Southeastern Lower Michigan (the Metropolitan Detroit area) is home to one of the largest populations of Muslim Arabs in the country. They live, work, go to school, contribute to the economy, contribute to charity, worship, and own businesses in the area; they are engaged in and have become a vital part of the community.
My office is in Southfield, MI. Many of you have read about the former Mayor of Detroit, his problems and the problems of the city, in general. The automobile industry, while headquartered in Michigan, has virtually abandoned the manufacturing base that once flourished here; the industry has downsized and moved its base to other cities and other countries in search of less expensive labor and increased profits. While many people, in search of jobs, have left the city and the state, the Muslim population has increased. Southfield is a northwestern suburb of Detroit; it is a city with significant office space, one of the cities that has benefited from the decline of Detroit as the office “hub” of Michigan.
Across the hall from my office is a medical collections company. We have been office “neighbors” for years. They have a large office with a large staff of collectors; we see each other in the lobby and restaurant, we converse with each other, and we have become friendly. One of my favorite people working in that office is ‘Omar’. Omar is a very nice gentleman, a sharp guy, and fun to talk to. He is a Pakistani Muslim; I consider him my friend.
Recently, a small Christian, evangelical group in Florida announced plans for a national "Burn the Koran Day", on September 11, 2010, the ninth anniversary of the World Trade Center terrorist attacks against the United States. The burning is being done as a protest against violent Islamic extremists. The group is calling the day “International Burn a Koran Day”. The lawyer in me says that they have the right to do this under the 1st Amendment of the Constitution. Like flag burning, this activity would fall under the protections that guarantee freedom of speech.
One of my favorite political movies is “The American President”, with Michael Douglas (God bless you, Michael, I wish you the best in you battle against Cancer) as President Andrew Shepherd. I love ‘President Shepherd’s’ take take on the 1st Amendment. Here’s what he had to say:
“America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You’ve gotta want it bad, ’cause it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say, "You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours." You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country cannot just be a flag. The symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Now show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then you can stand up and sing about the land of the free.”
So, I agree with the mythical Andrew Shepherd; “burn a Koran day” is constitutionally protected. However, so is the building of a Mosque a few blocks from Ground Zero; many politicians argue that it may be constitutionally protected, but is it the appropriate thing to do? Is it insensitive? Can’t the same be said for “burn a Koran day"? Is it appropriate? Is it insensitive? Might it not have an incendiary effect? Is it American? Why isn’t a person who claims to be a Christian Reverend sending a message of peace, rather than hate? Wasn’t Jesus the “Prince of Peace”? The last time history recorded this type of activity is when the Nazis burned Hebrew prayer books during World War II. It has a slippery slope, this path that this Christian group plans to go down.
While religious leaders of all major faiths have denounced this proposed event, it is troubling, nonetheless; more and more Americans seem to have reached the conclusion that “all Muslims are terrorists or, at least, terrorist sympathizers”. Do too many Americans silently support this ‘day’? Well, I, for one, do not; this is America. In America, the land of the free, our constitution guarantees freedom of religion and assembly. Muslims, like Christians, Hindus, Buddhists and Jews have a right to religious freedom; they, like all Americans, have the right to worship, peacefully, without fear of persecution. This “burn a Koran day” sends a very un-American message.
Let’s go back to my office building and my friend Omar. I saw him in the hall, today and I asked him how he felt about “burn a Koran day”. He said it makes him sad and somewhat angry; but worse, he told me that his young children are afraid. They are afraid to go out of the house; they are afraid to go to school. They believe that other children in school hate them and are going to beat them up. Omar came to this country from Pakistan in search of a better life. He repudiates terrorism in the name of his religion and he hates those who have bastardized his faith. He is shocked and saddened that his family and his children, in America, fear for their safety.
Omar is Muslim; I am Jewish. We are friends. He is a great guy; I don’t hate him just because he happens to be Muslim and he doesn’t hate me just because I happen to be Jewish. Can peace between our two religions evolve two people at a time? I’m not that naïve. I have long felt that peaceful Muslims should condemn, at the tops of their voices, the terrorist activities of radical Islam. Peaceful Muslims seem eerily silent, and the non-Muslim world interprets their silence as assent to terror and radical behavior. My friend Omar calls radical Islamic fundamentalists, “crazy” and “dangerous”, but not enough is being said in condemnation by peaceful Muslims in religious and political power. Perhaps they, too, are afraid of the terrorists; perhaps many condone this terrorist behavior. I can’t know what every Muslim is thinking or doing about the situation. What I do know is that two young school children are afraid to go out of their house; they are afraid to go to school. This must be how black children felt, in the 50’s, in the South, when integration was being forced on an angry white society. This must be how Jewish children felt in Nazi Germany. This must be how young Russian children felt during the pogroms. This must be how Bosnian children felt when being ‘ethnically cleansed’ by the Serbs. This must be how all persecuted children feel.
But, this is 2010 America, land of the free, home of the brave. We are the country with the Constitution. Have we learned nothing from religious persecution in Nazi Germany, in Russia, in Bosnia and elsewhere? Is burning a Koran any different than burning a cross on the front lawn of a terrified black family? Is it different than burning Hebrew prayer books in Nazi Germany? Turn back America; we are better than this.
Mark Bello has thirty-three years experience as a trial lawyer and twelve years as an underwriter and situational analyst in the lawsuit funding industry. He is the owner and founder of Lawsuit Financial Corporation which helps provide legal finance cash flow solutions and consulting when necessities of life litigation funding is needed by personal injury plaintiff involved in pending litigation. Bello is a Justice Pac member of the American Association for Justice, Sustaining and Justice Pac member of the Michigan Association for Justice, Business Associate of the Florida, Tennessee, and Colorado Associations for Justice, a member of the American Bar Association, the State Bar of Michigan and the Injury Board.
Attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series—Mark Bello is also the CEO of Lawsuit Financial and the country’s leading expert in providing non-recourse lawsuit funding to plaintiffs involved in pending litigation. He is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.