Wednesday, September 1, 2010

First They Came for Fred Phelps; First They Came for the Mosque

   Just the thought of the Phelps clan makes me sad or sick to my stomach.
In Topeka, Kansas is a lovely gathering space, called Most Pure Heart of Mary. We were there because a man from Africa had come to thank the people of that church, who had collected monies and sponsored events and eventually had provided a Well --Water!-- for this man's village.

He had come to speak after the Catholic Mass, and the Eyes of the People there were all tear-filled as they listened to the man tell how the Well had changed his people's lives. But the topekans' lives were changed, too. Their hearts expanded and secreted good hormones as they heard of the fruits of their labors. Perhaps they were also grateful, as they realized what the  Need for Water  means.

I swear a beam of light filled that space at the end. The room was Gracefilled. Poor humble folk helping poor humble folk around the planet; how can one be happy while another is without malaria-free water for their infants? We left in good spirit.

A block or two down the road, I saw bright colors and a gathering of people--old and young, children--and as i was "not from here" i was curious and happy for the next moments in the gracefilled day.

phelpses at k-state graduation
The bright colors were the neon stripes that now carry a malignant conditioned response for many Kansans and Americans. As we approached, i blinked as i saw the obscene and stabbing words in the signs. My heart was blasted open when i beheld a young kid, 8 years old?--carrying a sign which was specifically designed to wound and hurt and degrade another person. I wanted to step in front of the sign in order to make sure the object of its hate could not see it. The idea of my college roommate or my friend or my cousin seeing such a revolting sign was too much.

I had moved from heaven to hell in 2 blocks.
 I had stepped out of grace and into malignancy.
If i would have been a saint, i suspect i would have detected a stench.
There i go, now it is i who am unkind.
See how violence begets violence!
I have since come to know who this group is and the silly mindless spewings they spear. They may be just the most visible, the easiest to despise; while the more dangerous may be the more subtle... The phelpses gained national prominence by "protesting" (harassing) at the funerals of American soldiers. ("divine punishment")
How can this be possible? Does every funeral home need to have an invitation only policy now? Lawsuits came.

click to enlarge
The lawyers i know knew that Phelps would get his free speech rights upheld in court.  "Fred Phelps is a civil libertarian's nightmare; his vicious, homophobic protests of military funerals, outraging liberals and conservatives alike, make censorship seem like a patriotic duty, as well as an expression of tolerance."..." (more quote below*) 

But the publicizing of Phelps may be the best way to disempower him.
There is a principle that we do not like to really  look at--
that Freedom to Speak does not stand alone, but is paired somehow with equality in media's treatment of speech (and avoiding this issue is a normal response to believing that we know best). It is wanting to silence those who promote something we think, believe, or know is a mistake, a wrong, a disgrace. It is the media only promoting the rich's ideas, or the powerful's thoughts, or the connected folks' take on things. It is the media deciding ahead of time that you don't need to know that or that these ideas are improper.

The press these days seem to think that by picking sides or offering lots and lots of opinion, that they will sway, for the betterment of society, how folks perceive things. That is a fallacy.
First of all, A Snake Sheds its skin at the rate that a snake sheds its skin.
 You cannot make a horse drink water, i don't care if it is freshly opened bottles of Evian. Instead, a backlash occurs. Why am i being patronized? Being treated as "less than" or "not as smart as" actually anchors folks in their views. Indeed, the recent lack of basic reporting about a Big Ol' Rally in D.C. prompted an out-of character column from a friend wondering why the media are not doing their who what where when why duties.

The second problem with this "helping us" know how we should hear the news or censoring it for us is that people will steer away from common sources (yes, there are still some). This will lead to as (Jay puts it) "Shoveling viewers to Glenn Beck's Website".--or, losing credibility and forcing people to go to a single place, or to unidimensional, isolated, or extreme information centers.

