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Mosque controversy & other immigration excesses

September 16
23:33 2010

(Continued from last week)

In light of this disturbing trend,noted columnist Tom Friedman in a recent New York Times Op-Ed best explains why it is important from a US immigration policy perspective to support the building of the Islamic Center, which will essentially be a 13 story building taken up by an auditorium, pool, gymnasium, offices and an exhibition space:

That resistance to diversity, though, is not something we want to emulate, which is why I’m glad the mosque was approved on Tuesday. Countries that choke themselves off from exposure to different cultures, faiths and ideas will never invent the next Google or a cancer cure, let alone export a musical or body of literature that would bring enjoyment to children everywhere.

When we tell the world, “Yes, we are a country that will even tolerate a mosque near the site of 9/11,” we send such a powerful message of inclusion and openness. It is shocking to other nations. But you never know who out there is hearing that message and saying: “What a remarkable country!
I want to live in that melting pot, even if I have to build a boat from milk cartons to get there.” As long as that happens, Silicon Valley will be Silicon Valley, Hollywood will be Hollywood, Broadway will be Broadway, and America, if we ever get our politics and schools fixed, will be O.K.

We also admire Mayor Bloomberg for standing firm to his convictions and not retreating like other politicians have. How far will such a “no-mosque” zone stretch from the WTC site? Mosques that are being proposed in Staten Island, NY, and even as far in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, have met with virulent resistance. Even though President Obama admirably defended the right of Muslims to build the center, the next day he somewhat retreated by indicating that he was not commenting about the wisdom of building the mosque near Ground Zero.

The following extract from Bloomberg’s no-compromise address at Gracie Mansion on August 24 is worth noting:

Nonetheless, it was not so long ago that Jews and Catholics had to overcome stereotypes and build bridges to those who viewed them with suspicion and less than fully American. In 1960, many Americans feared that John F. Kennedy would impose papal law on America. But through his example, he taught us that piety to a minority religion is no obstacle to patriotism. It is a lesson that needs updating today, and it is our responsibility to accept the challenge.”

The ill-conceived sacrifice of religious toleration will neither ensure our safety nor promote our security. As Benjamin Franklin reminded the Pennsylvania Assembly in February 1775, those “who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” Memoirs of the life and writings of Benjamin Franklin (1818).

Think of this when former House Speaker Newt Gingrich pollutes the national discourse by comparing those who advocate the Muslim cultural center with Nazis. Remember well when Senator Schumer slanders major Indian IT giants like Infosys or Wipro and compares them to criminals who steal cars and chop them up for parts,

Indeed, the very use of the term “job shop” suggests illegitimacy and even the concept of an “H-1B dependent” employer, not to mention the refusal of Congress to expand manifestly inadequate immigrant visa quotas, derives in no small measure from an unspoken but powerful bias against the “threat” of Indian migration.

Popular frustration over federal inaction metastasizes into state-sanctioned bigotry like that directed against illegal immigrants through SB 1070 in Arizona.

Nativist excess has a price tag. Here is a great example. An Arizona construction company lost out on a major construction contract to expand LA international airport precisely because the LA City Council boycotted Arizona in the wake of their state immigration law.

Moreover, the Immigration Policy Center reports that over 35,000 businesses in Arizona are Latino-owned and had sales and receipts of $44 billion in 2004, which employed over 39,363 people in 2002, the last year in which such data was available, http://www.americanimmigrationc “Gov. Brewer should keep in mind that, if significant numbers of immigrants and Latinos are actually persuaded to leave the state because of this new law, they will take their tax dollars, businesses, and purchasing power with them.”

The demonstrable willingness of our political leadership to demagogue against immigration contributes to a willingness in the body politic at large to equate all immigrants with a malignant terrorism against which our heralded commitment to diversity must and will give way.

It is not that far a walk from portraying immigrants as the source of our economic malaise to depicting all Muslims as silent accomplices in 9/11. Nor is this the first time in our history when such a sad state of affairs has come to pass. As Abraham Lincoln wrote to his great good friend Joshua Speed on August 24, 1855:

Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that “all men are created equal.” We now practically read it, “All men are created equal except negroes.”

When the Know-nothings get control, it will read, “All men are created equal except negroes and foreigners and Catholics.”
When it comes to this, I shall prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty–to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.

Yet, all is not lost for we have emerged from other times of torment and returned to what Lincoln’s First Inaugural so rightly and famously called “the better angels of our nature.”

In time, the fever will break and America will regain its moral balance. The crusade against Islamophobia and all forms of nativist excess can only be won if America once again believes in itself. F. Scott Fitzgerald had it right:

France was a land, England was a people, but America, having about it still that quality of the idea, was harder to utter…. It was a willingness of the heart. The Crack-Up (1936).

Gary Endelman & Cyrus D. Mehta



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