Do Unto Others focuses on the Middle East, (nonviolent) social movements, and how I make sense of my place in the world. I'm currently based in Cairo, Egypt doing peacebuilding and community development.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Mosque controversy: voices of sanity and insanity

Ed Note: I am coming off a few days of relaxation in Toronto (largely without looking at my computer -- breath big sigh of relief) and am heading out to week-long meetings, so this post is a bit piecemeal, my apologies.

The wave of Islamaphobia continues across the United States. The Park51 project (the Cordoba Islamic Center two blocks from Ground Zero) continues to bring out the worst in Americans. Yesterday morning an anti-mosque demonstration was staged in Lower Manhattan (the LA Times and Mondoweiss reported).

There was a frightening moment during the rally when an African-American, mistaken for a Muslim -- seemingly because he was wearing a cap, was confrontationally approached by participants of the anti-mosque rally (ok, let's call a spade a spade, it was an anti-muslim rally, and as evidenced by this video, an anti-brown people rally). Here's the frightening video which smacks of racism.

Juan Cole of Informed Comment has continually weighed in about this controversy. He recently penned an incisive piece, comparing the current controversy to the ol' days of the Jim Crow south:
The demonstrators want to get around the Constitution by creating a sacred geography of sentiment that is outside ordinary legal reality. It consists of a space of white American Judeo-Christian victimhood and of another realm, of a brown, foreign, hostile Islam that must be excluded from lower Manhattan (never mind that these characterizations of American Muslims are pure falsehood). It is an attempt to create a space within which one religious tradition is favored over another, and an attempt to deny members of a religion the opportunity to practice it wherever they like. They grant the technical ‘right’ to the Muslims to worship there, but then seek to withdraw that right on the ground of hurt feelings or inappropriate geography. We saw this sort of thinking in the Jim Crow era, when African Americans, though full American citizens, were prevented from living, shopping, working, and inevitably from worshiping, in certain geographical areas, on the grounds that their doing so would offend and hurt the feelings of the White majority.
He continues:
Those who say that not everyone who opposes the Cordoba community center is a racist may be right, but everyone who opposes it is supporting a practice that has in the American past been deeply connected to racism, which is the dictation to minorities of where they may live and worship within American cities. Just as today’s protesters said that they don’t challenge the right of Muslims to build mosques and worship, “just not here,” so the ‘protective councils’ in early twentieth century Los Angeles said exactly the same thing to Jews about their synagogues and Japanese Buddhists about their temples. Moreover, the fact is that the building of mosques is being widely opposed and interfered with throughout the country and not just in lower Manhattan. This generalized bigotry is clearly racist, and looks exactly like the prejudice implemented against other minorities in the age of ‘separate but equal.’
...and concludes:
Muslim Americans are Americans. There can be no government Establishment of Judeo-Christian traditions, and no prohibition on how and where Muslim Americans worship. We are seeing attempts to foment a new Jim Crow, centered on mosques, which involves all the same fear-mongering, segregation, and special pleading for the majority that characterized the old one. It is important that this campaign against a Muslim community center in lower Manhattan not succeed, or it will be only the first in a long series of discriminatory policies throughout the country, as opportunistic politicians jump on the Islamophobic bandwagon.
I'll close with the best piece I have read regarding the Ground Zero Islamic Center controversy, I would highly recommend reading the article in full. Here's excerpts from Haroon Siddiqui's piece in the Toronto Star (a solid newspaper it seems from the 4 days I have spent with it):
The raging controversy over the “Ground Zero Mosque” is quintessentially American: free of facts and logic and unapologetically exploitative of emotional issues in the tradition of bare-knuckled partisan politics; yet also an occasion for responsible leaders to call on fellow Americans to live up to their highest ideals, despite the lingering trauma of 9/11 and the ravages of an economic crisis.
Ouch, that hurts even more coming from a Canadian.

Siddiqui presented some facts about the project and then started to comment on some of the myths surrounding the project:
• “The mosque” is an affront to the memory of 9/11 victims and should not be anywhere near the site.

This is based on the premise that all Muslims are collectively guilty for Sept. 11. This racist narrative — meant to deflect attention away from American foreign policies — has it that Muslims have not condemned terrorism enough, though they have, repeatedly and forcefully, and been the greatest victims of terrorism. Obama acknowledged both those truths when defending Park51.

• Why can’t “the mosque” be moved elsewhere?

The answer has been that doing so would be to concede to falsehood and discrimination. Besides, how far from Ground Zero would be far enough?

• The West need not be nice to Muslims as long as Muslim countries persecute their minorities, such as Coptic Christians in Egypt, Baha’is in Iran, Chaldeans in Iraq, etc.

In other words, since they are awful, we should be as well. Democracies should behave like dictatorships.

• The project’s $100 million funding is suspect — the money may come from Saudi Arabia (15 of the 19 murderers of 9/11 were Saudis).

This innuendo is being circulated just as the U.S. is secretly negotiating a record $60-billion defence contract with Saudi Arabia. Saudi money is halal for armaments, haram for mosques.
Saudi money is halal (in accordance with Muslim dietary regulations) for armaments, haram (sinful; forbidden) for mosques. Such a great line, well-written Siddiqui.

Ok, I lied, I will close with this 20 May 2010 press conference featuring the soon-to-be (knocking on wood) imam of the Park51 Islamic Center.

Update 12:27pm (ET): This Huffington Post piece is very good. Media Matters found a video from a 2006 ABC Good Morning America piece featuring infamous Glenn Beck and Imam Rauf. Beck seemed to be backing Imam Rauf in 2oo6, but is now on the Islamic-hate bandwagon against Rauf and the Park51 project.


trencherbone said...

'Religious' tolerance?

The privileges of being classed as religion should be withdrawn from Islam.

If Hitler had claimed that 'Mein Kampf' was dictated by God, would we be forced to tolerate the Nazi Party as a religion? Islam is first and foremost a mind-destroying, totalitarian political ideology that spreads through the Body Politic like a virus.

Winston Churchill gave the correct diagnosis over a century ago, when he compared Islam to a contagious virus or meme - 'as dangerous in a man as rabies in a dog'

Consequently, Islam should be reclassified from 'RELIGION' to 'PUBLIC MENTAL HEALTH PROBLEM' - a virulent contagious mental illness. It could then be contained by the methods used to prevent the spread of typhoid and other lethal epidemics: enforced exclusion and quarantine of carriers, eradication of foci of infection, immunization of the susceptible population etc.

Samuel Nichols said...

I may even post this front page of my blog, because it just goes to show the deep well of hate that you have inside if you for Muslims. Please meet some Muslims, try to keep an open mind. Please try, or your hate will destroy you, and destroy others.

andimariep said...

Ouf, Trencherbone, you frighten and sicken me.