ISLAM IN AMERICA: Opposition to mosque unfounded

Husna Najand

Demonizing Islam to the detriment of peace efforts

When Daisy Khan was interviewed by Fox News about a proposed Islamic community center two blocks away from Ground Zero, personality Laura Ingraham responded with, “I can’t find many people who really have a problem with it. I like what you’re trying to do.” This took place in December 2009.

It was clear that Khan and her husband, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, a well-known and respected moderate Sufi Muslim who has worked on behalf of the Bush administration for years, were not terrorist sympathizers.

Anyone watching Fox now would think otherwise, as its pundits and bedfellows within the GOP have lately been spewing a steady stream of hateful rhetoric concerning this very community center.

An uncontroversial proposal unanimously approved by a New York City community board last year recently became toxic due to a woman named Pamela Geller. She began an Internet campaign with viral blogs such as “Monster Mosque Pushes Ahead in Shadow of World Trade Center Islamic Death and Destruction.”

The same woman who opined that President Barack Obama is the illegitimate child of Malcolm X, who clearly hates the religion of Islam as evidenced by her numerous vitriolic blogs, has propelled this issue into the national limelight.

Now Fox News, through its own disingenuous campaign, has turned an innocuous community center into an imagined jihadist center of radicalization.

There was a time when politicians like George W. Bush, took great pains to distinguish peaceful Muslims from terrorists and Islam from the evil actions committed by a few.

Today, it is open season on Muslims.

After voting down a bill that would have provided health benefits to the 9/11 responders, many in the conservative movement have turned a national tragedy into a backdrop for demagoguery and know that Democrats are too spineless to stand up to them.

Some people have no scruples when it comes to exploiting issues in order to push forward their own political agendas — people like Sarah Palin, who repeatedly claimed that the community center’s location is insensitive and insulting to the 9/11 families.

Muslim Americans who peacefully go about their lives are not terrorists, but Palin’s line of thought implies that the terrorists’ sins are reflective of the whole Muslim community. To claim that a community center or a mosque is a tribute to the 9/11 attackers is to say that Islam itself is an extremist religion that glorifies murder.

A mosque is a place to pray and bond with fellow human beings; location does not change that fundamental nature. One can’t have it both ways, where one mosque 12 blocks down is “friendly” yet one two blocks down is “radical” and a general affront to Lady Liberty.

But the crux of this issue is not location. It is about Islam itself. A community center protest has turned into a repudiation of Muslims and their compatibility with American values. Muslims are once again reminded of how their religion is eclipsed by the 9/11 murderers, as mosques all across the country are being met by angry and hateful protesters.

Then there is also Pastor Terry Jones: “We declared 9/11 International Burn a Koran Day. The reason is to send a warning to Islam, that Sharia law that is not welcome in America. We started this a year ago, when we put a sign outside the church, ‘Islam is of the Devil.’” These hate-mongers are a disgrace to the foundation of religious tolerance this country was built upon.

Politicians, the lauded defenders of the Constitution, are an even bigger disgrace, as they effectively sanction that intolerance and embolden these Islamophobes. Newt Gingrich’s divisive words make me ashamed to even call him a fellow American.

To equate Islam with Nazism, and thus all Muslims to unconscientious mass murderers, is repulsive. Even more worrisome is when a respected member of the American establishment engenders such invective, it becomes a talking point that filters into the mainstream consciousness. This may prove to be a boon for the upcoming elections, but the message they are sending out to the world is that, at best, America is uncomfortable with Islam – and, at worst, that America hates Muslims.

As many observant commentators have pointed out, this hardly works to our diplomatic or national security advantage, considering our intricate relations with the Muslim world. And we cannot improve relations with the Muslim world if we are burning bridges at home.

The 9/11 attacks were carried out in Islam’s name, but it was a gross distortion of the religion.

But no matter what I may say, some people will always play deaf, dumb and blind. They will always equate Islam with 9/11 and mosques with extremism. They will dismiss the fact that Muslim Americans died in the 9/11 tragedy and continue to die for their country today in Iraq and Afghanistan.

They will disregard that Islam is not just the religion of foreigners – it was introduced to America when slave ships carrying Muslim Africans were brought to these shores. There are Muslim Americans who can trace back their lineage several generations.

We are of a mosaic of races and ethnicities and not a monolithic group. Ignorance may be their prerogative but that shouldn’t infringe on mine to worship God wherever I choose without fear of harassment.

This is America, not Saudi Arabia.

Here, the Constitution protects my right to freedom of religion, regardless of location. Ten years later, I would have hoped that a so-called “mosque” near Ground Zero would have been considered part of the healing process, part of bridging together our multicultural, multifaith community with understanding and compassion.

Instead, the intensity of the demonizing rhetoric has left many Muslims demoralized and hurt. At least it is uplifting to know that as vociferous as some of the protesters may be, there are vocal supporters as well, including families who have lost loved ones on 9/11, pastors and rabbis and ordinary citizens.

There are people like New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose unwavering conviction can remind us of how important it is to speak out on behalf of what is fair and just, even if it is not the easy thing to do.

“We would betray our values – and play into our enemies’ hands – if we were to treat Muslims differently than anyone else…” Bloomberg said.

“Political controversies come and go, but our values and our traditions endure – and there is no neighborhood in this City that is off limits to God’s love and mercy.”

These resolute words remind me that as dismaying as this current controversy is, it too shall pass.

August 30, 2010, unlvrebelyell

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