Hartford is now smack in the middle of a growing and bitter national debate about religious freedom.
Starting next week, the city council has invited local Muslim clerics to open their September meetings with a prayer.
And just like that, the municipality that was recently named one of the deadest cities in the nation was suddenly alive with drama.
Small as this 18-square-mile city might be, we're not isolated from the world at large. We should be part of this debate. So, let's get on with it.
The timing was no accident, said Minority Leader Luis Cotto, who in the past has proposed controversial resolutions about the war and immigration.
And the anti-Muslim rhetoric that's hijacked so much of the nation went into overdrive.
Just look at the e-mails criticizing council members for even suggesting that they diversify their long-standing (if problematic) tradition of starting meetings with prayers — at least the ones appropriate enough for public consumption.
"This isn't inclusiveness, this is the selling out of your fellow Americans souls."
"Thanks to your city council, we have officially begun the "Islamification" of America. … We as a nation are making a deal with the Devil."
"Folks, my family will be boycotting Hartford from now on, due to your insensitivity towards New York City and the families of 9/11 victims."
At a press conference in response to the public outcry Wednesday, council president rJo Winch held up a stack of apoplectic missives. Most spewed the now all too familiar racist hate.
But some critics, Winch said, insisted they were most upset about the timing, so close to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. It may have been better, Winch admitted, to have the Islamic-led invocation at a later date. And now some members of the council are considering an interfaith invocation instead — including an imam — at Monday's meeting.
Here's my 2 cents rJo: Stick to the original plan. Don't let the haters win. The reality is that in this mosque-bashing, Quran-burning, Take Back America (whatever that means) climate, it wouldn't have mattered when they proposed having an Islamic invocation.
How many stories have you read with people trying to set the record straight about the ground zero mosque actually not being at ground zero, or not really just a mosque? Bigotry has never had much use for facts.
The tragic irony is that after Sept. 11, we vehemently decried the attack on American values and yet here we are undermining one of this country's most cherished rights — the freedom of religion.
Isn't the heart of what we hold dear that whether or not we agree, everyone has the right to believe and worship in who or what they choose — without discrimination or fear?
And isn't that part of the reason we went into Iraq and Afghanistan — to show the overwhelming number of moderate Muslims that there is a better way than the jihadists' extremism?
Instead, we became extremists ourselves, pushing tolerance aside, screaming that Muslims should be sensitive to our tragedies and beliefs yet trampling all over theirs with hateful rhetoric from people like the ignorant Gainesville, Fla., pastor who plans to burn Qurans on the 9-year anniversary of our worst terrorist attack.
Oh yeah, that's the answer.
We want to end the wars, we say. We want to feel safe again. We want to ensure that the deaths of innocent soldiers and civilians were not in vain. We want, in the end, to show the world that we are better than the murderers who targeted the Pentagon and the World Trade Center that fateful September day.
Well, then it's about time we realize that meeting ignorance with ignorance, hatred with hatred and extremism with extremism is not the answer
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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