EDITOR’S NOTE: This post, by our newest blogger Safa Samiezade’-Yazd, reflects much of the conversation over the past weeks. Her perspective as an American of Iranian origin is a bit different and certainly valuable. Let us know how it strikes you.
As if it weren’t bad enough for the GOP that we now have a democratically-elected president who’s black and the son of an immigrant, now they’ve sunken to a new level: of attacking President Obama and his support of a new Islamic Center (on private property) in the Financial District of lower Manhattan, two blocks away from Ground Zero. Never mind the fact that there’s another moderate mosque several blocks away in the Financial District. Or that 10,000 Muslims live in Lower Manhattan. And let’s forget the fact that there’s also a mosque in the Pentagon, which was also hit by the 9/11 attackers.
Religious insensitivity? Really?
Over and over, Republicans have been associating this with religious insensitivity labeling the proposal as religious insensitivity, and calling Ground Zero a sacred ground. Elliot Maynard, who’s running for Congress in West Virginia, asked, “Do you think the Muslims would allow a Jewish temple or Christian church to be built in Mecca?” It’s entirely different, Maynard. 1). Saudi Arabia is a religious state. 2). New York City is not a religious city.
In a country that was built by people escaping religious persecution and constitutionally awards religious freedom, you’d think this really wouldn’t be such a heated issue, especially amongst politicians. Separation of church and state was established for a reason- to keep state governance and religion away from each other. We may have the word God on our national symbols, but America was created as a secular country, not a nation of Christ or any other religion. So what’s the big deal? It really sharpens the idea that today’s theory of a “postracial America” isn’t valid.
It happened with the PA memorial too
It reminds me of four years ago, when there was talk of creating a memorial in Pennsylvania for Flight 93 in the shape of its flight pattern just before crashing. The shape happened to mimic a crescent. Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo of Colorado spoke out against the idea, saying that the shape too closely resembled the crescent symbol of Islam, and we all know what religion those hijackers belonged to. What we also all know though is that the 9/11 hijackers were not Muslim; they were terrorists. Afghanistan is not the face of Islam; it’s the face of perverted tribalism. Al Qaida and the Taliban are to Islam what the Ku Klux Klan is to Christianity. In both cases, a radical minority, to advance their own limited power through fear, perverted moderate, peaceful religions.
Hating the “other”
In this distorted culture of fear, we’ve learned to institutionalize “the other” as bad, and just like the Latinos and Italians who were getting beaten up during the Hostage Crisis because they looked “close enough” to Iranians, Middle Easterners as a whole are getting battered for an ideology that shares nothing with religion. I’m sorry 9/11 happened, I really am, but that doesn’t justify a bunch of suburban white people calling me a sandn**ger because my Persian features look close enough to an Arab. Or the sloppy terrorist jokes that seem so funny to those who don’t realize that I come from a family of war veterans and one of the most well-respected civilians within the Department of Defense.
How long are we going to use this tragedy as an impetus for racial slurs, illegal wars, colonization and religious prejudice? 9/11 doesn’t justify this neo-racist opinion that Islam equals terror.
What if, instead of blaspheming this mosque as a statement of insensitivity, we look at it as a statement of survival? It sends the message that the United States is fighting Al Qaida, not Islam, and that no terrorist attack can break America away from the relationship it has with its own Muslim citizens. This building isn’t just a mosque or a place of worship; it’s also a community center, one that is opening its doors to non-Muslims and is positioning itself as a venue for engaging dialogue on how we can foster post-9/11 relationships between Muslim Americans and the rest of the United States. How does this glorify the murders carried out by hijackers? Islam is a peaceful religion, one that accepts violence only when it is needed for defense, but does not condone opposition as an excuse for murder. Politics is what kills people, not religion.
Fighting by example
On Good Morning America, Representative Keith Ellison of Minnesota, who is also the first Muslim to be elected to Congress, said, “The problem with stopping this Islamic Center is that it implies that the Muslim world is responsible for [the 9/11 attacks] when it’s Al Qaida that’s responsible.” We fight Islam, and Bin Laden wins. We fight Bin Laden, and religious freedom wins. He tried to split Muslims from the rest of America, and now we have a chance to show him he lost that battle
Besides, the man behind this Islamic Center, Feisal Abdul Rauf, is one of our country’s leading thinkers in Sufism, which is about as far away from radical Islam as one can get. He’s not a friend of Bin Laden, but an enemy, because he preaches respect and acceptance of others. In Pakistan, Sufi leaders risk their lives to steer people away from the Taliban and to teach them that Islam is about tolerance, not violence. It hasn’t gone unnoticed: on Thursday, July 2, the busiest night of the week, the Taliban killed 42 and injured 175 when they plotted a double suicide bombing of the largest Sufi shrine in Lahore, Pakistan. Like America, Sufism is pluralistic, and it uses this to make Islam approachable to everyone, believers and non-believers alike.
How many of these critics actually took the time to walk into a moderate mosque and talk to the Muslims who go there? A majority of the Muslims worldwide believe in what America stands for, but we lose points in the respect department because they see us letting our civil liberties go to our head. We wage wars abroad in the name of freedom, yet we’re amongst the first to argue those rights away from our own citizens. To fight the civilian war on terror, we start here, on American soil, by respecting each other and our differences, by educating ourselves about those who make us uncomfortable, because many times, fear is most reflective of the person who’s feeling it. It starts with dialogue, a far more powerful tool than the cowardice of finger-pointing.
If you’re not Muslim, I challenge you tomorrow to shake hands with someone who is. And then I expect you to not walk away until you’ve learned something new about Islam.
If you are Muslim, I challenge you tomorrow to shake hands with someone who isn’t. And then I expect you to not walk away until you’ve taught something new about Islam.
by David Shankbone via Flickr/Creative Commons
by Safa Samiezade'-Yazd, Care2 blogger