I grew up in Murfreesboro; in those days, it was the prototypical small American town. It wasn’t quite a Norman Rockwell painting, but it certainly had many of those elements. As I grew, I often found myself wanting to shake the shackles of this small town and get out into that big world and make a difference, but I never left. Instead, I stayed right here, became a tax paying, blue collar member of what I considered to be the American way. If I was ever going to make a difference, it seemed here would be the best place to do it. Everyone and almost everything I loved was right here. So I set my alarm clock, got up in the mornings and went to work. And I went to work with the sense that I was giving back to the community that had given so much to me. I even fancied to myself that as I aged and matured, that I might become a leader of men. Maybe I would be a politician or a community leader that would make this a better place to live. Well, if the child that I was rode his bike across town today, he would not recognize it. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, just not what I envisioned. So maybe I’m not the leader of men I thought I would be, maybe my Boy Scout mentality got lost in a rush hour or disappeared into the mortgage payment. Even so, I’m still a firm believer that the Norman Rockwell elements of my youth still exist here. The image may have to be updated to include video games, computers and cable TV, but it’s still here.
Looking back on those days I formed the opinion that my childhood was very typical of the American way of life. Unlike today, the only issue of religion then was to decide which Christian church to attend. There was no crack, meth or gang problems, no need for police officers in schools, none of the big town problems we have now. Or at least, that’s how I remember it. Now, that has changed, this is no longer a small town and we have many of the problems that come with population growth. To this day, I am still shocked and saddened that there was ever a gang shooting in this town. Everyday more and more people move into this town and with every person it changes a little more. The urban sprawl that has consumed much of the quiet countryside of years past has bought much change to my hometown. As most politicians and those profiting from the growth would have you believe, that’s a great thing. Maybe it is, but I still miss the simple place of my youth. The innocence of those years have been lost and for some, including myself, that means the American way of life has changed. That leads to philosophical question, “What is the American way of life?”
There should be a definitive definition of the American way of life, because people have been coming here for centuries trying to find it. Even before this was a country, it was a land of hope for those that couldn’t find it anywhere else. Is the American way a Norman Rockwell painting? Would you defend the right of your children to grow up in the same presumably enclosed but safe environment that our older generations grew up in? Or would you defend your children’s right to be exposed to a new and ever changing world? Which one would be better? Or how about this question, Should those that come here accept the standards that so many of us hold to? Should a foreigner have to learn the language to live here? Should they salute the American flag before their native flag? Is it the diversity of multiculturalism or the unity of one American people that is the bigger asset? Is protecting the American way of life, defending against fundamental changes to the core of the community, such as religion and lifestyle or is it accepting all that comes with new ideas and new people? I guess a simpler way to put it is, do these new people want to change us or become a part of what we are? Would you change your mind if your vision of the American way was threatened? Or is it the American way that it always changes and you should just accept it?
For me personally, I think a compromise that lands somewhere in-between is the best answer. But even that presents a problem, where do you draw the line? Can you support religious freedom for those that don’t worship they way you do? What about a methadone clinic in your neighborhood or a strip club on the outskirts of town? Technically all these have a Constitutional right to be in your home town every bit as much Christian church. Would you support all of them and if not, where do you draw the line? Would you support a statue of Michelangelo’s David in a local museum where your kids can see it and protest against an adult book store where only adults are allowed in or would you support both?
As this conflict (and that’s what it is, it is no longer just a debate) in our community over the proposed mosque grows, this simple question of drawing the line becomes more important. As someone who is reporting on these events, I have tried to remain open minded to both sides. After speaking with many, it is obvious that both sides feel they are supporting the American way and their opponents are not. Both sides claim they are supporting Constitutional rights and in my opinion, both sides have an argument. I would say both sides have a valid concern, but neither side wants to look for reasonable solutions, no, they’d rather shout at each other. The Muslim community has been a part of our community for many years. They have mostly been a very quiet part of our community and I think that’s their greatest weakness. If they had been a more visibly active part of our community for all these years, then a stadium sized mosque would not be as big a surprise; we certainly have our share of stadium sized churches. Had the Islamic community been more visible over the years, maybe instead of fearing them and thinking of them as so different, we might be trying to beat them to the good seats at Cracker Barrel on Sunday morning. There is one thing that those that oppose the mosque must understand, they have a Constitutional right to build that mosque and it is my belief, at some point they will. Weather or not it should be on Veals Road is the only battleground I see for this conflict.
Now, to add fuel to this fire, there is this idiotic movement to burn the Koran. Make no mistake about this; there is nothing in that form of rhetoric that can bring any solution to any problem. Not only is burning the Koran an act of sure stupidity, it should be considered blasphemy. Like it or not, the Islamic community worships the same god as the Christian and Jewish faiths. Many of the Biblical stories and people Christians and Jews holds as holy are also in the Koran and also held holy by Muslims. It is my personal opinion, does not have to be yours, that any book burning is evil and evil hides in the best of intentions.
So, again I ask, what is the American way of life and who’s entitled to it? I don’t know the answer but I can tell you why it’s important we answer it. Throughout human history, every civilization has eventually failed. Every kingdom built has fallen; every empire conquered has been lost. But for the first time in human history, a civilization has arisen that, based on its doctrine, has the ability to correct itself. No one branch of government wields absolute power and we can rid ourselves of those we disagree with by a simple, bloodless vote. Somehow our forefathers were smart enough to concoct a formula that is ever changing and adapting. America is as close as human kind has ever came to giving a fair chance to everybody. That’s why it is the most powerful nation in the world and a beacon of hope for the future of mankind. Governments will get it wrong, greed, war, vanity and just being human will always stop us from reaching Utopia. But, we the people have the power to right the wrongs, what ever they may be. The government exists at the will of the people not the other way around and that may be the greatest strength of the American way. So again, I ask, “What is the American way of life?” Each one of us has to decide that and then we have to live with it. Edmund Burke said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” But who gets to decide what evil is?