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Ground Zero Mosque Opponents Have a Lot of Work to Do

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If we take Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck and Newt Gingrich at their word, their objection to the proposed community center two blocks north of Ground Zero is that the entire area is hallowed ground, and a Muslim facility so close to the site is an insult to the victims and heroes of September 11.

Of course this is entirely about a swath of 9/11 fetishists, mostly Christians, ginning up anti-Muslim fear and demagoguery to score political points. It's a cheap and obvious exploitation of the widespread American prejudice that anyone who happens to be Muslim is equally as guilty and offensive as the terrorists who hijacked and crashed two airplanes into the World Trade Center towers.

It must be an election year because Republicans are once again rolling out September 11 as a wedge issue. You know, because they care about honoring the fallen. When it helps them politically.

If Beck, Limbaugh, Palin and Gingrich, along with the entire population of far-right AM talk radio, really cared about hallowed ground and historical preservation, they wouldn't be limiting their crusade to Park 51 (formerly Cordoba House).

As many of us have heard, there's a strip club two blocks away. I'm not sure how lap dances are less offensive than a religious community center. In fact, there are quite a few places in lower Manhattan within short walking distance of Ground Zero that would have to be eliminated as part of these stringent guidelines dictating how sacred ground ought to be respected. Via Twitter, Sarah Palin urged President Obama to weigh in on the Park 51 issue. Well, I urge Sarah Palin to weigh in on the strip club "at Ground Zero." We're waiting, Sarah. Will you campaign against the strip club? How about the gun shows that happen at Cox Pavilion, not far from the site of the Oklahoma City bombing? Or the shinto shrines a mile or two from Pearl Harbor?

Actually, come to think of it, I want all of the usual suspects -- Beck, Palin, Gingrich and the rest -- to weigh in on a variety of actual trespasses upon hallowed ground.

Let's begin with the actual ground. The Ground Zero. Literally, the ground. The One World Trade Center (aka. Freedom Tower) website notes the following feature:

The below-grade concourses will include approximately 55,000 square feet of retail space and connect to an extensive transportation and retail network...

So there's going to be a shopping mall literally in the ground of Ground Zero. "Below-grade" means "in the ground." The Ground. In other words, Sarah Palin and her entire gaggle of various babies and ghost writers can visit Ground Zero and honor the heroes and victims of 9/11 while trying on tankinis at Juicy Couture (or whatever clothing stores end up there) constructed within the actual ground of Ground Zero.

This bears repeating: unlike Park 51, which is blocks away, there's going to be a 55,000 square foot mall under the same ground where people fell to their deaths on that terrible day. Ground that's mixed with the remains of the dead. A mall.

And it wouldn't be the first time we've besmirched and destroyed the hallowed ground where American heroes have died.

I have yet to see Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin contribute their considerable wealth and celebrity to the cause of preserving the Wilderness and Chancellorsville battlefields in Virginia where Washington, D.C.'s suburban sprawl is rapidly consuming the land where thousands of Americans were killed during the American Civil War. When will these self-proclaimed patriots stand against the latest eyesore -- a Walmart Super Store that's likely to be built on the Wilderness battlefield?

Newt Gingrich, for his part, has written several books about the Civil War, one of which fantasizes about a Confederate victory at Gettysburg. Actually, I once stood several feet away from Gingrich as he held a book signing at a Gettysburg gift shop located a block or two from a McDonald's on Steinwehr Avenue -- a McDonald's that sits on the actual battlefield, specifically the location of the infamous Pickett's Charge on the third day of battle. (The gift shop is also technically on the battlefield.)

The McDonald's is next to a Friendly's restaurant and across from a hotel with a swimming pool where tourists can honor the fallen while wearing arm floaties and smacking each other with foam noodles. There's a restaurant called General Pickett's Buffet on the battlefield. There used to be a Stuckey's Restaurant literally in the Peach Orchard. There's a 7-11 convenience store where U.S. cavalry commander General John Buford, arguably the hero of Gettysburg, was headquartered on the first day.

