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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 6/20/10

Americanizing Islam; accepting mosques in our midst

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It was just over a year ago when the small Borough of Rockaway, New Jersey was the scene of a much heated and polarized debate whether to allow an Islamic center occupy a vacant office building. Pundits from all sides collided to demonstrate the benefits or the harm caused to the quality of life and America's basic values should the town allow the mosque plans to proceed. Thankfully, the mosque is now a legally functioning institution-and none of the opponents' fears have materialized.

Opposition to building mosques in the US seems to be a growing industry. Their Islamophobic devotees while small in number enjoy a growing political and monetary support from right wing elected and public officials and extremist organizations. Their spewing of insidiously filled behavior is a constant reminder that some Americans are willing to forsake the constitutional right of fellow citizens to practice their chosen faith in a place and inthe manner of their choosing.

I wonder if the anti-mosque folks find it objectionable if say for example a church was to be built directly from across the Oklahoma Federal Building which was so savagely destroyed in a 1995 bomb by Christian Timothy McVeigh. Is it acceptable for non-Christians to accuse the church of being insensitive, of attempting to make a political statement or declaring its supremacy over other faiths? Will all of Christendom have to atone from the acts of one of its faithful?

In New Jersey, there are several mosques being planned to meet the growing needs of the community and all are faced with seemingly organized and nationally inspired and funded campaign that views such a development as an existential threat to America's values. A most notable anti-mosque movement has targeted plans for a mosque in New York City, two blocks from the now demolished World Trade Center. The same thread of perceived threats or misconceptions permeate the doubly hypocritical activities of those who view with much disdain the so-called "insensitivity" of Muslims wishing to make a political statement by their insistence on being so close to Ground Zero. Opponents want us to believe that it is Osama Bin Laden who is building the mosque and that he is readying to raise his flag over its peaks!

There is everything wrong and hypocritical with the rhetoric of the opponents of mosque building in the US.

American Muslims cannot be blamed for the acts or utterances of Muslims living or operating in foreign countries. It seems that Muslim-haters lack a clear understanding of the world map. Why is it when a Muslim blows up school or a mosque in Karachi, Muslims in NJ are somehow held liable for such a crime? We are expected to denounce and condemn such behavior and explain how our faith advocates peaceful coexistence.

Let it be known that, compared to population ranking in the US, more innocent Muslims were the victims of 911 than Christians and Jews combined. Over a hundred Arabs and Muslims were forsaken by the terrorists who blew up the WTC in 2001. Worldwide, more Muslims have been the direct victims of terrorism than any other religious or ethnic group. The great majority of Muslims are with you, fellow Christian and Jew, in the forefront to delegitimize, isolate and defeat the curse of terrorism. Avail yourself to visiting our homes, places of business or worship. You might, just might, see a fellow human being with the same hopes and travails; raising their children to become future leaders or worrying about their property tax.

Conversely, why is it when a Christian or Jew kills, any the past is full of example of such atrocities, few demand that Christians or Jews rise up to condemn such attacks or risk becoming easy targets of bigoted and slanderous treatment.

Yes, and admittedly, Muslims are not all peaceful and loving citizens of this world. But, American Muslims are your fellow taxpaying citizens, patriotic, productive, family-committed and law-abiding just as the majority who call this land their home. Thank God, our US constitution, entitles them to the same rights you take for granted such as freedom of religion and the unhindered pursuit of liberty and justice. Objecting to building a mosque whether in Rockaway or in the heart of Manhattan is nothing short of unmasked bigotry, unabashed discrimination against fellow citizens. Religious intolerance is the extremist form of un-Americanism.

Math and the law, however, have been on the side American Muslim citizens. Except for very random cases, every plan to build a mosque has reached fruition even after sustaining unabashedly selfish opposition by a small, but loud, socially and politically xenophobic.

For those deeply engulfed in intellectual and moral duplicity about the inevitability of a more inclusive cultural and spiritual American mosaic, your siege mentality will assure only your eventual eclipse from even the periphery of America's discourse. America is undergoing a transformative period best expressed by the call to expand the limiting Judeo-Christian tradition with the more inclusive Abrahamic tradition because such an attribute aptly- and completely-encompasses both the essence and hopes of our beloved country.

Islam and its adherents (slaves, and freemen) have been a part of America's past for over 400 years. Islam is as American as apple pie. It will still be there till the end of time. Islam and the 7-10 millions who call it their faith, are not simply about to wither away simply because mosques are detested or disallowed. Muslims pray anywhere and everywhere and if they chose an appropriate place in which to connect with God, no one has the right, political, moral or legal to prevent them from their choosing.

It is a known fact that in areas where a new mosque is built, real-estate values increase, business blossoms, crime decreases and neighbors, once aloof and estranged, suddenly become the best of friends. Contrary to all misplaced allegations, the Rockaway mosque has proved to be a center of interfaith gatherings not a feared traffic jam, an inviting place for volunteered activism such as blood drives and soup kitchens and not a haven for criminals or outcasts.

I was in the forefront for building the mosque in Rockaway and the Daily Record has chronicled my views. I am also an ardent supporter of the lower Manhattan mosque-just as I would stand for a proposed church or synagogue. One of the most gratifying if not most spiritually and morally satisfying expression of interfaith brotherhood has been the support received from fellow citizens of the Christian and Jewish faiths. To some, of course, history is but a bitter reminder of shameful incidents when African-American churches in the 1950's were burnt or in the 1800's when Catholic churches were ravaged or throughout the last century, synagogues or Jewish symbols desecrated or vandalized. To many, it has been a question of their moral compass commanding them to not let a besieged and cocooned community be the scapegoat of xenophobic extremism.

These are the true heroes who see in a pluralistic and tolerant America a crowning and a precious inheritance for all of its citizens.


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Dr. Aref Assaf (PhD, Political Science and International Law) is president and founder of American Arab Forum, AAF, a non partisan think-tank specializing in advocating positive image of the American Arab community. Dr. Assaf was also a founding (more...)

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