What do history's most notorious despots have in common with many of the flag-waving, patriotic politicians of our day? Both groups rise to power through the exploitation of fear, which has become a societal plague. There have been widespread casualties. We need an antidote. Feardom offers its readers a much-needed immunization.
photo credit: cschwa17
On September 11, a group of individuals united by their faith brutally killed a large number of innocent people. Years later, other members of the religion to which these murderers belonged attempted to build a religious center nearby. Politicians did not protest, the media did not hype the construction of the building to manufacture controversy, and the nation remained largely ignorant of the religious edifice. If this sounds at odds with what America has witnessed in the past few days, that’s because it is.
The aforementioned scenario refers not to the wrongly-named “Ground Zero Mosque”, but to a couple of chapels outside of Cedar City, Utah, belonging to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The September 11th mentioned above was in 1857, when 50 to 60 armed members of the local militia, who were also Mormons, attacked and killed around 120 emigrants heading to California by wagon. Today, there stands within just a few miles of that scene two LDS chapels housing five separate congregations.
Perhaps another example is in order. On August 6, 1945, the United States government extinguished the lives of over 70,000 Japanese, and injured at least the same number, through the use of the newly-engineered atomic bomb. Hiroshima was extraordinarily scarred, the lives of thousands of innocent individuals snuffed out in seconds. Today, however, the United States government operates three ammunition depots within the Hiroshima Prefecture, and a military base less than two dozen miles away.
The above examples are offered in an attempt to rebut, through indirect reference to the golden rule, the public outcry that has saturated America’s airwaves in the past few days. Mormons, especially—we who have been collectively targeted by mob rule and coercive government action—should keenly understand and sympathize with those of other faiths who are placed in a similar situation.
But we generally don’t. Why not?
Fundamentally, the issue of the proposed Islamic community center boils down to property rights. Either individuals are free to purchase and use their own property as they see fit (provided they do no harm to others), or they’re not. Opponents of the project superficially acknowledge this argument, but qualify it with a litany of conditions: they should be sensitive to the families of the 9/11 victims; they have their property rights and freedom of religion, but should exercise them elsewhere; their selected location is too close to “ground zero”; and the construction of this mosque will be seen as a victory for Islam right in the very location where some of its adherents forced America to its knees.
These qualifiers are simply subtle demonstrations that the person using them in no way respects property rights, nor the freedom of religion. Worse still, members of the LDS Church who espouse such intellectually hollow rhetoric place themselves (perhaps unknowingly) in an awkward situation divorced from their own history. We, too, have been castigated in the public square for the actions of others who claim our religion as their own. We believe that man will punished for his own sins, but want to tie the sins of others to an entire religion in an attempt to deny them their pursuit of happiness. We claim “the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may,” and yet, we don’t.
Some have expressed concerns about the impact of allowing an advocate for Sharia law to have such a strong foothold in New York City, and the potential political implications such a large community center would have. Again, though, this fear (or any of its derivations) reeks with hypocrisy when vocalized by Latter-day Saints. One of the primary rallying cries for the anti-Mormon mobs was in regards to the significant political power the Mormons wielded through their unified votes, and the mixture of religion and politics in the theo-democratic institutions with which Joseph Smith experimented. The Prophet was mayor of his city, commanded a powerful militia, spearheaded institutions that combined religious and political power into one, and even sought out the highest political office in the United States government! Any one of these actions alone would have fed sufficient controversy to the opposing mob, but their combination ultimately proved fatal for the man who restored the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Earth. We Mormons of all people, then, should immediately, sincerely, and vocally reject any sort of similar uproar targeted at others.
If we Mormons have learned anything from our history, it’s that a group of individuals whipped into a fanatic frenzy based on hearsay, emotional appeals, and populist rhetoric can quickly transform into a mob bent on alienation, persecution, and even destruction. Having been subjected to an extermination order, forceful ejections from property, pillage, plunder, and a deprivation of every comfort imaginable, our Latter-day Saint ancestors would surely be appalled at the degree to which many of their posterity are exhibiting some of the same characteristics in reference to those of another faith.
We who have historically suffered such persecution should be among the most ardent defenders of individual liberty, private property, freedom of religion, and freedom of association. We should be passing this latest litmus test with flying colors, boldly standing up for the oppressed minority now targeted by mob mentality, expressing sympathy and support—not necessarily for this specific project in its specific location, but for the right its organizers have to pursue it, and the freedom that should accompany such a right.
That we have collectively failed in this regard is a stain on our much-revered, Moroni-inspired Title of Liberty, and a lost opportunity to prove that we have learned from our past. Where once we were the victims of the mob, now we are part of it.