Nine years ago who would have imagined this level of fear and demonization that is now settling over America?
On the morning of on 9/11/01, sitting in my car on the Dan Ryan expressway inbound from the south suburbs to work in downtown Chicago and listening to the horror unfold on WBEZ (the local NPR affiliate), one of my first reactions to the planes crashing into the World Trade Center towers was, God please don’t let this be terrorism done by Muslims.
We feared a rise in hate crimes against our community. And sure enough there was an incredible spike in hate crimes right after 9/11.
Our civil liberties suffered after 9/11 as well. The curtailment of American Muslim civil liberties had been taking place since before 9/11, but there were a lot of efforts to stop the use of secret evidence and things were looking very good that morning of 9/11/01, but the terrorist attacks made all of those good efforts for naught. A litany of other civil rights and liberties curtailments in the interest of homeland security followed and many of them had a disproportionately heavy impact on us.
But at the grassroots and among the masses (mostly in the immigrant Muslim community) it was hardly conceivable that American society - post-slavery, post-Japanese American internment, post-Jim Crow, and post-segregation -could vilify a segment of its own community with such fear and loathing as it seems to be doing.
The unimaginable is here. Newt Gingrich, a leader of the national Republican Party equated Muslims with Nazis. Little or no attention was paid to Mr. Gingrich’s horribly offensive conflation. The story remained focused on the “Ground Zero Mosque”. American society is changing and it’s for the worse.
The debate surrounding the Cordoba Initiative is working to reframe Muslims and Islam as inherently evil. Those leading the charge to demonize Muslims and Islam are discarding any qualifications (i.e., most Muslims are peaceful, etc.), because, as they can see from the public’s reaction (or, more accurately, the lack of one) to the virulently anti-Muslim rhetoric over the Cordoba Initiative, Americans are starting to buy into their hate.
That’s good news for the likes of Rev. Franklin Graham, Rep. Peter King (R-NY) and Robert Spencer whose respective careers are built upon Muslim- and Islam-bashing. That’s why they and others like them are so heavily invested in the anti-Cordoba Initiative movement.
That’s an exaggeration you say? No, it isn’t. Faux-scholars and Islamophobes are regularly courted by politicians and by television and radio “punditainers” for their hateful perspectives on Muslims and Islam.
Look at the network news discussions on issues pertaining to Islam in America. American Muslim leaders from organizations with long and distinguished records for peace-building and meaningful civic engagement such as the Muslim Public Affairs Council have to regularly debate rabidly anti-Islam personalities like Brigitte Gabriel about Islam and Muslims. That’s a joke. It’s like putting an ivy league medical school professor on the air to debate Kevin Trudeau on the physiology of human weight loss. No reasonable person would see the latter as a credible debate, but amazingly, the former is swallowed whole and without question by millions of American viewers.
Benign sounding groups like “Family Security Matters” and “American Family Association” advance anti-Muslim ideas wrapped in patriotism to millions of unsuspecting readers and poison their minds in the process. The analysis coming out of these groups are like ponzi schemes with rabidly anti-Muslim writers building themselves and their arguments on facts often out of context, quoting one another as “experts” on Islam and with reasoning that would earn a failing grade in a remedial high school composition class.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg. The hate brigades in America are growing stronger each day.
Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Pamela Geller, Newt Gingrich and many other Islamophobes who are rallying against the Cordoba Initiative will continue to spew their bigotry because a lot of Americans are allowing it.
It shouldn’t have to be said but in this bigoted climate let’s state the obvious: an Islamic community center (which includes a mosque facility within it) near Ground Zero has nothing to do with the 9/11 hijackers. The people who are building the Cordoba Initiative are law abiding and peaceful people.
Does any rational person believe that the FBI, NSA and whatever other national security apparatus we have in place to protect us from terrorism would let criminals operate just a few blocks away from Ground Zero? Could any reasonable person think this is happening with the Cordoba Initiative? After all the scrutiny its received? Really?
Consider this - our government’s efforts have Muslim babies and toddlers on no-fly lists and innocent people are secretly rendered to foreign countries for extended periods of torture. All of this is done in the name of homeland security by our government or with its tacit approval. Surely then, this same government isn’t going to let dangerous people sit right under their noses in New York City.