Sarah? Beck?

On the site of some of the most bloody fighting, East Cemetery Hill, there's a towering Holiday Inn, a Rita's Italian Ice, a cigar store, a Hall of Presidents wax museum, another gift shop and another convenience store. Oh and there's a hilarious outhouse attraction complete with an animatronic townie relieving himself and yelling at tourists to stop "letting all the flies in." Hilarious. West of the town, on the site of one of the Civil War's largest field hospitals, known at the time as Camp Letterman, there's a Walmart and a trailer park. South of town, behind Power's Hill where my great-great grandfather's 155th Pennsylvania volunteer regiment bivouacked, you can walk the hallowed ground while playing a round of miniature golf at Mulligan McDuffer's Putt-Putt.

Sure, a soulless free market conservative might shrug off these monuments to corporate consumerism as being the wheels of commerce and capitalism rolling on. Even if that means rolling over the ground where 23,040 United States soldiers were killed or wounded (the Confederates suffered around 20-25,000 casualties at Gettysburg). For the federal Army of the Potomac, that was a 27 percent casualty rate. Unimaginable by today's standards.

And that leads us to an aspect of this particular expanse of hallowed ground that most directly relates to the fracas over Park 51.

To review: Park 51 will be two blocks away from the actual WTC site. It's being installed by American citizens, the chief of whom, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, is an American citizen who has worked with the Bush administration on Muslim outreach. These are peaceful Muslims who had absolutely nothing to do with the terrorist attacks nearby. The opponents of the inaccurately dubbed "Ground Zero Mosque" suggest it's the work of an enemy religion and offensive to the memory of those who died.

But at Gettysburg, just south of the town and west of the Emmitsburg Road near the tree-line from which 12-15,000 Confederate soldiers emerged on the third day of battle to attack the United States army on Cemetery Ridge, stands a tall marble and bronze statue of General Robert E. Lee, commanding general of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. It's not the only Confederate monument on the actual battlefield, but it's certainly the most striking and the most famous. At the peak of the obelisk is Lee mounted atop his horse, Traveler, staring out at the battlefield. Just below him are heroic bronze representations of random Virginia Confederates.

This general committed treason against the United States. By definition, he was a traitor who commanded a rebel army against the U.S. and inflicted unprecedented casualties. Specifically, General Lee's invasion of the north and advance into Gettysburg was responsible for the aforementioned 23,040 United States military casualties, and, of those 23,040 casualties, 3,155 were killed on that ground.

Yet there's a statue at Gettysburg honoring the fiercest enemy of the United States at that time. Had Lee been victorious, the United States as we know it today would not exist. But he gets a statue on Pennsylvania soil -- a statue which, by the way, stands at the exact same height as the statue to U.S. General George Gordon Meade, the commander of the Army of the Potomac (and a Pennsylvanian).

I can't even imagine the September 11 equivalent of such a memorial to an enemy of the United States. Now, just to be clear, I'm not advocating one way or another about the Confederate battlefield monuments at Gettysburg (the retail shops, on the other hand, are a blight). I'm merely drawing a parallel here. And if Newt, Sarah and Glenn are truly so driven to maintain the sacred purity of American "hallowed ground," they definitely have a lot of work to do. And they can start by campaigning for the removal of the Lee statue of Gettysburg. You know, for the sake of consistency. Let's see how popular that'll be, especially with their southern fanbase.

Naturally they won't bother because the mosque issue isn't really as much about the ground as it is about stoking and capitalizing on religious intolerance. When you eliminate the inconsistencies, contradictions and oversights, all that's left is political fear-mongering, demagoguery and a disturbing disregard for the free exercise clause. If it was truly about hallowed ground, we'd hear about all of those other American sites.

Ultimately, though, I'm expecting too much from the modern conservative movement, considering how it's built entirely upon obvious contradictions, unserious chicanery and an escalating campaign of intolerance.

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