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08.26.2012 _____________________

We live in a complex, sometimes incomprehensible, world. We are told that everything is connected; from the beating of a Monarch butterfly’s wings in Mexico to the power of a tsunami racing across the Pacific, every action has a reaction; every force has a counterforce.

Many are the forces we witness but cannot control.

Many are the forces we witness and should oppose, but don’t. And if we don’t oppose those forces of ignorance, bigotry and prejudice, then we empower them. And when they are empowered, they threaten our security — mine and yours.

For such failures we are accountable.

Recently, Frank Gaffney, founder and president of the Center for Security Policy in Washington, D.C., spoke to members and guests at the Portsmouth Rotary Club. I think I’m sorry I missed that meeting.

According to a report in Foster’s, “A majority of Gaffney’s remarks were addressed at the growing threat posed by groups pushing a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam. He said all leading Muslim organizations in the United States are now, without exception, controlled by Islamic fundamentalists.”

Who invited this person who, in 2010, said, “Team Obama’s anti-anti-missile initiatives are not simply acts of unilateral disarmament of the sort to be expected from an Alinsky acolyte. They seem to fit an increasingly obvious and worrying pattern of official U.S. submission to Islam and the theo-political-legal program the latter’s authorities call Shariah…; the new MDA shield appears ominously to reflect a morphing of the Islamic crescent and star with the Obama campaign logo…; Watch this space as we identify and consider various, ominous and far more clear-cut acts of submission to Shariah by President Obama and his team.”

Shame on the Rotary Club.

Shame on the Rotary Club for inviting a speaker who has been identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as “the anti-Muslim movement’s most paranoid propagandist.”

Shame on the Rotary Club for having invited a speaker who believes President Obama is “sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood supremacist agenda — I think that’s now beyond dispute.”

Shame on the Rotary Club, which invited a man who, during the Murfreesboro, Tenn., Mosque controversy, told the court from the witness stand, “I don’t hold myself out as an expert on Sharia Law.”

Shame on the Rotary Club: To invite Frank Gaffney to speak on security issues, knowing in advance his agenda and bigotry, is not unlike inviting Louis Farrakhan to speak about race relations or inviting Rep. Todd Akin to speak about a woman’s right to choose.

We live in a dangerous and complicated world. Enemies embracing ideologies we don’t understand appear to stand at our gates, seemingly threatening our existence. There are distinct and real dangers threatening global security and stability and I think it is important for organizations like Rotary to present competing opinions to its membership. But competing opinions doesn’t mean opinions based on ignorance. There are certainly many scholars and foreign policy experts who differ with the Obama administration over its approach to current foreign policy challenges, from the South China Sea to Iran to Greece. It is important to listen to competing voices — it’s not important to listen to bigotry and prejudice.

I cannot imagine that Rotary would embrace a climate-change denier as the authoritative voice on the environment. I cannot imagine that Rotary would embrace a Creationist as the authoritative voice on evolutionary theory.

When we embrace such agents of hate and prejudice we do America, and Americans, a great disservice. For Frank Gaffney, there is no First Amendment right to Freedom of Religion for Muslims. Gaffney said the proposed Park51 Islamic Center, in proximity to Ground Zero, would be, “designed to be a permanent, in-our-face beachhead for Shariah, a platform for inspiring the triumphalist ambitions of the faithful and eroding resistance to their demands for separate and (for the moment, at least) equal treatment in America.”

We’re among the lucky. In these times of economic distress there are few of us that would trade our privilege and passport for those of any other nation. We are a people committed to a vision. A vision based on fairness and opportunity and that all people, including Muslims, have equal rights under the Constitution.

My personal experience with the Rotary Club has been exemplary. In the 1990s, when young Bosnian students were coming to Exeter to escape the ravages of war in the former Yugoslavia, Rotary stepped up and offered help. After 9/11, many Rotarians called me in support at a time of anxiety for many American Muslims. I have met Rotarians around the world — all committed to a Rotarian vision. Impressively, Israeli and Arab, Catholic and Protestant youth have come together in Portsmouth as “Friends Forever,” which began as a joint program with Portsmouth Rotary.

Last Sunday, Muslims gathered at Portsmouth’s Frank Jones Center to celebrate the end of Ramadan. Families gathered for prayer and celebration on a beautiful and holy day — more Seacoast Muslims, as the expression goes, “than you could shake a stick at.” Among them were members of various Rotary clubs. I wonder how inclusive they now feel their club is.

The Rotarian embrace of Frank Gaffney was a political action that furthered a current unhealthy and un-American agenda to try to further disenfranchise Muslims, and with them President Obama, from the public square.

I think Rotary got played. I think it would go a long way if Rotary might consider apologizing to its members, and to the community for bringing divisive voice of hatred and division into its midst, a voice that contradicts Rotary’s very mission.

This column appeared originally in the Portsmouth Herald.

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