It is a terrible shame that ever since the Sept. 11 attacks on America, Muslims in the US have been viewed with suspicion when they had nothing whatsoever to do with events on that horrendous world-altering day when many Muslims were also killed.
In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, thousands of Muslims in America were rounded up, locked away without access to lawyers or family members and harshly interrogated. Others were attacked on the street, insulted by passersby and discriminated against when seeking employment. Moreover, Islamic charities were investigated and, in some cases, forced to close leaving those reliant upon them bereft of support. But that was nine years ago and, as emotions cooled, the lives of most American Muslims retuned to some semblance of normality…until now.
Recent weeks have witnessed a resurgence of anti-Islamic feeling throughout the “Home of the Brave” due to an Islamic cultural center incorporating a prayer area being constructed two blocks away from Ground Zero in New York. It appears that 70 percent of Americans view the center’s location as gross insensitivity to the feelings of 9/11 victims’ families at best and, at worst, a symbol of victory. The fact that such unfounded views are so widespread is indicative that Islamophobia is still, unfortunately, alive and well in the US. What if the 19 terrorists had been Christians or Jews instead of Muslims? Would a great swathe of the American population be up in arms over the building of a church or a synagogue a stone’s throw away from where the World Trade Centre Twin Towers once stood? The answer is, of course, self-evident.
The heated debate over the proposed cultural center prompted Terry Jones, an insignificant lunatic preacher in the Florida Bible Belt, to announce a Qur’an Burning Day, denounced by the White House, the State Department, the Pentagon, NATO and Interpol, as well as a host of heads of state and religious leaders as being despicable and dangerously provocative. Even Jones own daughter has described him as a controlling megalomaniac and says she begged him not to proceed while a branch of his own church in Germany has dissociated itself from its founder.
Thankfully even a deluded ignoramus like Jones, who calls imams “imans”, couldn’t withstand the weight of such powerful criticism and cancelled. But not before his hands were crimson with the blood of Afghan demonstrators.
In the event no Qur’ans were incinerated but the threat and the media brouhaha surrounding it has had negative repercussions. For instance, the proposed event’s linkage with the New York cultural center has placed the man behind it Imam Feisel Abdul Rauf in an awkward position. He has said that if he had foreseen that the center would cause so much fuss he might have reconsidered the wisdom of its location and it was generally believed that he was open to discussion with a view to changing his mind. But following the blackmailing tactics of Pastor Jones, who said he would only call off his bonfire in the event the center was moved, Imam Rauf, a moderate who has devoted his life to interfaith reconciliation, cannot be seen as bowing to the demands of an Islamophobic nonentity. I don’t envy him. Whatever his ultimate decision will be offensive to many.
If he chooses to move it — a logistical and practical nightmare in itself — that decision could be interpreted as an admission that Islam was somehow the motivation behind 9/11 whereas, in truth, the terrorists were adherents of a warped interpretation of Islam and were driven by anger over US foreign policy. But if he stays on plan, the center is likely to become a magnet for protestors that will require round-the-clock armed security details. It could also inflame anti-Islamic feeling and affect permissions for the construction of new mosques around the country.
There are important lessons to be drawn from the way an unknown individual with nefarious intentions was able to hold his government to ransom to the extent of receiving a personal telephone call from Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and public pleas from the president. While I fully understand that Americans cherish their right of free expression enshrined in their Constitution, it seems ridiculous that the White House has no power to prevent an incident detrimental to national security.
To avoid similar threats by publicity-seekers in the future, it may be time for laws on religious/racial incitement to be enacted on the lines of those that exist in Britain. Furthermore, the media should be counseled not to aggrandize inconsequential bigots with so much airtime.
American Muslims should be congratulated on the way they have handled both the Islamic cultural center and Qur’an burning controversies. In response to the latter, Gainesville’s Muslim community reacted by donating books to libraries and feeding the poor last Saturday while the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) announced a “Learn not Burn” initiative focusing on bettering and greater understanding of Islam among American society as a whole. Some Muslim communities have also toned down planned Eid celebrations for fear that public jollities might be misconstrued so close to 9/11 commemorations.
It’s infuriating and disturbing that American Muslims have been placed in the invidious position of once again having to defend their way of life and beliefs in the face of ignorance. Pastor Jones has proved that among believers of every great faith there is a minority of extremists who place skewed ideology above the sanctity of human life. My hope is that America comes to terms with that fact and quits tainting innocent Muslims with a crime they deplore as much as their non-Muslim neighbors – Arabnews