Dear Mr. President,
The stabbing of a New York taxi driver because he was Muslim is all I can think about tonight. Every article I've read about it so far is suggesting that the recent increase in tensions over Park 51 contributed to the suspect's anger at Muslims. I don't know if that is true, I don't claim to know what was in this man's head or what motivated his ugly act of violence. I suspect, based on the statements and the charges filed, that this crime may not have occurred if this controversy had not been stirred up. I believe that there are a number of people reacting honestly to false information. For one thing, people believe that Park 51 is a mosque. For another, they believe it is at Ground Zero. Finally, the slanderous way many have discussed Imam Faisal Rauf has many people convinced that the group behind Park 51 is extremist in nature. All of these are outright lies, but I understand how those who believe them might feel strongly opposed to Park 51.
Tonight I am not angry at the people believing these lies. Tonight I am angry at the people who brought out this issue. It will likely never be admitted, but out there now are those who, in their heart of hearts, know that the only reason they have pushed this issue and upset so many people about something so harmless is to win an election. Why else would this be a non-story in 2009 and a front-page issue in 2010? If I am right about these two beliefs, that the attack on the driver was motivated by the anti-Muslim sentiments stirred up intentionally by those on the right who would benefit from it, than Mr. Sharif's blood is on the hands of the people who pushed the false narrative about this group and the community center they plan to build.
The entire country has been a victim of a hate crime lately. I don't want to try to minimize the horror of the specific crime committed against Ahmed Sharif (and not just because I have particularly strong feelings about neck violence,) so I don't intend to trivialize it, at all by saying this. The crime committed against Americans is psychological. We've all been affected by this ploy, this attempt to divide us and to manipulate us. This blatant stoking of fear and hate and violence. I don't know who to blame and I don't want to blame any one. Unlike the crime against Mr. Sharif, this crime has no recourse in a court of law. I just want it to stop. I want some one with a loud enough voice (or a big enough podium, or enough cameras in their press room) to stand up and say that attacking Americans like this is not acceptable. That we will not abide the lies and the violence caused by those lies, or let them be called by any other name.
I believe that this is a moment that will live on in our history as a test of the values we aspire to- the named by our founders as the purpose of the American endeavor. This is a moment in which, more than ever, we need Presidential leadership. Even if you can't make it all right by saying the right thing, the right thing needs to be said; this is America, damn it. Either we stand for what we've always claimed to stand for or we don't. This decision has to be made by every one of us, we have to commit to it and live by it and call out those who would turn us against it. Or there will be more incidents like this stabbing. There will be more innocent blood spilt by the disturbed, misguided and easily manipulated. I do not believe that the people seeking to spread this controversy for political gain intended to cause violence, but I also don't think they will ever be forced to answer for it in the same way that Imam Rauf and those of his faith are forced to answer for every crime committed in the name of Islam. It isn't about naming a villain or calling out those who have had an emotional reaction to this issue. It isn't about calling them racists or seeking to divide us further. This isn't a partisan issue and you should not have to tread so lightly around it. Jon Stewart and Keith Olbermann should not be the most eloquent or the most courageous voices of reason in this debate, sir- you should. The right words from a President can unite the divided and calm the outraged. Tonight, as I hope that Mr. Sharif heals quickly and completely, I will hope also that you find those words and help the country to do the same.