-meter wooden cross in front of the presidential palace in Warsaw.

It’s been four months, a new president is in office and life is returning to normal. Most Poles think it’s time to move the cross away from the palace, others think it should be left where it is. It’s getting controversial. Poland’s constitution separates church and state; those who want to move the cross away from the palace say such a display is inappropriate for a modern secular state. Those who want to keep the cross say Poland is an overwhelmingly Catholic country and the cross represents their interests.

Although I may have an opinion on the issue, it’s not for me to decide. It’s for the Poles to decide.

In the US, our constitution guarantees freedom of religion. A Muslim group, the Cordoba Initiative, wants to build a community center in New York City, two blocks from the site of the former World Trade Center. Some people say this should not be allowed, because the men who attacked the World Trade Center (among other places) were Muslim. This view is clearly anti-constitutional and unAmerican. The people who shout this crap on cable tee vee are either stupid (yes, half-term Governor Sarah Palin, I’m looking at you) or disingenuous (that would be you, Newt).

Some others (the Anti-Defamation League, Catholic Archbishop Timothy Dolan and five-and-a-half term Governor Howard Dean) say there’s no doubt the Cordoba Initiative has the right to build its community center (called Park51), but that it shouldn’t – because of the sensitivity of the location.

Huh? I’m thinking you people will have to go sit with Ms. Palin over in the area reserved for stupid (although not nearly as far in as her seat). By all reports, the area around the WTC site is littered with bars and strip clubs. If the site of the 9-11 attacks is hallowed ground, then are those establishments sacrilege? No one’s calling for their removal. (Come to think of it, the 9-11 hijackers reportedly spent their pre-attack weeks hanging out at strip clubs – not community centers – so maybe I’m onto something here….)

A new Pew poll shows one in five Americans think Barack Obama is a Muslim, which means I know more about Polish politics than many of my fellow citizens (and – gulp – voters) know about their own country. (“You people in the stupid section! Move over! Make room! Lots of room!”)

In the disingenuous section, Newt Gingrich said allowing Park51 to be built is “like putting a Nazi sign next to the Holocaust museum” and that Park51 should be built when churches and synagogues are allowed in Saudi Arabia.

(“Holy Cow! I just realized! That cross in Warsaw! It’s four meters high! Four meters equals 13 feet! Thirteen! Is it the work of Satan?” Sounds stupid, doesn’t it?)

Listen, Newt, if you wanna bring some country down to the level of Saudi Arabia, emigrate. Stop messing with my country. And your Nazi comment is crass beyond belief. If you want to know why you will never hold an elective office again, take a peek in the mirror the next time you brush your teeth.

Park51 is a proposed community center, like a YMCA or a JCC. It’s a place for kids’ art classes and pick-up basketball, book readings and potluck dinners. Community centers, as the name implies, build community, whether urban ones like Park51 or rural ones like Grange halls and 4-H clubs. They give kids a constructive place to spend idle hours and seniors a place to come and not feel so lonely.

Community centers are anti-terrorist. They should be places to bind us together, not tear us apart. We should thank God – five times a day – there are people who still want to build them.

© Mark Floegel, 2010

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