So here’s a conundrum: the Park51 Community Center, a multicultural initiative dedicated, as Jessica Pieklo pointed out a few weeks ago, to “promoting intercultural communication, trust and tolerance,” has whipped up a media frenzy, threatened to become an issue in the November midterm elections, and inspired hate-filled protests. Meanwhile, on the same “hallowed ground” near the Ground Zero site, a pastor will begin preaching this coming Sunday, in advance of finding permanent space for the “9/11 Christian Center.” There has been no controversy – in fact, very few people seem to know that he’s there.
Pastor Bill Keller is, however, far more controversial than Park51′s moderate imam, who often argues that American democracy is a representation of the ideal Islamic society. Clicking around Keller’s website reveals a host of incredibly problematic views, from the assertion that “Islam is a wonderful religion…for PEDOPHILES!” to openly connecting anyone associated with Islam to extremist Muslim terrorist organizations. But there’s more. Salon reporter Justin Elliott dug up more astonishingly offensive background information on Keller. Elliott writes,
“Keller is the same pastor who hosted a birther infomercial that encouraged viewers to send him and a partner donations to advance the birther cause. His Internet ministry explicitly calls President Obama the new Hitler. He calls homosexuality a perversion. And in 2008, he targeted presidential contender Mitt Romney for being Mormon with a campaign called ‘voting for Satan.’”
So, as Elliott asks, where’s the outrage? Where are the protests against Keller’s sermons? Why aren’t journalists contacting families impacted by the 9/11 attacks, asking them if they support Keller’s choice to build a church commemorating their losses? Why is Park51, a peaceful, multicultural initiative, more worthy of our anger than Keller, who seems to be out to offend as many people as possible? Certainly Keller has the right to build whatever he wants, just as the Park51 founders do, but if anything is going to be a political issue, why not this?
This is yet another clear illustration of two basic facts: that most people don’t understand Islam, and have trouble separating violent, dissident Muslim extremists from the vast majority of people who follow Islam, and that most people also still think of the United States as a Protestant country, so that when we read about someone like Keller, he may sound crazy, but at least he’s our crazy.
The xenophobia and religious bigotry surrounding the Park51 controversy is only exacerbated by the fact that Keller’s presence seems to be so unremarkable.
Photo from Flickr.