August 31, 2010

Restoring Honor?

Entertainer Glenn Beck’s Restoring Honor rally in Washington last Saturday was billed as a non-political event – no signs, no rallying cries, none of the Tea Party trappings we’ve come to expect when Beck gets together with his friends. Of course, folks were asked specifically NOT to bring their signs, so I guess it’s a testament to Beck’s command of his forces that they listened to him. Saturday being August 28th, note there was a callout in the closing prayer (delivered by a war veteran, natch) to Romans 8:28. Here’s the reference: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Beck’s keynote address was not specifically political, it was more a revival speech, complete with his trademark on-the-verge-of-tears moments, such as when he talked about ‘looking for the next George Washington’ in the audience. The speech seemed to be nothing more than an hour’s worth of motivation on a nice day in the nation’s capital, complete with flags, historical references, revered monuments, and even a guy in a tri-cornered hat popping up on the big screen every now and then.

So if it wasn’t political, what was the rally all about? I’ve listened to his keynote address a couple of times, my first heavy indoctrination of Beck-speak. Given that 8/28 is already a special day in our history, the anniversary of Martin Luther King 's I Have a Dream speech, there were some doubters about the supposed ‘divine intervention’ that led him to have his rally, where he had it, when he had it. Not surprisingly, Beck echoed several of King’s themes, especially as the self-professed reclaimer of the civil rights movement. Here’re a few examples:
  • King: We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy.
  • Beck: This day is a day that we can start the heart of America again… We have a choice today… We can either look at our scars, look at the scars of our nation… we have a choice today to either let those scars crush us, or redeem us… We are gathered here today, in a hallowed spot. 
  • King: But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.
  • Beck: There is growing hatred in the country – we must be better than what we have allowed ourselves to become. We must get the poison of hatred out of us – no matter what anyone may say or do, no matter what anyone smears or lies or throws our way, or any American’s way…we must look to God and look to love, we must defend those we disagree with, but are honest and have integrity.
  • King: And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back.
  • Beck: It matters not where we are, it matters not where we have been, it matters what we are doing today that makes a difference.
He spoke of Washington, and Lincoln, and sounded like a Kennedy or two:
  • Ted Kennedy: For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.
  • Beck: It does not end here, it shall not end now, not in my generation or your generation, it is up to us…
  • John Kennedy: Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God's work must truly be our own.
  • Beck: Look forward, look west, look to the heavens, look to God… Make your choice… We as individuals must be good so America can be great… One man can change the world… That man or woman is you – you make the difference… Do not look to someone else, look to yourself... Pick up your stick and stand!
Beck also quoted several of our "American scriptures" - The Gettysburg Address, Lincoln’s second inaugural, the Constitution among them - which he indicted were "living scriptures as are all scriptures." These included ‘all men are created equal’ and ‘government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from this earth.”  He spoke of  “the American Experiment, the idea that man can rule himself, rather than being ruled by someone” as the reason for which Lincoln, and Washington, and WWII vets and Korean War vets and Vietnam War veterans gave their lives; he reminded us to teach someone to fish, rather than simply giving them fish to eat. He also reminded attendees or visitors to his website to donate to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, to help the families of veterans. While he was happy to report that $5.5 million was raised for the Foundation, note this generous disclaimer on the rally website: 

The purchase of Restoring Honor Rally merchandise is not a donation to SOWF, but all net proceeds from the sale of Restoring Honor Rally merchandise is being donated to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation. All contributions made to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation (SOWF) will first be applied to the costs of the Restoring Honor Rally taking place on August 28, 2010. All contributions in excess of these costs will then be retained by the SOWF.
 He also told us that “there’s a lot we can disagree on, but our values and our principles can unite us” and that we must discover them again.  Pretty benign stuff, right?

But does his public persona live up to the standards he’s asking us to take forward from the rally? Some would say no, based on the information found here, just one of several places where Beck’s statements are debunked or exposed. He’s on occasion a racist, revisionist, elitist, anti-woman, anti-poor, anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic, communist exposer… oh, and on the political side, a Constitutionalist, big-government-hating gun-rights-supporting conservative.

At the same time he urges us to return to the America we were right after 9/11 – “politics didn’t matter, color didn’t matter, didn’t matter if we were poor or rich, we were Americans standing together”, he encourages us via his 9/12 project to ask ourselves a few questions:

  • Do you watch the direction that America is being taken in and feel powerless to stop it?
  • Do you believe that your voice isn’t loud enough to be heard above the noise anymore?
  • Do you read the headlines everyday and feel an empty pit in your stomach… as if you’re completely alone?
If you’ve answered YES, then you’ve fallen for the Wizard of Oz lie. While the voices you hear in the distance may sound intimidating, as if they surround us from all sides—the reality is very different. Once you pull back the curtain, you realize that there are only a few people pressing the buttons, and their voices are weak. The truth is that they don’t surround us at all. We surround them.

Yep. Turn to God. All men are created equal. Government of the people, by the people, for the people. Our principles will unite us. I only hope that folks who buy into the 8/28 speech – particularly the uninitiated - are aware of this other side of Beck, the real side, and find the right path to take as they travel with their stick.

August 27, 2010

The 'Ground Zero' Mosque

I can’t speak to what it must feel like to have lost someone in the 9/11 attacks, and I don’t mean to imply that the folks who did lose family members or close associates nine years ago and who oppose the Cordoba cultural center and mosque in Lower Manhattan are wrong to feel strongly about it - I'd be surprised if they didn't have strong opinions one way or the other.

If you ask me, they're the only ones - not broadcasters, not politicians - who are entitled to expressing concern, disappointment or even anger at the thought of this moving forward.  But I disagree with them, and with the rest of the folks who think such a project shouldn’t even be considered.

• Some say they could build it somewhere else in the area, but where? How far away is far enough away?

• Some say that it won’t be long before there’s a ‘monument to the attackers’ in the mosque, but there’s no indication that’s ever going to happen.

• Some say that it’s disrespectful of Muslims to even think of praying near the former site of the WTC, but at the same time, Muslims worship daily at the Pentagon chapel, as do folks of other faiths – is that not also ‘sacred ground’?

• Some say that its disrespectful to put anything on the ‘hallowed ground’ of the WTC, but we had a competition, for heaven’s sake, to decide who gets to rebuild there, and as currently planned the former WTC area will include millions of square feet of office space, as well as parking, shopping, broadcast facilities, and so on, all folded into the tallest building in the US, a 1776 foot tower (oh the symbolism!). Is the Cordoba project in the neighborhood really more offensive than folks going shopping for a pair of Jimmy Choos or a Gucci bag where the WTC Complex was?

• The site will also include the 9/11 memorial, with the names of the victims displayed. I’m assuming (hoping?) we’re not going to edit that list to exclude the many Muslims who were employed at the WTC, passengers on the plane(s), or first responders who lost their lives alongside the other victims. Because all Muslims are bad/terrorists/anti-American. Right?

There are somewhere in the neighborhood of 1.8 billion Muslims in the world, over 20% of the world’s population – second only to Christianity, with around 33%. There are around 1000 members of Al Qaeda (some estimate only a few hundred), and that’s who attacked us on 9/11.

To me, fighting intolerance with intolerance lessens what we stand for, and equates us with those we wish most to be unlike. Even George W. Bush, not one of my favorites, realized back in 2001 that “the face of terror is not the real face of Islam.”

We should build the Cordoba Center.