I’ve been following the controversy over the mosque in lower Manhattan as well as some of the controversies around the country regarding mosques. Frankly, I think it’s shameful how people have responded to the issue. What I see is fear and hate on the part of the protesters, and I have to wonder if they realize the hypocrisy of their actions. They don’t want Muslims to build a mosque, why? Because it will supposedly breed terror and hate for other American citizens and our government. But what about them and what they are doing? From what I have seen, they are not immune from hate. In fact, it seems to me that it is things like this that cause Muslims in other countries to look at the U.S. and think that we are in fact what people say, a Godless hateful nation. It’s a vicious cycle.
Part of the argument against building the mosque is that it wouldn’t be an appropriate place and that it would offend and hurt the families of victims killed in the 9/11 attacks. Some people have claimed it would be no more than a “victory monument” for the Muslim community and the attacks. That argument claims, without warrant, that all Muslims approved of and applauded the actions taken by violent fundamentalists that led to the destruction of lower Manhattan and the loss of thousands of lives. This assumption is false. It is based in misinformed and poorly understood fear. I do not claim to completely understand myself and do not claim to be anywhere close to an expert on Islamic studies. I will not even go to scripture comparison, as some might, to try to make my point because I have not studied either extensively. I know the Bible fairly well, but the Qur’an I know next to nothing about. What I can talk about is the people I have heard speak, Muslims who condemned the attack as murder and in opposition to Islam’s core beliefs. Though I do not know how versed President Obama is in the teachings of Islam, I believe he put it well in this New York Times article.
In his remarks, Mr. Obama distinguished between the terrorists who plotted the 9/11 attacks and Islam. “Al Qaeda’s cause is not Islam — it is a gross distortion of Islam,” the president said, adding, “In fact, Al Qaeda has killed more Muslims than people of any other religion, and that list includes innocent Muslims who were killed on 9/11.”
Some people might argue, “But there is a call for violence against non-Muslims in the Qur’an.” I don’t doubt this, and I can say that the Bible can also be used for justification of violence as well. And of course, it has been used many times over the course of history, through the crusades and even to the justification of slavery in the United States through the early 1800’s. Today, Christians condemn that violence and people realize that it did not encompass all of the belief system. Muslims do the same.
I understand the sentiment behind the argument that it would not be an appropriate place for a mosque, but I think that the reasons used to support that argument are bunk.
In another article, New York City Mayor Bloomberg flipped the protestors’ argument in an interesting way saying, “To cave to popular sentiment would be to hand a victory to the terrorists — and we should not stand for that.” And indeed it would be. In 2001, Americans said with a unified voice that we would not be broken by the attacks, but we were whether we want to admit it or not. Americans are terrified of what could happen and it has severely affected politics, racial relations and religious tolerance (or the lack thereof) for the past ten years. This is a broken nation that is running off fear and ignoring basic rights and privileges of all U.S. citizens. The First Amendment in the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution, as I’m sure you are all aware of, states that the government cannot make a law respecting (here meaning, “in reference to”) an establishment of religion. Unfortunately though, citizens are allowed to spread their misguided and misinformed fears through their demonstrations.
One protestor's sign. Picture belongs to the New York Times.
Just as an interesting digression, here’s the meaning of the word, “mosque.” I found it pretty interesting.
The New York Times quoted Robina Niaz, the founder of Turning Point for Women and Families, the first non-profit in New York to address domestic violence in the Muslim community in New York City, as saying, “What it has done is suddenly made it legitimate for everybody else out there to lash out at Muslims. It has brought us together. But it also shows how much work we have to do.”
The United States was built on the ideals of personal liberty, the protection of private property and religious freedom, all things the protestors should claim to love and support since they also claim to be patriotic American citizens. However, in this specific instance they are vehemently opposed to it. This is hypocrisy and prejudice, verging on and often crossing the line of hatred for one group of people based on their beliefs. Are these not characteristics many people link with Al Qaeda, with whom people wrongfully equate all Muslims? Let me use an example. Several years ago, soldiers at Guantanamo Bay humiliated, tortured and terrorized prisoners there who were likely innocent. Yes, innocent. Most men held at the facility had weak or no ties to the attacks on the U.S., but were held regardless. Many were not even picked up by United States forces. To this day, none of the prisoners ever held there have been convicted. I could go on about Guantanamo and the human rights abuses, but again, I digress. I’m going to return to the soldiers who tortured the prisoners there. Citizens of the United States should recognize (please, God, lest all my remaining hope for humanity be lost) that this was a sickening display by people with whom we share a common classification, that of United States citizen. Yet, we hope, again I hope we do, that the world does not equate those men and their actions with all U.S. citizens.
I would like to make another point. The proposed site of the mosque is two city blocks from the site of Ground Zero. It is not on or at Ground Zero. If they cannot build there, near the site of their original space, where in the city can they build? And why, if they have been located close by for so long now, do people suddenly care? These American Muslims, indeed most Muslims around the world, are a prayerful and peaceful people. Recently, the spaces that exist now for them to pray and gather are too small for the population of people who wish to use them and they have had to turn people away for lack of space. It is simply shameful how people have reacted to this.
I hope, for the world and for our country, that tolerance is realized.