Real Americans, Please Stand Up

Dick CavettDick Cavett on his career in television.

All this talk about the mosque reminds me of two things I heard growing up in Nebraska.

I had a 6th grade teacher who referred to American Indians as “sneaky redskins” and our enemies in the Pacific as “dirty Japs.” This abated somewhat after I asked one day in class, “Mrs. G., do you think our parents would like to know that you teach race prejudice?” She faded three shades.

The rest of that year was difficult.

As a war kid, I also heard an uncle of mine endorse a sentiment attributed to our Admiral “Bull” Halsey: “If I met a pregnant Japanese woman, I’d kick her in the belly.”

These are not proud moments in my heritage. But now, I’m genuinely ashamed of us. How sad this whole mosque business is. It doesn’t take much, it seems, to lift the lid and let our home-grown racism and bigotry overflow. We have collectively taken a pratfall on a moral whoopee cushion.

Surely, few of the opponents of the Islamic cultural center would feel comfortable at the “International Burn a Koran Day” planned by a southern church-supported group (on a newscast, I think I might have even glimpsed a banner reading, “Bring the Whole Family,” but maybe I was hallucinating). This all must have gone over big on Al Jazeera news.

I like to think I’m not easily shocked, but here I am, seeing the emotions of the masses running like a freight train over the right to freedom of religion — never mind the right of eminent domain and private property.

A heyday is being had by a posse of the cheesiest Republican politicos (Lazio, Palin, quick-change artist John McCain and, of course, the self-anointed St. Joan of 9/11, R. Giuliani). Balanced, of course by plenty of cheesy Democrats. And of course Rush L. dependably pollutes the atmosphere with his particular brand of airborne sludge.

Sad to see Mr. Reid’s venerable knees buckle upon seeing the vilification heaped on Obama, and the resulting polls. (Not to suggest that this alone would cause the sudden 180-degree turn of a man of integrity facing re-election fears.)

I got invigorating jolts from the president’s splendid speech — almost as good as Mayor Bloomberg’s
— but I was dismayed, after the worst had poured out their passionate intensity, to see him shed a few vertebrae the next day and step back.

What other churches might be objectionable because of the horrific acts of some of its members? Maybe we shouldn’t have Christian churches in the South wherever the Ku Klux Klan operated because years ago proclaimed white Christians lynched blacks. How close to Hickam Field, at Pearl Harbor, should a Shinto shrine be allowed? I wonder how many of our young people — notorious, we are told, for their ignorance of American history — would be surprised that Japanese-Americans had lives and livelihoods destroyed when they were rounded up during World War II? Should all World War II service memorials, therefore, be moved away from the sites of these internment camps? Where does one draw the line?

I just can’t believe that so many are willing to ignore the simple fact that nearly all Muslims were adamantly opposed to the actions and events that took place on 9/11, and denounced them strongly, saying that the Islamic religion in no way condones it.

Our goal in at least one of our Middle East wars is to rebuild a government in our own image — with democracy for all. Instead, we are rebuilding ourselves in the image of those who detest us. I hate to see my country — and it’s a hell of a good one — endorse what we purport to hate, besmirching what distinguishes us from countries where persecution rules.

I’ve tried real hard to understand the objectors’ position. No one is untouched by what happened on 9/11. I don’t claim to be capable of imagining the anguish, grief and anger of the people who lost their friends and loved ones that day. It really does the heart good to see that so many of them have denounced the outcry against the project. A fact too little reported.

And it seems to have escaped wide notice that a goodly number of Muslims died at the towers that day. (I don’t mean the crazies in the planes.) What are their families to think of being told to beat it?

“Insulting to the dead” is a favorite phrase thrown about by opponents of the center. How about the insult to the dead American soldiers who fought at Iwo Jima and Normandy, defending American citizens abiding by the law on their own private property and exercising their freedom of religion?

Too bad that legions oppose this. A woman tells the news guy on the street, “I have absolutely no prejudice against the Muslim people. My cousin is married to one. I just don’t see why they have to be here.” A man complains that his opposition to the mosque is “painting me like I hate the whole Arab world.” (Perhaps he dislikes them all as individuals?)

I remain amazed and really, sincerely, want to understand this. What can it be that is faulty in so many people’s thought processes, their ethics, their education, their experience of life, their understanding of their country, their what-have-you that blinds them to the fact that you can’t simultaneously maintain that you have nothing against members of any religion but are willing to penalize members of this one? Can you help me with this?

Set aside for the moment that we are handing such a lethal propaganda grenade to our detractors around the world.

You can’t eat this particular cake and have it, too. The true calamity, of course, is that behavior of this kind allows the enemy to win.

Note: An earlier version of this article mentioned Dunkirk instead of Normandy; that has been corrected.

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