I used to get invited to speak with powerful people all over the world – government officials in Europe, university administrators in India, royals in the Middle East, about how America is a country where so many people of different religions live together in relative peace and trust.
After the madness of this past summer and fall (“Ground Zero Mosque,” Shariah in Oklahoma), my guess is I might be invited back only to be laughed at.
One of the craziest parts about what I’ve started calling the “summer of intolerance,” is the pride that some people seem to show in marginalizing and hating their fellow Americans from different religions. The most recent example of this is the story of Alabama, where a restaurant had a sign “BBQ Pork Restaurant is Safest No Muslims Inside.” High-profile, proud intolerance is antithetical to everything I learned about America in grade school and everything we want people beyond our borders to know about our nation.
That’s why I found Los Angeles’ recent leadership so heartening. The city council just passed a resolution to promote religious pluralism throughout the city: “WHEREAS, the City of Los Angeles’ commitment to pluralism and to the free exercise of religion are the cornerstone of American values that have helped produce one of the most ethnically and religiously diverse and vibrant cities in the world…”
Yes it’s symbolic, and we need to move from gestures of tolerance to acts of interfaith cooperation. But frankly, so much intolerance is also symbolic. The Shariah referendum in Oklahoma has almost zero chance of passing muster with the courts – it’s simply a way for people to symbolically show who they hate.
So what if the forces of inclusiveness in America engage the forces of intolerance on the territory of symbols? What if there was a national movement to get resolutions passed in city council’s across the country, lifting up the value of tolerance and getting citizens to engage in concrete interfaith cooperation?
Chicago’s Mayor Daley has attended many high-profile events with the Muslim community and been a strong supporter of interfaith efforts in the city. He’s done being mayor next year, but my guess is he’ll be excited to carry a resolution on Chicago being a city of interfaith cooperation through the city council. He might even take special pride in making it one of his last acts as mayor.
What about your mayor? What about your city?