I blog this morning feeling quite thoroughly American. I have taken paid time off from my stressful but cushy job where I work from home for a corporation halfway across the country. Engineerboy is manning the homestead while some electricians work their electron magic on our old 1940’s-wired cottage. I’ve taken refuge at a local coffee shop, chilling in the air conditioning with an espresso drink, a blueberry muffin, and Wi-Fi. I’m humming along to the Garbage song that’s softly playing in the background. Baby Bootsie is snugly snoozing and strapped to me in the that marvel of upper middle class parenthood engineering, the Baby Bjorn Synergy. The only other patron of the coffee shop is a retired grandfather who chats with the coffee shop owner about how he comes here every day for coffee and Internet access because he doesn’t want to pay AT&T $50 for broadband at his apartment, then he proceeds to head out in his brand new Mercedes.
The whole scene embodies a lot of what is unique, slightly ostentatious, but ultimately lovable about America – the coffee shop owner happily offering free Wi-Fi to entice the locals to spend time with coffee and muffins, my husband and I fixing up our crappy old war cottage one paycheck at a time, me getting my choice of whole, 2%, skim, rice, or soy in my latte. Even among the cushy capitalist trappings, it’s down home and small town and very friendly and sweet. The paintings on the wall are from our favorite local artist (the same who did the Donkey family tattoo marathon session when the G-I-R-L turned 18, paid for in trade for us doing his website). The New York pizza shop that connects to the coffee shop (Who has a combo pizza shop / coffee shop? This place, that’s who) recognizes me when I call, just by the pizzas we always order (“Hey, were they cooked well done enough for you last time?”).
As I sit here sipping coffee and periodically stopping to smooch the snoozing Baby Bootsie, I ponder the outline of the New-York-skyline-with-Twin-Towers painted on the wall of the pizza place with a “Never Forget” plaque. 9/11 was a shattering day even for those of us not in New York City, especially for those of us young enough not to remember other where-were-you-when-it-happened events of pivotal violence – the unreal kind that we had always grew up dispassionately watching happen elsewhere on the global news. On 9/11 it took me all day to get hold of one of my college friends in New York City, and he’d spent his whole day frantic until he’d finally located his sister who’d been scheduled to take an employment drug test in one of the Trade Center buildings that day. I watched the towers fall on live TV from the snack room at work. I was working for ExxonMobil at the time, and I was afraid for any workers at the downtown Houston office; what an appetizing target the headquarters of the world’s largest American oil company might present to a group interested in attacking outposts of American imperialism.
I know that I, not being a New Yorker, not having personally lost anyone in the Twin Towers or the Pentagon attacks, do not have the same visceral relationship with that tragedy or the Ground Zero site imprinted that day with the terror of the thousands of souls who perished. But even knowing I can only witness the debate on the current proposed “Ground Zero mosque” as an interested party rather than a member of those directly affected, I am astonished and ashamed at the opposition I am hearing. The politicians who categorically oppose it are – at best – gently abandoning our core American beliefs in a misguided attempt to spare pain to non-Muslim New Yorkers, or are – at worst – consciously and maliciously fanning the current anti-immigrant terror-baby flames that so easily ignite the tinderboxes of fear in the minds of perhaps otherwise sensible Americans.
If local efforts to block the construction of the mosque are successful, it will be a travesty of how America should work and in direct opposition to one of the core beliefs that makes our country unique and admirable. It is because we defend unpopular religions that we are the country we are. The right of my neighbor to say things that irritate me (or practice religions I don’t like) makes this country so great, not just because it protects me when I want to say something that irritates my neighbor or practice a faith that she finds objectionable. This setup, inconvenient or emotionally charged though it may be on an individual basis, ensures the wonderful rich marketplace of ideas and perspectives that makes the U.S. the country to desire to come to, rather than one to escape from. We generally like to have a lot of options in that marketplace, even if not everything is to our taste. I mean, sure, pop-up ads are annoying, but at least we don’t make Google filter our traffic, right?
I hope constitutional precedent and cool heads will prevail on this topic. After all, nothing’s more patriotic in America than upholding the rights of someone to do or say something you don’t like.