Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Why I See Opposition to the Islamic Center as Indistinguishable from Bigotry

I believe that good meaning people in America are so uncomfortable with the idea of a "mosque" (and by that they mean the Cordoba House Islamic center which is not really a mosque, per se) at Ground Zero (which is actually two blocks, and a few dozen entirely unhallowed other buildings, away...but...) that they simply wish its supporters would move it to another location. They're not bigots, and they believe in religious freedom; they just feel that all this tension isn't worth it. "Just not there; it's too controversial" seems to be their fall back argument.

I'm sorry, but I see that as still essentially defending the wrong side in the debate. Whether one's intentions are non-bigoted is beside the point; the entire reason this location is controversial stems from bigotry (people associating anything Muslim with those who carried out the 9/11 attacks). That means the non-bigots who just want stability are left with a dilemma: either side with the bigots' call for a relocation or endure the uncomfortable controversy. It's clear to me what the brave choice is.

Moreover, siding with the bigots affiliates anyone who does so with the growing impact of their opposition. The media circus and reckless rhetoric of the opportunistic politicians willing to seize upon this issue to hopefully advance their election chances (such as) has stirred up opposition to mosques and Islamic centers across the country (see here, here, and here). It's not good enough to say you support the rights of Muslim Americans to build mosques in Wisconsin or Tennessee or California, but oppose it this one time. You have to stand up for the American ideal of religious freedom when it's the least comfortable for your position to mean anything.

I'll be honest. This is very personal for me. A good number of Muslim Americans are very dear to me. It pains me greatly to see the hurt in their eyes over this blatant bigotry. They too endured 9/11. They too deserve comfort from the horror of it, and they deserve to know they're safe in their own country. (This video is a nightmare of undiluted ignorance and hate.) As Americans, they deserve to live as they wish and worship where they want, just like any other American. Full stop.

Mira Schor has penned an amazing essay on why it's essentially moronic to carve out some circle around Ground Zero as a mosque-free zone. Here's a snippet:
From my corner I saw with my own eyes the second plane hit the South Tower. I lived downtown through the scary nights and the many rough months after September 11, and I am here to say that my whole street is a mosque. Several times a day, small groups of Muslims -- mainly African street vendors who peddle carvings or fake Vuitton bags and Rolex watches on Canal Street -- pull out prayers mats, often just rolls of cardboard they store in the nooks and crannies of the buildings around, take their shoes off in all weather, wash their feet with water from bottles, kneel towards the east and pray, 14 blocks from Ground Zero, on ground they've spontaneously "hallowed." And the only thing one can say, in the words of my late Holocaust-refugee Polish-Jewish mother, is "Only in America."
Muslims help make up the fabric of New York. They did on 9/11, and they still do today. The mindless hatred they're subjected to over this controversy makes me ill. Our country (their country, your country, my country) is better than this. I know it's better than this, because it's worked through issues like this before and found the higher ground. As Mayor Bloomberg noted last night:
[I]t was not so long ago that Jews and Catholics had to overcome stereotypes and build bridges to those who viewed them with suspicion and less than fully American. In 1960, many Americans feared that John F. Kennedy would impose papal law on America. But through his example, he taught us that piety to a minority religion is no obstacle to patriotism. It is a lesson I think that needs updating today, and it is our responsibility to accept the challenge.
There's so much more at stake in this for America than anyone's personal comfort level, and, with all due respect, that includes the families of the victims. I won't minimize their feelings (because, as I've noted, my position is also influenced by my feelings for my loved ones...so I appreciate their pain), but I can't agree to let those who would conflate the terrorists with law-abiding Muslims do so unchallenged. And as that's the entire basis of the controversy, I can't agree to let those who would oppose the center do so unchallenged either. It's un-American, it's cowardly, and practically speaking it's indistinguishable from bigotry.



Anonymous johnny said...

I am amazed that this generated so much opposition. Let's all reread the first Amendment. End of story.

8/25/2010 11:30:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

I'm not amazed, racism is the tool of choice for persuading people through fear.

Good work Ed.

8/25/2010 11:48:00 AM  
Anonymous Ken Hagler said...

I think it's more than just indistinguishable. As far as I'm concerned, anyone who says they're not a bigot but are opposed to this center is a bigot and a liar.

8/25/2010 01:51:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I'm not sure I entirely disagree, Ken, but I am sure that type of rhetoric won't change opinions.

8/25/2010 02:27:00 PM  
Anonymous PK said...

Overcoming Hatred:

When I hate a person or a group of people, I:

* harbor the most extreme level of anger possible against them.
* ignore and avoid them; they don't exist for me.
* am easily aggravated by their behavior, looks, or attitudes.
* get agitated when I think about them; it gets worse when I am in their presence.
* have an antagonistic attitude toward them.
* find myself being cruel, vicious, vindictive or revengeful with them...

My hatred toward groups of people are reflected in the following statements:

* They are all just alike: No good!
* You can't trust any of them.
* They are what is keeping our country from being great.
* If you give them an inch they'll take a mile.
* You can never turn your back on them...

To overcome my hatred of a person or group of people I need to:

* assess my hatred: Is it based on what is real or on what is imagined?
* determine if the person or group of people intentionally set out to hurt, abuse, neglect, or mistreat me.
* analyze whether or not the person or group of people knew how negatively I was being affected by them.
* analyze what my thinking was like at the time I was being mistreated.
* identify the irrational component of my thinking about this mistreatment and replace it with more rational and realistic thinking.
* perform anger work-out sessions until I have exhausted my hatred to the point where I can forgive and forget the past.
* admit that even if a person set out to hurt me, knowing full well how badly I would feel, it does me no good to harbor this hatred. It exhausts my emotional energy. I need to let go of it and get on with my life.

Replace "I" with "WE". Time to move on as a nation and stop painting everyone with the same brush.

Read more on overcoming hatred: http://www.livestrong.com/article/14654-overcoming-hatred/#ixzz0xe419kF9

8/25/2010 03:39:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wish people would refrain from labeling people with whom they disagree. It stops the discussion.

A case in point. Two years ago my step son and I heatedly discussed an issue. And I do mean heatedly. But we never used labels against one another and after thinking about the points he made I came to the conclusion that he was correct and I was holding on to an outmoded view point. But I certainly never would've considered anything he said if he had tossed out a word to label me or my view point.

This is my biggest pet peeve. It isn't even a peeve, because I feel it is harming society. I no longer feel comfortable discussing anything any longer because people don't allow that the other person is possibly a reasonable person who has formed different opinions from different life experiences and given half a chance might prove to have something interesting to say or who might change their mind given a differing perspective.

This situation has left me profoundly saddened.

8/25/2010 05:14:00 PM  
Blogger Clifford Garstang said...

You've expressed my views on this subject exactly. Thank you.

8/29/2010 10:13:00 PM  

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