Growing anti-mosque hysteria in the heart of America
By Louay Safi
Online Journal Contributing Writer
Aug 20, 2010, 00:22
The �Ground Zero Mosque� controversy is gradually developing
into a national hysteria threatening to shack the image, and potentially the
reality, of the United State as an open society and a beacon of freedom and
The campaign against the proposed mosque in lower Manhattan
has already dwarfed the one mobilized early last year by European far right
parties to ban Swiss Muslims from building minarets for their mosques. The
anti-mosque campaign is a testimony to the growing influence of the American
far right in media and political circles and a sad commentary on the ability of
Muslim bashers to sway public opinion in the post 9/11 American.
The campaign is led by open bigots like Pamela Geller who is
on record calling for the
destruction of the Golden Dome Mosque so a Jewish temple can be built in
its place, and who recently argued that Hitler
adopted Jihad and was inspired by Islam to commit the Holocaust. She is
also on record �praying� for a nuclear war between Iran and Israel that would give
the latter the opportunity to nuke Tehran,
Mecca, and Medina. She has the audacity to question the patriotism of
President Obama and accuse him on numerous occasions of being a covert Muslim
and an anti-Semitic,
Jihadist Mohammadan [sic] who is aiding the Iranian regime.
Geller, along with her network of likeminded Muslim bashers,
including Sean Hannity of Fox News and Robert Spencer of Jihadwatch, succeeded
in setting the tone of the current debate. They have referred to the proposed
Islamic center as a �triumphant mosque,� claiming that it is customary for
Muslims to build such mosques after defeating their enemies. They called the
plan to build an Islamic center two blocks away from Ground Zero a provocation
intended to upset the families of the victims of 9/11. They even argued that
the site of 9/11 is a hallowed ground and should hence be made inaccessible for
Muslims to build an Islamic Center two blocks away from its site.
The language of �provocation,� �triumph,� and �sensitivity�
presumes that all Muslims, and not only al-Qaida members, are guilty of 9/11
attacks. Muslim Americans by and large, including Imam Faisal Rauf, have
strongly rejected al-Qaida actions and views, as did most Muslims the world
over. To equate Muslims with the atrocities allegedly committed by al-Qaida
operatives is tantamount to equating Christians with the massacres allegedly committed
by the Serb nationalists in Bosnia. The opponents of building an Islamic center
near the 9/11 site must remember that Ground Zero is hallowed not only by
Jewish and Christian blood, but by the blood of over 90 Muslims who perished on
that horrific day.
Despite the twisted logic of these arguments, and the
blatant efforts to revive medieval anti-Muslim propaganda and equate all
Muslims with the criminal attacks of 9/11 terrorists, several prominent
politicians jumped on the anti-mosque bandwagon. Republican leaders, including Newt
Gingrich and Sarah Palin, sided with the anti-mosque crowd. Senate Majority
Leader Harry Reid added his voice to those who spoke against the mosque. Even
President Obama wavered in the face of the anti-mosque campaign, as he seems to
have backpedal after speaking strongly in support of the right of American
Muslims to exercise their religious freedom.
Obama reportedly made a distinction between the �right� to
build the mosque, which he supports, and the �wisdom� of building the mosque,
on which he chose to withhold judgment. Granted that having a right and being
right are two different things, it is unfortunate that President Obama seems to
indirectly question the wisdom of the Islamic center proponents rather than
those who unfairly oppose it. If anyone�s actions and motives should be
questioned, it should be those of the bigots who equate Islam with terrorism
and who have embarked on a campaign of disinformation and character
assassination to stop Muslims from exercising their constitutional rights
freely. Yet it is the actions and motives of the Muslim peacemakers who took
the initiative to build an Islamic center dedicated to enhancing interfaith
dialogue and cooperation, and who have for decades been involved in counter
extremist interpretations and in bridge-building with their Jewish and
Christian neighbors that are placed under scrutiny.
The history of the United States clearly illustrates that
the constitutional rights Americans have cannot be separated from their ability
to exercise their rights freely. Despite having a constitutional right, African
Americans were prevented from exercising their rights by racists and demagogues
who used every false arguments to stipulate how, when, and under what
conditions black Americans could exercise their rights.
If history teaches us anything it should teach us that
people have rights only when they can exercise them freely, and that they have
to exercise them despite the arguments of those who want to limit their rights.
This simple fact was borne through the struggles of numerous individuals whose
ability to exercise their rights was thwarted by the ignorance and prejudice of
their countrymen, including blacks, women, Jews, Catholics, and now Muslims.
It is now the time for Muslim Americans to follow the
excellent examples of those who struggled before them, and remind the whole
world once again that no false arguments should be allowed to separate the
rights of a minority and its ability to exercise its rights freely.
Right-wing media has generated a national hysteria, and
amplified the voices of far right pundits who succeeded in creating enough
suspicion and arousing public passion against the proposed Manhattan Islamic
Center through misinformed and unfounded accusations. It is time for national
leaders of all religious persuasions to do the right thing and speak with clear
and unwavering voices in support of the right of Muslims to freely exercise
their religious freedom. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Fareed
Zakaria of Newsweek have set a high example of statesmanship and principled
Will we see more principled voices in the face of shameless
demagoguery? If 9/11 shocks has not penetrated into the soul of America and has
not changed its spirit, then America will once again reject the voices of
intolerance and push the bigots back into their dark corners where they belong.
Dr. Louay Safi writes and lectures on issues
relating to Islam and the West, democracy, human rights, leadership, and world
peace. His commentaries are available at http://louaysafi.com.
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