More U.S. soldiers died this month, July of 2010, than in any other of the 105 months since the first coalition bombs fell over Afghanistan. We cannot know the future cost of allowing our anger to navigate our policy, our morality or our tolerance. We do know, however, that two of the most calamitous foreign policy failures in United States history currently follow a trajectory decided by profound shortsightedness,
and more significantly, by entirely justified rage.

On Friday, the Anti-Defamation League declared itself in opposition of plans to construct an Islam-affiliated community center (which includes a mosque as the central point of contention) two blocks from Ground Zero in Manhattan. A catalogue of analogies – a slap in the face, housing cats next to dogs – has been offered by locals who reject the planned project, and others like it, as an insult to New Yorkers and Americans. The Jewish organization, itself devoted “to stop the defamation of Jewish people, to secure justice and fair treatment to all citizens alike,” focused on the families of those killed on 9/11.

In articulating their stance, the ADL national director explained that the site would offend those families, and that it was simply the wrong place for such an Islamic project. “Their anguish entitles them to positions that others would categorize as irrational or bigoted,” he said to the New York Times. The ADL’s stance is the muted chorus behind a lung-busting lead, the deafening displeasure of the right. Park51, as the community center will be known, joins a list of contended mosque construction projects from New York to Michigan to California. The language of the opposed ranges from the bearded, though relatively non-maleficent Sarah Palin, in calling ‘peace-loving Muslims’ to denounce the project, to buck naked hysteria in the form of protestors promising the demise of this “citadel of Islamic superiority.”

The loonies which roam the fray on either side of the political partition can be expected to raise their effigies and narrate their disgusted streams of consciousness. But the inclusion of the ADL, and the rhetorical use of the Park51 project as leverage by leading Republican candidates for New York’s governorship, makes the fight more interesting and connects the rightful indignation of the victims’ families to the entire camp opposing the project. The language employed varies but in the end they are all agreed; our fury dictates what is tolerable, and this we simply can’t accept.

The problem is two fold. The first is an issue of mistaken identity. The second is a miscarriage of our national grief. Most unfortunately and perhaps unconsciously, the ADL has made an egregious concession. They prioritized taking up the burden of the families directly maimed in the ruin of 9/11, which is an effort I hope they continue. The National Director very appropriately defended their grief, including all moments from clarity and calm to devastation and rage. But to encourage keeping mosques at a distance in order to promote healing is offering shelter from someone other than your assailant. By using the victim’s – or our country’s – pain as reason to keep Islam out of sight concedes the falsehood that Islam was the monster that invaded New York on September the 11th.

Thousands of the world’s religious have muttered words akin to those certainly being whispered as the four planes roared toward their targets that Tuesday. That the 9/11 terrorists prayed to a different god than others who slay in the name of their Almighty, is far secondary to the fact that they all kneel before the altar of manipulation and self-service, making scripture the decree of their perversion and god the sadistic fan of their tyranny. The first step in our national healing was attempted and failed nine years ago. We needed to understand that we were not attacked by Islam. We were attacked either by religion or by murderers, and I tend to think it was the latter. The battle of Park51 is a continuation of policy which favors the taste of free flowing anger to the chest heaves of your best efforts to calm, to consider, and to focus. Policy is a stingy bitch. It allows no such conveniences as anger, grief or vengeance. Thus, our problem of misidentifying our monster has been amplified by the miscarriage of our injured grieving.

To name yourself worthy of the task of policy formulation, particularly on the national level, is to say that in a time when everything in your being begs you to retaliate, to take life, to cuff, detain and torture all who remotely resemble what could be the truth behind your rotting wounds, you will not. You will consider your position, a single stone in a small collection, composing the fragile dam behind which all the resources of the world’s most powerful nation await the alchemy of its leaders. And you will not forfeit the stability of the globe for anything, not even the truest rage that comes when countryman, neighbor or kin is taken from you by the lesser people of the world. It seems only right that the father of a raped and murdered daughter could dictate the tool and the pace by which her offender would find his death. But on the shoulders of intuitions none of us can entirely articulate, we decide to exist above that order.

Thus, a major shift in responsibility takes place and in a nation not simply ruled by eye-for-eye dictum we are tasked with surrounding surviving victims with community, countryman prepared to embrace and buffer while dealing our best understanding of justice to the perpetrators. It is our task, noble however seemingly impossible, to stand steadfast up-river from our assaulted neighbor and break the current as best we can while they try to find their footing. We are to be, for one another, the shelter which houses the broken and allows them to rage and mourn and rebuild. Understandable policy can be furnished by the victims reeling within that shelter, but world-class policy, policy deserving of the seal of the United States, must be devised outside it. It is how we avoid being a nation of people who trade injustices.

I’m afraid that in the largest arenas, we have failed and continue to fail to separate our policy from our pain. From the beginning, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were stews of impatience, arrogance, ignorance, and self-delusion concocted at the highest levels of government and spiced with the furor of a nation. Naysayers will point out that there is no going back, no circumventing the arrow of time. And more importantly, they’ll assert, it is the job of our government to defend this nation, its people and its treasure. All of these things are true, it’s just that they compose a field of straw men. If you want to reject a physical symbol of the terror that reigned in New York nine years ago, forget about the mosque in Michigan or California or New York itself, and focus on how we can provide options other than madrasahs in Pakistan and Afghanistan. If it feels best to slap the rhetoric from the zealot’s mouth fine, but if you want him to stop proselytizing, serve his people better than he does and soon he’ll have no pulpit. There is no need to go back, to circumvent the arrow of time. Remarking on history simply makes us more cognizant of its role in our present. The time for deliberate policy making outside the shackles of our rage is now, and will be with us for years to come.

And if I succeed at making only one point, I hope its this one. The government’s duty is to defend this nation, its people and its treasure. And so the government’s duty is also to understand and temper its own emotion, to consider the complexity of an enemy, the myriad effects of a missile strike and to weigh which actions will create allies or enemies of a foreign people. In failing to dismiss its anger, our government in the first decade of this millennium provided us an example of how the haste of emotional decision-making will make tragedy of an already mistaken agenda. What better lesson for this time of pundit-led politics? What unforeseen burdens do we lob on top of our stockpiles of debt when disparaging and distrust are among the most creative of our political tools?

Many definitions of patriot have been attempted in the last nine years, but add to the list he who brings himself down from the euphoria of volatility to a place where men and women can discuss how they’d like to contribute to the future of our country. When a nation suffers an attack of infamous lethality its collective conscience will first suggest actions of aggression. When a neighborhood is blown to pieces and a city dusted with the haunting smell of decimated concrete and death, borne to them by Islamic terrorists, that city might remember first the part about them being Islamic. But the nation is better defended if where it attacks it still seeks justice for the innocent, keeping them innocent and out of the many days of war ahead. The city is better served if it remembers first that its offenders were terrorists, and that any hands interested in the rebuilding are hands in welcome opposition to the enemies of our freedom. If we insist on instituting policy which veils the presence of Islam in our nation, we not only miss the treasure of its culture but we insist on maintaining false realities constructed in the chaos of our rage. For the sake of a Union that has still to be perfected, we must construct better realities than these.

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