When the great Monty Python team wanted to switch to something different in their TV show, Graham Chapman would come on dressed as a British colonel and officiously move everyone along because the skit had become "far too silly."
Where is Graham Chapman when we need him? Things have become far too silly. I went away on vacation and when I came back the right to religious freedom for all Americans had gained an asterisk: No Muslims Need Apply.
I cannot tell whether someone had dusted off and recast the old asterisks, the ones that said "No Catholics Need Apply" or "No Jews Need Apply," but the effect is pretty much the same -- at least as far as the Muslims who want to build a mosque in lower Manhattan "at the World Trade Center site" are concerned.
Actually, it is not at the World Trade Center site. (It is a couple of blocks away.) And it is not a mosque as that term is generally understood. It is a community center with space reserved for prayer but also a swimming pool.
Imams are not likely to climb to the top of minarets and call the faithful to prayer. Heck, the site is near Wall Street. The only way to get anyone's attention would be to read stock tips.
In truth, you probably would not notice the Cordoba House in the cultural kaleidoscope of New York if the likes of Fox News weren't so eager to alert you to the alleged horror. On my vacation, I briefly visited New York City. It is the most diverse place in America, where nobody bats an eyelid at anything.
In this melting pot of America, it is no surprise that local officials overwhelmingly approved the community center/mosque. Better a center that practices a moderate brand of the Muslim religion and wants to be a good neighbor than an abandoned Burlington Coat Factory.
You would think, if you were not a silly person, that if the plan was good enough for those who were the very neighbors of the 9/11 atrocity, it would be good enough for most everybody in America. But, unfortunately, America is full of people seething with resentments and looking for the political means to express them. And what better than this? They are -- splutter, splutter, shudder -- (ital) Muslims. (endital) They are all the same, you know, just as back in the woeful day the Catholics were all the same, and the Jews were all the same, before we knew better -- before we knew how stupid and destructive such group thinking was.
So to honor the dead, we must insult the intelligence of the living by insisting that these Muslims, no matter how different they are from the extremists who are the real terrorists, must not pray to their God "in the shadow of the World Trade Center."
Unfortunately for the purveyors of this piety, the New York Dolls Gentlemen's Club is also in the same shadowy area. But apparently a mosque/community center defiles the memory of the 9/11 dead while ogling of nude women does not. Nor does the worship of mammon, which is what the Wall Street area is all about.
Now the political class seems to think that this will be the decisive issue in the mid-term election. Not the economy, the deficit, health care, Afghanistan, or anything non-silly you can think of. The mosque. Could we become any sillier as a people short of putting on clown noses and wearing outsized shoes? In the face of this, President Barack Obama made an eloquent defense of freedom of religion for Muslims and then afterward shamefully backtracked to say he was only speaking about the broad principle. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, with a tough re-election fight in Nevada, cravenly threw in his lot with the fear mongers.
(Calling all Democrats: If you have any spare backbones, please mail them to your leaders in Washington, D.C. In the meantime, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg for president. He has been a brave voice of reason on this issue -- it doesn't take a pretend British colonel to resist silliness.)
But "far too silly" doesn't quite express the emotions of the moment. That suggests a juvenile naivete. Far too sinister is more like it. More than 900 years ago, Christian forces launched the first of a series of crusades against Muslims in the Holy Land. Osama bin Laden harps upon this invasion to this day, constantly promoting the idea that in resisting Muslim extremists, we are engaged in a crusade against all Muslims.
So what do some fearful Americans want us to do? Take a leaf out of bin Laden's playbook and treat Muslims as all the same, even the ones who just want to swim and pray. Lord (or Allah) help us.
Reg Henry is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.