Xenophobia (noun) - an unreasonable fear or hatred of foreigners or strangers, or of that which is foreign or strange.
From the beginning, xenophobia has darkly stained the pages of American history. In the latter half of the 19th century, "the yellow peril" - Chinese immigrant labor - was the prime focus. During World War I, German-Americans were beaten up on the streets. During World War II we herded Japanese-Americans into concentration camps.
In America today, xenophobia has two targets of choice: immigrants from Mexico and members of the Muslim faith. As they have always done, the braying demagogues (demagogue (noun) - a person who gains power and popularity by arousing the emotions, passions and prejudices of the people; see "Glenn Beck") continually whip their followers into a frenzy of fear and hate over the supposed threat that these "outsiders" pose to everything Americans hold dear.
Right now the demagogues are having a field day over the "Ground Zero mosque" - actually an Islamic community center, similar to a YMCA - that Muslim Americans want to build in lower Manhattan about 200 yards from the site of the 9/11 terrorist attack.
The controversy over the "mosque" has been manufactured almost from scratch by the right-wing media machine. A columnist at Rupert Murdoch's New York Post wrote about it first. Then Tea Party idols such as Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin and Lars Larson cranked up the volume, saying the "mosque" would be a slap in the face to the families of 9/11 victims and a desecration of hallowed ground.
At that point, what America really needed was a dose of rationality. It got one Sunday from Jeff Merkley, the junior senator from Oregon.
In a guest column in The Oregonian, Merkley beautifully and succinctly laid out the reasons why Muslim Americans not only have a constitutional right to build the community center, but also should be allowed to build it near Ground Zero.
Acknowledging the deep and sincere feelings of those who believe such a location "would be disrespectful to the memories of those who died on 9/11," Merkley went on to argue that "the presence of a mosque is only inappropriate near Ground Zero if we unfairly associate Muslim Americans with the atrocities of the foreign al-Qaida terrorists who attacked our nation.
"Such an association is a profound error," Merkley continued. "Muslim Americans are our fellow citizens, not our enemies. Muslim Americans were among the victims who died at the World Trade Center in the 9/11 attacks. Muslim American first responders risked their lives to save their fellow citizens that day."
Answering those who say construction of the center would be a victory for al-Qaida, Merkley maintained it would be just the opposite: "Celebrating our freedom of religion and Muslim Americans' place in our communities is a blow to al-Qaida's ideology of hate and division."
Amid an atmosphere of hysteria and hate, it takes true courage for a politician to stand up and say the sane and morally right thing. For saying it - and saying it so eloquently - Senator Merkley has earned this week's GLASS SLIPPER.