President Obama’s recent comments on the Cordoba Initiative was chum in the water. The “punditainers”, faux-scholars and Islamophobes are now being joined by a broad range of politicians too. Anyone needing or wanting a ratings boost is jumping on the anti-Cordoba Initiative bandwagon. Senator Harry Reid is among them.
Apparently Governor Patterson is also trying to garner some political capital by attempting to negotiate with the Cordoba Initiative. Gov. Patterson is reportedly offering public funds to help build the Islamic community center elsewhere. He doesn’t think building the center in its present location is the “right” thing for Muslims to do so he’s going to provide taxpayer money to what is partly a religious facility as an “incentive” for the Cordoba Initiative to relocate. Really Gov. Patterson? You want to use taxpayer dollars to fund what is partly a religious institution? How does that work in New York State?
It’s absurd, but absurd seems to be the new normal when anti-Cordoba Initiative folks are involved.
There’s a lot of lecturing going on about how just because something is a "right" doesn’t make is okay to do. And in this case its not the “right thing to do” because its a Muslim institution. Setting aside the fact that this is a bigoted view, this “right thing to do” argument is particularly amusing given how many of these same folks addressed a similar situation a few years ago.
Think back a few years to the brouhaha over the publication of several offensive depictions of Prophet Muhammad (saw) in newspapers in Europe and the United States. Unlike the Cordoba Initiative, the printing and reprinting of those horrible cartoons was specifically intended to provoke and insult Muslims. It was all about asserting the West’s right to free speech even if it meant offending Muslims.
That was a clear case of “it may be their right to do it, but it isn’t the right thing to do” but a lot of the Islamophobes, and faux-scholars and “punditainers” were playing for the other team back then. That’s right, when it was about the Prophet Muhammad (saw) cartoons most of these folks were batting for Team First Amendment and their team slogan was “Ethics be damned!”
Unfortunately for everyone, the handful of people who have articulated reasonable arguments around the Cordoba Initiative have been ignored. Some have argued that there is a sensitivity issue that needs to be considered. That argument, unlike the rhetoric of hate advanced by the majority in the anti-Cordoba Initiative movement, merits further discussion.
The only legitimate argument against going forward with the Cordoba Initiative as planned is that the families of the 9/11 victims feel hurt by the fact that a symbol of Islam is being erected near (they say “on”) Ground Zero, and they feel hurt because, in their minds, Islam was inextricably involved with the 9/11 terror attacks.
As much as it pains me to hear this argument, I can empathize with the families of the 9/11 victims who feel this way. That doesn’t mean I agree with them. It doesn’t mean I think their way of thinking should prevail. It simply means that I can put myself in their shoes and get a sense of how this project hurts them.
Their pain doesn’t have to be rational for it to be genuine. And good people regardless of their faith should consider the impact of their actions on others in everything they do.
The tone in our country vis-a-vis Muslims and the rest of America is unhealthy. Our leaders need to stop pandering to the hate. They need to stop saying just enough to provide themselves with political cover.
Here’s an idea: how about promoting dialogue between the two sides with the most at stake? Our political leaders should be working to bring the families of the 9/11 victims together with the folks behind the Cordoba Initiative to talk to one another. Do they know one another? Beyond the news clips, blogs and newspaper quotes, have the two sides heard one another’s points of view in person and directly? If not, why not?
The Cordoba Initiative isn’t at Ground Zero. It’s in an old Burlington Coat Factory building two blocks away where even now Muslims are congregating for daily Muslim prayers. The Cordoba Initiative may or may not have considered including some type of memorial to the victims of 9/11 in their original development, but perhaps, given all that’s transpired, they should.
Grieving and healing from the loss of a loved one - especially in the horrific circumstances of 9/11 - is a painful process. I don’t know how they feel but I can and do have empathy for them. But the empathy these families deserve does not give them license to engage in bigotry or xenophobia. Only a genuine dialogue between these two groups can create a resolution that’s good for the parties and good for America.
Any decision on how to go forward with the Cordoba Initiative should include direct dialogue between the families and the Cordoba Initiative. If President Obama, Senator Harry Reid, Gov. Patterson and even Mr. Gingrich want to lead America, then this is the direction they should be taking this controversy.