The Decay of a Nation

Up until this point I have tried to keep this blog just about writing and those things that are related to writing and the publishing industry (hence my posts about the Kindle and eBooks and the iPad, etc). However, on my way to the office this morning I was listening to an anchor from CNN talk to the Florida minister who runs the church planning the 9/11 Qur’an burning.

I can’t in good conscience sit here behind my WordPress console and let this issue go by without at least posting my opinion of it.

Something has started to decay in this country. There is a festering rot here that is slowly and inexorably creeping toward something more terrible than most people can imagine.  Our culture of complacency is breeding attitudes that are eerily similar to those of the pre-Nazi-Germany attitudes toward Jews. It is becoming culturally and publicly acceptable to exhibit what can only be described as rampant bigotry, hatred, and prejudice fed by fear and ignorance.

First we have the huge debate over whether or not a Mosque can be built near ground zero. The media has, as usual, been doing their part to fan the flames of drama and conflict here. However, this doesn’t mean that the public at large isn’t partly to blame. My issue isn’t with the people who shout at the top of their lungs that terrorists shouldn’t be allowed to build on ground zero. Those people are ignorant, and we (should) all know that. The people I take issue with are those who sit back and do nothing. Dammit people, there is an injustice being done to an entire culture-a thriving religion- and nobody is doing a damn thing. Everyone who lets a co-worker bemoan the “terrorists” who are building “on ground zero” (the location is actually a few blocks away) should be ashamed of themselves. Whenever someone standing near you makes some offhand remark that takes the entirety of the world’s people who practice any form of Islam and lumps them together as a stereotype and treats them as something at which a finger can be pointed – you should be ashamed of yourself for allowing that remark to go unchallenged.

The general public in Nazi Germany didn’t just wake up one morning and decide that they were going to hate Jews, and those who did align themselves against the Jews – many didn’t even realize that what they were doing was hate. A slow, steady, relentless campaign of propaganda, fear-mongering, and public manipulation over the course of years slowly but surely changed the public’s attitudes toward the Jews. Lies, deceit, and the equivalent of media blitzes gradually turned normal, everyday housewives into people who feared that exposure to a Jew could contaminate their drinking water or put their children at risk. Why did all of this work? Because not enough people did anything, not enough people complained. I’m not saying it could have been avoided, my point is that complacency breeds this kind of horror.

This country, despite the praise people love to sing about it, has had its own dark past involving hatred, bigotry, racism, and worse. This country enslaved Africans. This country gathered up every Japanese person they could find, regardless of whether or not they were a US Citizen, and threw them in camps during the war.

And now, this country is actually debating whether or not it’s own citizens should be allowed to exercise their freedom of religion. Religious freedom is one of the founding tenets of this country. It is what has made this country appeal to generations of immigrants. It is one of the freedoms our soldiers fight for.

In the news today, complacency is everywhere. People who damn well should know better are staying quiet for fear of the backlash of having said something that might be construed as politically incorrect. People who know better are not putting their feet down and telling the ignorant bigots where to stick their hatred. Worse, for fear of public outcry, the people in a position to renew firm stances against these kinds of prejudices do nothing or even consider repealing parts of the constitution in order to revoke basic freedoms (the right of a baby born in this country to automatically be born a citizen…)

The main purpose of studying history is to learn from it. We study history so that we can become a better people, so that we can be more enlightened and learn from our mistakes. What we’re in the midst of doing now is repeating some of the worst mistakes in history. Our complacency is allowing hate groups to influence the public, allowing prejudice to influence law, allowing fear to drive policy.

If we, as a nation, let the minister in Florida and his congregation of bigots burn Qur’ans on September 11th, then we are allowing them to be no better than the people who flew planes into the World Trade Center on that same day. Flame me all you want, but the same kind of religious zealotry and hatred and xenophobia that drove those men to hijack those planes is absolutely no different than the kind of religious zealotry that can drive a congregation to publicly burn the holy book of another religion. If we, as a nation, let them do that without letting the world know we don’t agree, then the radical Islamic terrorists will just be able to point and say “Look, look at what the infidels do to our religion!” Just as an aside here – you know who else had public book burnings, right? Yeah, Hitler.

So. Who do you want to be? Do you want to be disliked because of what you believe in, or do you want to be liked because of the group you mindlessly follow? Do you want to be proud of who you are and taking a stand against hate, or will you be weak and just let fear, ignorance, hatred, and bigotry run rampant through this country, through your workplace, through your home?

Are you a complacent citizen or a real American?

  • Kelly

    The idiots in Florida have the right to burn the Qur’an or the American flag, as they choose. And just as thousands, if not millions, of Muslims have been paying the price for the sins of a few Islamic extremists on 9/11/01, so will Americans pay the price for the sins of a few Christian extremists on 9/11/10. Critical thinking skills are no longer an American strong point: We are a nation of adult babies. God help us all.

  • kevin

    As my post says, the people in Florida have the legal right to burn those books. But, this nation has a responsibility to make it known that we’re not like that, that we aren’t all lemmings who have lost our ability for critical thinking. People should stand up for what they believe in, whatever that may be… and people should be allowed to stand up for what they believe in. It’s a fine line, because what the Florida minister believes in is hate and bigotry.

  • Marco

    Kevin,

    Thanks for putting all of this into a collected thought. It is a shame that the thoughts and comments of many decent people are ignored over the voice of a small group. In most debates it is possible to see the other side, but this is one of those cases where I can’t even begin to understand the mindset. We need something that is shocking and good… Is there room in the world for another Gandhi?

  • http://markstruzinski.com Mark

    Kevin,
    This was a well thought out piece. Well said. This hatred seems to creep into our everyday lives, and it’s easy to overlook because it is a cascade of small events that builds up over time. Taken alone, each incident could be written off as an act of stupidity by a small group of extremists. Thank you for taking the time to post such a thoughtful opinion.

  • Andy

    Is there a difference between burning the Quran and drawing Mohammed?

    It seems some of the people who were in favor of drawing Mohammed are against burning the Quran. Is one OK because it comes from South Park and the other is a crazed minister?

    Myself, I think both are disrespectful to that religion and the people that follow it – so I wouldn’t intentionally do either just to make a point. On the other hand, I can’t defend those who would resort to violence in retaliation for such acts.