I am feeling very patriotic tonight and hopeful about our nation's future, our world's future, our nation's future in our world. One of the reasons I'm feeling hopeful is the presence of voices of true American Bill of Rights values voiced from both sides of the metaphoric political aisle.
Republican former Secretary of State Colin Powell asked and answered the question "Is there anything wrong with being a Muslim in the United States?" on Meet the Press recently. Here's some of what he said:
"[I]t is permitted to be said such things as, "Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim." Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he's a Christian. He's always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer's no, that's not America. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president? Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, "He's a Muslim and he might be associated terrorists." This is not the way we should be doing it in America.
I feel strongly about this particular point because of a picture I saw in a magazine. It was a photo essay about troops who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington Cemetery, and she had her head on the headstone of her son's grave. And as the picture focused in, you could see the writing on the headstone. And it gave his awards--Purple Heart, Bronze Star--showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, date of death. He was 20 years old. And then, at the very top of the headstone, it didn't have a Christian cross, it didn't have the Star of David, it had crescent and a star of the Islamic faith. And his name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, and he was an American. He was born in New Jersey. He was 14 years old at the time of 9/11, and he waited until he can go serve his country, and he gave his life. Now, we have got to stop polarizing our self in this way."
The photo referred to by General Powell is at http://www.newyorker.com/online/2008/09/29/slideshow_080929_platon?slide=16#showHeader
I so strongly admire General Powell for making this public statement and I powerfully agree with him. I cried over the picture, a mother's grief transcending any boundaries of nationality, religion, or belief about the correctness of war in general or any war in particular.
General Powell's comment may hit me especially close to the heart in contrast to a segment of a Bill Moyers' Journalprogram about the toxicity of the rhetoric of the far right "shock jocks" on radio and in journalism. This feature was created after the fatal shooting this summer in a Unitarian Universalist church in Knoxville Tennessee by a an who believed it was his mission to kill liberals because we are dangerous. The quotes on the program shocked me terribly - awful awful quotes saying that liberals, Muslims, gays - all sorts of people, are not truly humans and should not live. I do not frequently hear this kind of hate talk, and it made me feel sick and scared, but I'm glad I heard it. I need to know what kind of toxicity is out there in our world, our communities.
On the other hand, recently I have become increasingly aware of the spiritual diversity in my own community. I've started buying smoothies at a little shop next to my bank. It's called Yogurt Planet and makes delicious smoothies full of all kinds of antioxidant berries. The friendly young man who runs the shop was born in Nepal and raised in Chicago. Behind the counter he keeps a beautiful altar - with fruits of the season and a statue of, I think, a Hindu deity. Day of the Dead Altars were featured in many local shops and homes last weekend. The owner of my nearest convenience store keeps a picture of his guru behind his cash register. I have friends who feel judged and uncomfortable because they are atheist and do not accept the idea of God. All of us are here together, Americans, citizens of the world, with our planet's - our families' destinies in our collective hands. May we hold them gently and take appropriate actions, together, all of us.