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Liberty and Justice for All

September 9th, 2010

In 1990 the Supreme Court overturned a ruling that prohibited the burning of the American flag. Though paradoxical, lighting fire to the red, white and blue was ruled an act of symbolic free speech and is thus, very American. I don’t necessarily agree that burning a flag is the most effective or respectful display of the First Amendment, but I do recognize its legality and appreciate the justification for the ruling. 

The American Flag represents the history and the ideals of the nation and is a source of national pride for Americans. As such, it is an emotionally charged symbol that finds staunch defenders who might view burning it as treason or violent protest.   

When it comes to national pride and national security, emotions run high and can replace objective arguments and concrete evidentiary support. While, emotions are great motivating forces that drive people to take action, they cloud clear judgment. 

The issue over Park 51, the Islamic cultural center proposed to be built two blocks from Ground Zero, is coinciding with the anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001 this weekend. Already, the issue has received much attention. It might even be outdated for this column. I feel, nonetheless, that the eruption of protest and harsh language against Islam from some opponents to Park 51 is expository of a deeper problem of intolerance toward peaceful Muslims in America. 

The potential site of Park 51 is near Ground Zero, and it is natural that Americans feel emotional about its location. 

Park 51 can be viewed as a threatening reminder of the attacks by extremists on 9/11. It can also be viewed as an opportunity to promote inter-faith dialogues and as a profound testament to this nation’s freedom of religion. 

Much of the most publicized rhetoric against Park 51 is full of hasty generalizations that falsely attribute the traits and extremism of a minority of Muslims to the entire Muslim population. 

Are American Muslims the defenseless, nerdy kids on the playground? It seems that too many opponents are guilty of using name-calling, sneering and taunting as ways of expressing their points of view.  

Similar to the burning of the American flag, the cruel accusations  and hateful language toward Muslims displayed during the debate over Park 51 is neither tasteful nor convincing.  

Instead of attacking the integrity and moral codes of Muslims in America, why not use a powerful emotional appeal? It’s just too close, too soon. Would you kindly consider another location?

Perhaps, that seems too simple, but I imagine it would be a far more effective and dignified way of expressing opposition. 

Dissenting voices are incredibly valuable and necessary.  In this case, the emotional argument is a worthy one, but only if it is presented in a reasonable and respectful way. Without a doubt, there are plenty of people who have argued their opposition with poise and clarity. It is the overzealous, those who receive the most media attention, to whom I refer. 

At least at JCU, let’s not reduce our arguments to blame, bullying and personal attacks, regardless of the issue at hand. Let’s be different from so many of the political arguments we see in the media and everywhere else.