27 August 2010

The Lincoln Memorial: 'Ground Zero' for the Civil Rights Movement?

Glenn Beck is holding one of his rallies in Washington tomorrow. Sarah Palin will be there to stir up the yahoos. Beck himself has been there before as an organizer of last year's "9/12" march. This time, however, prominent black activists are denouncing Beck for his scheduling of the "Restoring Honor" event on the 47th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington. For Beck and Palin to speak on the same steps where Martin Luther King delivered the "I Have a Dream" speech, some say, is an affront to Dr. King's memory and the civil-rights movement as a whole.

Beck's response to criticism has evolved from disingenuousness to defiance. After initially claiming that he had not realized the historical significance of the day he chose for his rally, the demagogue has claimed his own right to the King legacy. He has invited a niece of King, who has accepted the invite, to speak at the rally. He argues, rightly in my opinion, that King's legacy belongs no more exclusively to black people than Abraham Lincoln's legacy belongs exclusively to white people. Predictably enough, Beck identifies King's legacy almost entirely with that single famous reference in the famous speech to "the content of our character. Like many reactionaries, Beck believes that King's dream vision of a time when every American will be judged solely by the content of his character rather than by superficial details like race, gender, etc., requires the immediate institution of a "color-blind" society through the abolition of all "affirmative action" programs. Whether an 81 year old King, were he alive today, would agree that compensatory programs could be done away with now is quite debatable, but Beck has every right to make the claim, just as Rev. Al Sharpton, who is holding a counter-demonstration tomorrow, has every right to dispute it.

The latest Beck brouhaha makes an interesting companion story to the ongoing contretemps over the proposed 'Ground Zero mosque' in New York City. It's another instance of hypersensitive backlash against a properly inoffensive exercise of civil rights. I can defend Glenn Beck's right to hold a rally where and when he pleases, as long as the law permits it, without endorsing any of his reactionary views. He is under no more obligation to defer to the sensitivity of some black Americans than the Park 51 planners are to defer to the irrational sentiments of some New Yorkers. A similar mental impulse animates both disputes. The aggrieved New Yorkers visualize the Twin Towers replaced by a mosque and their sensitivity is violated. Sharpton and others look to the Lincoln Memorial and see King displaced and replaced by Beck, as if the site would no longer "belong" to the civil rights movement but would be conquered and occupied by right-wingers and reactionaries, if not by outright racists. They identify the Memorial steps, if not the entire National Mall, with the sacred moment of 1963, so that its occupation by anyone believed to disagree with King or oppose his legacy, all of Beck's disclaimers notwithstanding, becomes a desecration. It is all perfectly irrational, and probably as cynically political, to an extent, as much of the outrage over the mosque plan.

Sharpton is within his rights to counter-demonstrate, as he probably would if opportunity allowed whenever and wherever Beck held a rally. Everyone has the right to use the occasion to criticize or simply insult Beck, Palin and the doctrines they stand for. But to suggest that Beck has no right to speak from the Lincoln steps on a particular day, or even to challenge the "wisdom" of his schedule, is unacceptable. This isn't about right and left or black and white; it's about an attitude that seems to be all too common in this country but ought to be less so.

6 comments:

trencherbone said...

There'll be no virgins waiting for Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and his fellow mosqueteers when they depart this world and go down to meet Allah and Mohammed.

They've really screwed things up for the Religion of Peace™. Even if they build their Victory Mosque, it'll be a Pyrrhic Victory. All they've done is woken the proverbial American Sleeping Giant to the true nature of Islam.

hobbyfan said...

Trencherbone: Imam Rauf has been presented to the public as a man of peace, which is what Islam is meant to teach. The radicals among the Muslims have subverted the teachings of their Quran (Koran) as an avenue to vent misplaced hatred toward the US.

Sammy: Don't you think Mrs. Palin & Beck are just fishing for any opportunity available to remain relevant? 10 years ago, you'd have Rush Limbaugh in place of Beck. Not much difference.

Crhymethinc said...

Trencherbone - go back to the troll pit which spawned you. You know nothing of Islam - or any other religion, for that matter. You are nothing more than the stereo-typical ignorant right-wing bigot. If fundamentalist Islamists had any intelligence at all, they'd be specifically targeting scum like you, instead of just random Americans. Now please feel free to drop dead. The "American Giant" is far too stupid and lazy to get up off its couch, turn of the television and think for itself.

Samuel Wilson said...

trencherbone, in the absence of a central authority comparable to the Pope in the Catholic Church, there is arguably no "true nature" of Islam. There probably isn't one that Sunnis and Shiites can agree upon, at least. That's why it's bigoted to treat all Muslims or any given Muslim as if they have to prove themselves innocent of violent Islamist intentions.

hobbyfan, just to play devil's advocate I'll ask you to question whether the radicals' hatred toward the U.S. is entirely misplaced.

crhymethinc, I'm not sure at first glance of whether trencherbone is the stereotypical Islamophobe. It'd depend on whether he's Christian or atheist. Meanwhile, we shouldn't give the impression that we think Islam is any better than the other stupid religions out there. The true nature of monotheism as a whole is unpleasant to contemplate.

hobbyfan said...

Sam: I'd say it's misplaced because you have a group of people blindly following a man with a grudge against the US for a perceived slight against him & his family. A personal vendetta mushrooming into an international one.

They think they're martyrs. They're not.

Crhymethinc said...

hobby: Eventually every big bully gets taken down by someone. The American military has been used by a stick in the hands of American corporations to ensure "favourable" terms for far too long. I am not saying innocent Americans should have died on 09/11/01, but it had to happen eventually. And the threat of it will continue to happen as long as Americans hold the attitude that they are somehow better than everyone else and are entitled to more than everyone else.