Sometimes editors like to have fun with their writers — like this week when my editor at the Charleston City Paper declared that controversial Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and yours truly are actually the same person. Explains Chris Haire:

“You want proof? Well here goes: As you know, Rauf is the guy behind the so-called Ground Zero mosque. Not surprisingly, Sean Hannity doesn’t like him. On his Monday afternoon radio show, Hannity played an audiotape of Rauf, one which Sean believes proves just how anti-American the imam is … The funny thing is, the main point that Hannity offers as an example of Rauf’s virulent anti-Americanism is more or less the same point that the City Paper‘s own Jack Hunter has been saying for years now … . Namely that the United States has killed more innocent Muslims than Al Qaeda has killed innocent Americans.”

This is true regardless of who says it. Rauf specifically cites “the U.S-led sanction against Iraq [that] led to the death of over half a million Iraqi children” in the 1990s, a death toll confirmed by the United Nations, approved of by former Secretary of State Madeline Albright (who said it was “worth it”) and apparently deemed irrelevant by Hannity. Using math over emotion, the Iraqi death toll due to U.S. sanctions equals about 170 9/11s. Despite Hannity’s outrage, the imam is absolutely right.

Trying to get Americans to comprehend the weight of the damage their government sometimes causes overseas is comparable to how some wives react upon learning that their husband is a child molester — many simply shut down, emotionally and morally, refusing to believe it even against overwhelming evidence. The very thought is so traumatic that they go into denial, preferring to ignore or endure the tragedy rather than let it upset their worldview. There are other, similar examples of such denial: many now ask about the decades-long sexual-abuse allegations against the Catholic Church — did they not know or simply not want to know? Some question whether Germans during World War II were aware of the death camps in their own backyard — did they not know or simply not want to know?

A half-million dead children is not insignificant, in Iraq or anywhere else — yet did Americans not know or simply not want to know? Separated by an ocean from the situation and captive to a media that barely reported it, for most Americans it was probably a mix of apathy and ignorance, but the degree to which that ignorance remains willful is worth noting. Writes Haire: “for both Jack and Rauf, this simple stat — that 500,000 innocents died as the result of American actions — is proof that the U.S. has blood in its hands too. But for Hannity, to point out this fact is to commit chicken hawk heresy. It is a challenge to Hannity’s unchallengeable worldview, and as such, it must be wrong.”

Naturally, most Americans want to believe their nation acts in a largely benevolent manner abroad — something conservatives hardly ever believe about their government domestically — and any stark evidence to the contrary is often too heavy to absorb or to hurtful to consider. Pundits like Hannity spends hours keeping their audiences focused on relatively trivial controversies like whether some random mosque should be built next to Ground Zero, but consider it heresy even to consider that overseas the U.S. puts ground zeros next to mosques all the time. In an audio clip Hannity features on his website, intended to condemn the now-famous imam, Rauf makes a more salient and valuable point than any of his critics: “What complicates the discussion … is that the fact that the West has not been cognizant and has not addressed the issues of its own contribution to much injustice in the Arab and Muslim world. It’s a difficult subject to discuss with Western audiences, but it is one that must be pointed out and must be raised.”

Many Americans might dismiss, as Albright did and Hannity does, the death of a half-million children as an unfortunate, yet necessary fact of war. Funny enough, this is exactly what many in the Islamic world consider 9/11. Racking up deaths with government approval does not excuse it in the minds of Muslims whose children perished, any more than those children perishing excuses 9/11 in the minds of Americans. There is no excuse for either. Blood is on the hands of both parties, something that too many Americans still refuse to acknowledge, weigh, or even consider, and now Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is being attacked for merely pointing this out.

There will continue to be reasonable arguments on both sides of the Ground Zero mosque controversy — but what is most detrimental is the extent to which its central figure has become even more controversial simply for making a perfectly reasonable argument.