Connie Schultz | A Nation United in Ridicule

It’s come to this, has it?

Gen. David Petraeus is so concerned about the safety of our men and women in battle that he has publicly warned against a Florida pastor’s plan to burn copies of the Quran on Saturday, the ninth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on America.

“It could endanger troops and it could endanger the overall effort (in Afghanistan),” Petraeus told The Wall Street Journal on Monday.

In case this pastor was too busy mangling Scripture to pay attention, Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, who is Petraeus’ deputy and leads the NATO efforts to train Afghan security forces, reiterated his boss’s warning on CNN: “We very much feel that (the burning) can jeopardize the safety of our men and women that are serving over here in the country.”

This pastor’s “church” already had generated public outcry after erecting a handmade sign that reads, “Islam is of the Devil.” Islam really isn’t, but once you’ve decided you’re hand-picked to channel the hate of God, I guess you feel a duty to share the hostility.

Not surprisingly, Muslim leaders across the U.S. are concerned for the safety of their flock. The joyous holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, which is guided by the lunar calendar, may land on Sept. 11. Reports of vandalized mosques have increased in recent days, and American Muslims have ramped up security at their houses of worship across the country.

“We can expect crazy people out there will do things, but we don’t want to create a hysteria,” Victor Begg of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Michigan told The Associated Press. “Americans, in general, they support pluralism. It’s just that there’s a lot of misinformation out there that has created confusion.”

Clearly, Americans are so over that United We Stand thing that was all the rage in 2001. Turns out, not only are we not all New Yorkers but also some of us don’t even think all Americans are Americans.

This raises the obvious question: What is a real American these days?

Are you one? How do you know?

When my kids were little and faced difficult choices, I encouraged them to do the stomach test: Sit down in a quiet place; close your eyes, and imagine the options. Which outcome felt best, deep in your gut?

Maybe we Americans need to do a version of the stomach test to relocate our collective heart, where the highest hopes for our country reside.

Oh, just try it; nobody’s going to accuse you of meditating. Sit down in a quiet place. Close your eyes, and remember who you were on Sept. 11, 2001.

Whom did you think of first? Whom did you call? Whom did you rush home to hug at the end of that day? How did you feel about your country and your fellow Americans as the horrible news began to make way for the flood of prayers, contributions and vows of unity?

Now open your eyes. What kind of American are you now?

Nine years have passed. In some ways, life has moved on just as it would have if 3,000 Americans had not died on that sunny morning in September. Infants are now third-graders. Loved ones have departed, and some friendships have reached their expiration dates. Weight has been lost and gained. Gray hairs have sprouted like sea oats. And a new generation of parents is showing up for ballet classes, first Communion and high-school football games.

In other ways, we are so different that it barely feels like the same country. It’s become a national pastime to ridicule the religions and beliefs of people we do not want to understand. We walk through metal detectors to attend ballgames, proms and town hall meetings. We respond to pollsters trafficking in the ridiculous: What is our president’s religion? Where do we think he was born?

Still, at airports, every last one of us has to empty all pockets and stand in stocking feet before being allowed to board a plane. Whenever we see an elderly woman or a stroller pulled aside for additional screening, it’s hard to shake the feeling that we have become a nation of suspects.

Nobody is trusted anymore. Not you. Not me. Not that baby in the pretty pink stroller.

As Americans, we’ve never been so united.

Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Plain Dealer in Cleveland and an essayist for Parade magazine.

Copyright 2010