Open Letter to Elizabeth Moon

Ms. Moon,

I’ve been torn about writing this.  In part because “An open letter to _____” just sounds pretentious to me.  And partly because I know there have already been twenty-four gazillion responses to your 9/11 blog post, Citizenship.

I’ve recommended your blog on multiple occasions, for your thoughtfulness and perspective.  I disagree with much of what you say in your 9/11 post, but that doesn’t change my appreciation for other things you’ve written.

That said, I strongly disagree with what you wrote about citizenship and the obligations of the Muslim community with regard to the Mosque at Ground Zero (which is, in fact, neither a Mosque nor at Ground Zero.)

I do agree with much of what you say about citizenship, and about people’s obligation and responsibility to their nation.  I would even expand that obligation to the need to contribute to the betterment of self, of family, of nation, and of the world.  (And beyond, for that matter … we are SF/F authors, after all.)

But I’m troubled by your comments on assimilation.  You say, “Groups that self-isolate, that determinedly distinguish themselves by location, by language, by dress, will not be accepted as readily as those that plunge into the mainstream.”  This conflates identity with isolation, and presumes that isolation, when it occurs, is entirely self-imposed.  But I agree with you that often groups which appear “different” are not as readily accepted.

I don’t see that as a failure of those who choose not to “assimilate.”  I see that as a failure of the rest of us to accept those who are not like us.

With regard to the community center, you said, “When an Islamic group decided to build a memorial center at/near the site of the 9/11 attack, they should have been able to predict that this would upset a lot of people.”

I suspect most Muslims in this country recognize that building a mosque (or an Islamic community center) will upset people.  Of course, most Muslims also recognize that a vocal minority of our country is upset simply by the fact that Muslims exist.  Should Muslims allow intolerance, ignorance, and hatred to dictate their actions?

What troubles me most is your commentary on citizenship, and the implication as to who is and is not deserving of such.  You use Muslim and immigrant interchangeably, as though the only Muslims in this nation are newcomers to our shores, ignoring those who have lived here and fought for this country in times of war for generations.  And then you talk about how we “let Muslims believe stuff that unfits them for citizenship.”

I would love to know what these forbidden beliefs are, and how you feel they unfit someone for citizenship.

Last week I defended the right of a U. S. citizen to spread a message I despise.  Because that’s what this country is supposed to be.  Not a land of the like-minded.  Not a land where thoughts and beliefs, religious or otherwise, disqualify one for citizenship.  But a land of disagreement.  A land that doesn’t fear difference, but celebrates it.  A land that draws strength from diversity.

We don’t always live up to those ideals.  When it comes to immigration and assimilation, we fail often.  We mock those who are different.  We pressure them to give up their history and their heritage.  We drive a wedge between children of immigrants and their families.  That is our failure, and it is unforgivable.

You mentioned the “responsibilities of citizenship in a non-Muslim country.”  But this is a Muslim country.  It is also a Jewish country.  It is an atheist country.  It is a country of Quakers and a country of Mormons, a country of Catholics and a country of Baptists.  (Even, I have no doubt, a country of Jedi.)

I believe terrorists who would attack this country should be hunted down and stopped.  I believe those whose beliefs lead them to violate the law should be punished.  But I do not believe in punishing or restricting the rights of the many for the acts of a few.  There are an estimated 600,000 Muslims living in New York City alone.  They are as American as you or I.  Not because they have been assimilated, but because this country welcomed them … even if sometimes its people do not.

You close by commenting on the responsibilities of citizenship.  I believe one of those responsibilities is to defend the principles this country stands for … even when those principles make us uncomfortable.

I don’t mean to lecture, and it’s not my intention to talk down to you or attack you, but this is (obviously) something I feel very passionately about.

You remarked in your newsgroup, “Saying anything someone doesn’t like greatly reduces their ability to read what was written.”  I suspect you will not like what I’ve written here.  I hope, when you’ve gotten a little distance from the anger and pain your post triggered, that you’ll read it anyway.  I don’t expect you to agree with everything I’ve said, but I hope you’ll consider why so many people have expressed feeling angry and hurt by your words.

Jim C. Hines