The 9/11 tragedy had nothing to do with religion, and everything to do with criminal mass murderers.
But today you wonder how many of us understand that, as anti-Islamic hatred connected to 9/11 appears to be growing and polls show outright bigotry toward Muslims rising.
Against this backdrop, you want reporters to cover the story about a pastor threatening to burn a Quran. I know it becomes a spectacle when you see a small-time religious figure hopping from one national media appearance to another, but I'd rather see stories like that overplayed than ignored.
Denver's media should take extra steps to air out signs of bigotry toward Muslims in our own community. The stories are out there, I'm sure. They just have to be told.
Here's the kind of story I mean.
In an Aug. 2 column in the Huffington Post in support of the proposed mosque/community center near ground zero, Republican Ali Hasan asked his "fellow conservatives" to "quit lying,"
"If you are against the mosque," he wrote, "then call yourself a bigot and give us the gift of an honest dialogue, the kind we carry on so proudly here in America."
As you might imagine, this wasn't received very well in GOP circles, and the anger reverberated on talk radio, blogs, and, of course, Facebook.
Writing on her friend Nikki Mata's Facebook page the day Hasan's column appeared, prominent 912 Project activist Virginia Young expressed her view.
Young is the founder of the IN GOD WE TRUST 912 PROJECT and the Broomfield 912 Project, which is apparently one of the most influential 912 groups in Colorado. Tea Party groups like hers had a major impact on the Republican Party this election cycle, producing GOP candidates like Ken Buck and Dan Maes.
"I am bigot," she wrote. "Latisha I am still waiting after 9 years for American Muslims to take to the streets and denounce the events of 9/11. Why hasn't that happened? Taqiyya perhaps?"
Latisha's post, to which Young was responding, stated, "I am a Republican and I do not have a big issue with the mosque being built near Ground Zero. It is simply place of prayer. I DO NOT agree with calling people bigots just because they don't agree with you..."
Young had a different view, and as a 912 leader in Denver, her opinion means something. Was she serious? Is she a bigot? What did she mean?
I emailed her to find out. I asked to interview her about the mosque issue.
Salzman [Sept 1]: I have a copy of something you apparently wrote on Nikki's Facebook page. I spoke with Nikki about her comments. I'd like to discuss yours with you.
Young [minutes later]: Please forward a copy to me.
Salzman: [an hour later}: You wrote..."I am a bigot," and a few other comments. I don't want to report this without hearing what you have to say about it.
Young: [minutes later]: Oh yes, I said I guess I am a bigot then, if that is what Ali Hasan defines us as, if I oppose the Mosque at Ground Zero. What are your thoughts on the Ground Zero Mosque?
Salzman [minutes later]: Where does ground zero mean to you? Do you think mosques should be built anywhere in America?
Young: No response
Salzman [next day]: Did you get this? Thanks.
Young: [no response]
Salzman [a few days later]: Before I publish your "bigot" comment, I hope you'll give me a more detailed response than you've provided below. I want to be fair to you. I also hope you'll explain the rest of your facebook comment, "Latisha I am still waiting after 9 years for American Muslims to take to the streets and denounce the events of 9/11. Why hasn't that happened? Taqiyya perhaps?"
If you'd like to talk on the phone, just let me know.
In any case, I hope you'll have time to drop me a quick explanatory note.
So that was about a week ago, and I haven't heard back from Young. So I don't think she wants to converse about it anymore, do you?
But Young's Facebook friend, Mata, who also wrote in the Facebook conversation that she was a bigot, but with less severe overtones, readily explained herself to me in a phone interview.
"I was being facetious," she said immediately, explaining that she's against the mosque personally but doesn't believe the government should stop it.
"The backers of the mosque say they want to do outreach," she told me. "If you want to do outreach, that indicates that you want to foster good feelings, but if depending the poll if 60-70 percent are opposed to what you're doing, how does that foster positive feelings?"
"If it puts people in such an uproar, aren't you undermining what you are trying to accomplish?" she said, adding that she does not oppose the construction of mosques elsewhere in America.
But plenty of other Americans do. Even if you don't follow this issue very closely, you probably remember last month's Economist poll with these shocking results:
- 14 percent of Americans believe no mosques should be built.
- 45 percent of Democrats and 80 percent of Republicans have an unfavorable view of Islam.
- 48 percent agree that "there are some places in the United States where it is not appropriate to build mosques, though it would be appropriate for other religions to build houses of worship."
Commenting on the poll last month, The Denver Post's Mike Littwin wrote:
There's bigotry at work -- bigotry that needs to be called out -- but it's not exactly old-line religious bigotry. We were attacked by radical Islamists. There are many radical Islamists who say they want to see America destroyed. We have been fighting for nearly a decade against Islamic terrorists but also fighting on the same side as Muslims.
It's confusing. Obviously, the overwhelming majority of Muslims are not terrorists. Just as obviously, Islam is not a monolith. As far as anyone knows, there are no terrorists involved in the Lower Manhattan mosque/community center/swimming pool. In any case, the hard part of freedom of religion comes when the religion is not popular.
Littwin is right that bigotry should be called out. We owe to Muslims and of course we owe it to ourselves and to this country.
So in this blog post, I'm calling out Tea Party leader Virginia Young for being a bigot, until she directly states otherwise. I take Niki Mata at her word that she's not. I believe her.
Littwin's column also inspired me to call Phil Wolf, who owns the Wheat Ridge car dealership that erected a billboard last year showing President Obama dressed in a turban and stating, "President or Jihad?" His billboard got a lot of attention, as it should have. I had been wanting to call him for a long time to find out if he was a bigot.
I asked Wolf if he supports the construction of mosques in Denver.
"We got to identify who the enemy is," he said. "If the activity of the enemy is building mosques, they shouldn't be allowed."
I asked him if he thinks Islam is the enemy.
"That's what's out there," he said. "That's the public perception. As far as the public knowledge is concerned, they are. And if they are, there should be zero tolerance. We should go back to what happened during World War II. Look what happened to the Japanese. And guess what? There's a lot of wonderful Muslim and Japanese people. But we didn't tolerate the enemy. We just don't call anybody the enemy anymore."
Wolf is planning to unveil a new billboard at his dealership along I-70 in the next few months. Its theme will reflect what he told me above in my interview. And he had a lot more to say in a similar vein.
I hope 912 activist Virginia Young and other Tea Party leaders will join me in protesting Wolf's offensive views, and his new billboard.
And I hope Wolf's story, and other signs of bigotry in America, get the media attention they deserve, along with the protests of those who disagree.