A frequent, and well-founded, criticism of American journalism is that too many reporters focus more on a good story than telling the truth.
To be fair, though, that label must also be applied to a large segment of the American people. Perhaps it’s because we’ve evolved into a quick-fix, instant-oatmeal society, or maybe it’s because tackling tough problems can seem hopelessly daunting.
But maybe the main reason for the proliferation of red-herring issues is that so many American politicians shamelessly take advantage of people’s fears, manipulating issues to their political — and financial — gain.
Whatever the reason, it’s no excuse for citizens to willfully ignore the real problems while blindly jumping on the bandwagon of those screaming about irrelevant matters.
The mosque slated for construction near Ground Zero in New York is a prime example. And with the anniversary of the September 11 attacks later this week, there is no better time to laser in on the issues that truly need addressing.
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Proponents want to build a $100 million Islamic mosque and cultural center with the stated purpose of promoting interfaith dialogue and peace. The complex is to be constructed several blocks from where the Twin Towers fell on 9/11.
Standing adamantly opposed are those who view the Islamic center, located so close to hallowed ground, as an in-your-face insult not just to America, but to the 3,000 souls who perished that day.
Fair enough, because in all likelihood, it is.
There are so many other places to build a mosque that to innocently choose that location just doesn’t pass the sniff test.
Americans have a legitimate reason to feel incensed, and are making that view loudly known. But when calls are made to block the construction through legal means, and when some demand that the owners’ financing be investigated because we don’t happen to like what they stand for, America ceases to be America.
We must be extremely vigilant not to throw our freedoms to the wind just because we find something or someone insulting or offensive.
When cooler heads don’t prevail, the result is almost always catastrophic.
Jailing American citizens in internment camps during World War II comes to mind.
That’s why the Founding Fathers, knowing full-well the dangers of mob mentality, ingeniously created America’s law-making bodies.
The House of Representatives, elected every two years and therefore much more responsive to the people’s whims, is counter-balanced by the staid and deliberative Senate, with its more insulating six-year terms.
And as a final check, the Supreme Court, with its lifetime-appointed justices free from future job considerations, is designed to provide the ultimate safeguard.
The intensifying mosque debate may be one that tests the system like no other.
Will Congress attempt to pass legislation regulating what can and can’t be built near war memorials? Stranger things have happened.
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One of the most outspoken critics of the mosque has been former House Speaker turned political commentator Newt Gingrich. Like his views or not, Gingrich is universally considered an extremely intelligent analyst with well-thought out positions.
Which makes his pandering on the mosque construction so pathetic.
He’d have been better off just coming clean, saying he’s raising millions on the issue, which could help him prepare for a presidential run. But while he’s placating the evangelicals, he’s approaching lunatic status with the mainstream.
To say, as Gingrich did, that we shouldn’t build mosques in America until Saudi Arabia has churches and synagogues on its corners is, quite simply, insane. And Newt knows better.
Since when do we elevate Saudi Arabia — or any other country for that matter — to equal status with the United States of America?
We may despise how Saudi Arabia conducts itself, but that is their business. The way to change it is not to interfere in its sovereign affairs, but to do what we’ve always done best: be the beacon of light for the rest of the world.
When America leads by example — such as it being the most generous, free and forgiving nation in the history of mankind — it makes other nations and peoples emulate it. That is why millions want to come here — to be part of the dream found nowhere else on Earth.
Yet Gingrich misses this point entirely.
In a recent column, he correctly criticizes an op-ed which compared sharia law (the Islamic code) with the Declaration of Independence. "This isn’t mere dishonesty; it is an Orwellian attempt to cause moral confusion about the nature of radical Islamism," he wrote.
So Gingrich wants it both ways. He’s offended when the Declaration is compared to sharia, but wants to impose his values on Saudi Arabia.
The point that Gingrich and so many of the anti-mosque people are missing is simple:
So what that they are building a mosque?
In America, people have private property rights and the freedom of religion. To stand in the way of either of those two guiding principles because, as one critic said in an interview, "I don’t have anything in common with those people," is a slap in the face to all who died defending the freedoms America offers.
We abhor the KKK, but let them march. We are repulsed by neo-Nazis, but allow them to buy property and peacefully assemble.
What’s the difference here? Simple. It’s an attempt by politicians to conceal the unassailable fact that we are no safer now than we were on September 10, 2001. They want to run as far away from that reality as possible, for good reason.
That’s the truth. And THAT’S the real issue here — the one which no one wants to discuss.
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Are planes safer? No. Just look at all the cases where, if not for completely inept terrorists, hundreds would have died (the shoe bomber, the Christmas Day underwear bomber, the Times Square bomber who BOARDED a plane despite being on the No Fly List, etc).
Do we profile? Of course not. Instead, we bow at the altar of political correctness, reluctant to "offend," a strategy al-Queda knows — and exploits — all too well. The result? The aforementioned bombers.
Utilizing luck as your foremost national security tool probably isn’t the best idea we’ve had. At some point, Lady Luck will make an exit.
Do we have a secure border? Not even close. Incomprehensibly, nine years after the horrific attacks, the border remains wide open, beckoning terrorists to cross not just with logistical expertise, but with chemical, biological and yes, nuclear weapons.
When will we learn? After Phoenix — or Philadelphia — becomes uninhabitable for the next 50 years? A catastrophe along those lines is a virtual certainty, because we’re more worried about building a mosque than a border wall.
Is our intelligence community efficient? Wishful thinking. We took a system that was dysfunctional — but fixable — and turned it into a massively inept bureaucratic nightmare called the Department of Homeland Security. Intelligence information isn’t shared, budget battles and turf wars are more prevalent than ever, and the core mission of the alphabet-soup agencies is once again lost.
Do certain states still issue drivers licenses to known illegals — including potential terrorists — thereby making their movements and purchases in America infinitely easier? You betcha.
Have we, as a nation, condemned judges and other institutions that have embraced sharia law in this country? No, because that would offend, and just wouldn’t be politically correct.
Yet what are we worried about, so much so, that bus protests are organized, and talking heads act as if the end of America is at hand?
A mosque in New York (where there are already 100), from which one can’t even see Ground Zero.
With all of our other problems, expending so much energy on that issue just doesn’t seem prudent.
It’s time that our leaders, both political and in the media, stop enriching themselves with fear-mongering tactics at the people’s expense.
Because when the next attack comes, we will have invited it upon ourselves due to our inability to distinguish the real issues from the manufactured hype of selfish demagogues.
Let’s keep our eye on the ball, before it’s too late.
Chris Freind is an independent columnist and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com. Readers of his column, "Freindly Fire," hail from six continents, thirty countries and all fifty states. His work has been referenced in numerous publications including The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, foreign newspapers, and in Dick Morris’ recent bestseller "Catastrophe." Freind also serves as a weekly guest commentator on the Philadelphia-area talk radio show, Political Talk (WCHE 1520), and makes numerous other television and radio appearances, most notably on FOX 29. He can be reached at [email protected]