The Marketplace of Ideas is the place, ideally, where ideas are sifted through, selected, "censored" if you will. Events that are big, or that impact many Americans, or that are part of our national discussion should be given balance in reporting even (no, especially) when one side is unpopular with media, unpopular with government, out of favor with majority. Remember the rush into Iraq?

Are the press doing in-depth reporting on Phelps? Get his quotes. Treat him like any other. Let him be exposed. Where are the psychological profiles on 20/20? (surely we have heard enough family murder cases) Where are the details about his schedule, his plans, the groups who shield others from the view? His quotes may do more to end his cause than censoring him.

When do we give Cindy Sheehan a voice? When we agree with her? Who decides? What if Shirley Sherrod was not given equal time? Who decides? Is Code Pink dismissed as Too Left or are they given a chance to say all they want to say, For the Media, like John McCain is given? Because the Media is running the show. If the media holds the microphone, they must stick to good solid basic journalism.
(It feels good when they are, but They may not always be on your side)

Again, the Mosque.
Maybe there is a down side to building it near Ground Zero.
Maybe not. Maybe there is a HUGE downside to preventing equal treatment.
Let's Assume for a moment that the imam really is radical, that it really is a sign of conquest, that some will exult over its presence. OK, so?
What has that to do with me? My country is to abide by our principles and rules. If he is a criminal, arrest him. Otherwise, of course it is wrong to deny building it simply because "we don't want it there"--
google "ground zero mosque" or Imam Trade Center- many views. one view        another view!

What i want is the print and broadcast media to give it to me straight.
Interview everyone, not just those are "in the right" or correct, or progressive thinkers, or non-racists, or saints. Equal treatment is the fastest way to expose what needs exposing.
Equal straight journalistic professionalism will calm, (if not unite) certain groups or factions because there will be a great lessening of the feeling that they are on an uneven playing field.
It is the uneven playing field that i am sensing is the biggest complaint.
Fairness, as all who have experienced its lack, is the most Frustrating and Anger-producing factor.

These loosely connected thoughts are my musings
after hearing many folks complain recently and over the past year or two about how they feel Unfairness, feel cut off or cut out of the dialog. This feeling of inequality or separation is increasing.
I remember
when many k-staters and other manhattanites protested the Iraq war--they did not get the media treatment their constancy, their numbers, their seriousness merited.
I spoke with folks (Campaign for Nonviolence) who initiated and year after year at Bramlage shielded Graduating K-Staters and their Parents from the hatevision of fred phelps, who have
    a media story-
that made Me feel great frustration for them. The media need to step up, look at all sides, and do the reporting. Report!

This Division is becoming more dire, and will lead to Really Bad Things, i think, more than the original issues.

No trust, no believability, in our media will lead to very bad things.

* Albert Snyder advanced a series of tort claims against Phelps, including, most notably, intentional infliction of emotional distress caused by the funeral protest and by subsequent internet rants about Matthew and his family, the sight of which allegedly made Albert Snyder "violently ill." The district court dismissed two of Snyder's claims (involving defamation and publicity) but allowed his claims of emotional distress, intrusion, and civil conspiracy to be determined by a jury. Guess who the jury found more sympathetic -- the visibly anguished father of a slain marine or the cruel, contemptuous, hate-mongering protester?

This is precisely the evil that the First Amendment was designed to prevent: submitting the right to express presumptively distressing or despicable ideas to a popular vote. Snyder's claims of emotional distress should never have been presented to the jury; they should have been dismissed, as a matter of law, by the trial judge. The district court's instructions to the jury in this case were also deeply flawed, and, in my view, more dangerous than any number of cruel, crazy, yet peaceful protests. The judge told the jury that "vulgar, offensive, and shocking" speech may only enjoy limited constitutional protection, suggesting, nonsensically, that the First Amendment fully protects only inoffensive speech that wouldn't be unwelcome in polite company -- and wouldn't need protection -- unlike the ravings of Fred Phelps."

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