Opinion

I survived the Glenn Beck rally

Lee West Contributor

Let me divulge a few things before I begin.  I’m an atheist.  I lean slightly to the left politically.  And I really don’t like Glenn Beck.

I live in Washington, DC and I survived the Glenn Beck “Restoring Honor” rally this weekend.  I’ll be honest — I wasn’t exactly thrilled that the city was about to be invaded by fans of Mr. Beck. It’s not my only Beck survival story.  My brother and I once ended up lost in Northern Georgia because we were arguing over some of Glenn Beck’s talking points and not paying attention to where he was driving.  Thanks to GPS and brotherhood, I survived that too.  But I really don’t like Glenn Beck.

I was expecting the worst from Beck this weekend.  I am certain that a poll of DC residents would have indicated a similar inclination.  Even the conservatives among my friends here are quite wary of Mr. Beck’s tactics.  With the event taking place on the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream Speech,” there was no shortage of critics either.  Some feared that Beck would call for an expansion of states’ rights — the justification used for many Jim Crow laws — as a means to continue his attacks on the burgeoning federal government.  I couldn’t imagine anything more sacrilegious to the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.  Glenn Beck surely could not be trusted when he said that his event would be non-political.

Alas, I survived.  We all survived.

Surviving near-Beck experiences isn’t entirely what I want to speak to, though.  I’d also like to draw attention to the continued hostility toward Muslims and more specifically, mosques.  Op-Ed columnists like Charles Krauthammer would have us believe that a mosque at Ground Zero is sacrilegious.  I disagree.  Sure, I understand that there are certain sensitivities associated with the Ground Zero location.  And I’ll grant that it is a sacred location.  And sure, Muslims and Wahhabi terrorists may have a degree of overlap in their ideologies.  This, however, does not mean we should assume the entire faith of Islam cannot be trusted.  If we start searching for any shared ideology among the criminals and terrorists in our midst, any ideology or belief system could be found untrustworthy.  But Islam — whether you call it by its true name “religion” or cast it as “ideology” — did not attack America.  And for that reason — if you believe in First Amendment rights to assembly and religion — you have to cast all your sensitivity, all of your mistrust, and all your public opinion polls aside.  Anyone should be allowed to gather and pray at a sacred site.  And we should not take offense if no sacrilege is committed.

I can’t tell you who you should and should not trust.  That’s up to you.  And I surely can’t say you have no right to voice dissent.  That, too, is protected by the First Amendment.  So, if you have something you want to say, let’s talk.

S. E. Cupp would have us believe that protesters of the proposed Park51 Islamic Community Center have done nothing but talk.  She also suggested an alternative reality where Americans could be doing much worse than talking.  I’ll confess though, the radiant image of her leading some pig around the proposed site on a humble leash sounds like a terrific idea.  But I also have a strange sense of humor.  I agree with her in part.  It’s imprudent to paint all those who oppose the construction of Park51 as Islamophobes.  It really is a sensitive issue for many.  And I’m happy that most aren’t resorting to anything beyond vocal opposition.  But it is wrong to claim there has been nothing more “horrific” than talk.  This isn’t the only mosque drawing the ire of its potential neighbors.  Islamophobia is alive and well across the country.  In my home state of Tennessee, a proposed mosque in Murfreesboro has been the subject of heated debate.  Talking wasn’t enough.  A Sacramento mosque also received a toy pig with some “talk”-ing points this weekend.  Let us hope we can return to talking.

I’m happy to report that my weekend wasn’t marred by more than talk.  I expected hordes of angry people wielding idiotic and racist signs despite all intentions to be clever or factual.  Gadsden flags would surely outnumber American flags.  And the Mall would undoubtedly be left in ruins.  This was our city’s fate during and after the Glenn Beck inspired Taxpayer March on Washington.  I could have given in to my mistrust and misgivings toward Glenn Beck and his rally.  And I could have wasted my weekend angrily protesting the potentially sacrilegious gathering.  But what’s the point?  They have every right to be there.  In the end, it was a harmless mass of several thousand people with a different belief system than me that had gathered to pray to a God I don’t believe in.  They claimed to be there for “faith, hope, and charity.”  I’ll take them for their word.  There were no indications to the contrary.  They were quite the civil crowd.  Aside from a little overcrowding on the Metro, they didn’t really affect my life at all.

My belief system will never be aligned with those of Glenn Beck’s followers, but I will always believe in their right to assemble and to pray, especially if they do so without affecting my life.  I’m happy that Washington, DC did not give in to fears that Glenn Beck would desecrate the sacred legacy of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.  As it turns out, there was nothing to be afraid of.  Mr. Beck proved us wrong.  There was no sacrilege committed.

I still don’t like Glenn Beck.  Nor do I trust him or his ideology.  Then again, Glenn Beck hasn’t flown a plane into a building.  But sadly, insane Wahhabis don’t exactly have that market cornered.  No, I recall a particular crazy person who thought the government was taxing him to death.

So why can’t we take Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf’s word that Park51 will be a platform for multi-faith dialogue promoting “peace, tolerance, and understanding”?  Is this somehow more offensive than “faith, hope, and charity”?  I’ll take the imam for his word.  I’m sure there is nothing to be afraid of.  He may just prove the protesters wrong.

Lee West was born and raised in the Nashville suburbs but now calls the District of Columbia home.  He enjoys playing adult kickball, waxing philosophic, watching sports and deconstructing the logic of well-paid op-ed columnists. He especially likes happy hours and dive bars.