August 23, 2010

To Mosque or Not To Mosque

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The debate over Park51, frequently and incorrectly referred to as the “Ground Zero Mosque” (it is neither at Ground Zero, nor is it a mosque) has again reminded us that Islamophobia is far from extinguished in the United States. In fact, it is a sentiment that, despite our ever-increasing temporal distance from 9/11, may be on the rise. Very few would openly admit to fearing or hating Islam in its entirety; most who express anti-Islamic sentiment claim to oppose only the radical segment of the religion’s adherents. Unfortunately, these attempts are often disingenuous, as evidenced by the arguments of the Park51 critics. While some of the more moderate criticism of Park51 has focused on the issue of sensitivity –– relating to the center’s proximity to Ground Zero –– a very large and vocal group of critics decry the center as a training ground for radical Muslims, or a front for the importation of fundamentalist Islamic law. These arguments verge on utter lunacy, and what’s perhaps most frightening is that many of these claims are being reverberated by established politicians.  Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, on his website, espouses paranoid delusions of Park51 bringing Sharia Law to the United States, and also baselessly insinuates that Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the man largely responsible for the construction of the center, is a radical apologist with ties to terrorist organizations. Never mind that with a theater, basketball court, fitness center, culinary school and, yes, some space dedicated to prayer, Park51 sounds more like an upscale YMCA than a breeding ground for radical Muslims. And never mind that Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is a Sufi who worked for the Bush administration to help quell the very sort of divisive politics he has now become subject to. Because who needs little inconveniences like facts when demagoguery is far more fun?Comments like those might be easier to ignore were they not becoming more prevalent. Park51 has simply become the most recent focal point for a growing number of people who see the spread of Islam in any capacity as presenting a clear and present danger to the security of the United States. Indeed, Newt Gingrich and his cohorts seem to assume that all Muslims are freedom-hating, America-bashing radicals, just like all Christians are members of the Westboro Baptist Church and all liberals are communists in hiding. And while I promise that many of those people would go to great lengths to say that they respect of the rights of peace-loving Muslims, and know that Islam is a peaceful religion, and even had a Muslim friend for a little while back in college, the arguments being made against Park51 suggest otherwise.Despite its absurdity, this growing sentiment is not something that should be ignored or written off. Unlike Park51, the incendiary rhetoric of the center’s detractors do carry a clear and present danger. To begin with, comments suggesting hidden Muslim agendas of conquest or stoking baseless conspiracy theories about various Muslim organizations increase the likelihood of anti-Muslim bias and hate crimes. Journalist Fareed Zakaria, in an opinion piece titled, “Build The Ground Zero Mosque,” also pointed out that if the building of Park51 were prevented, we as a country would lose out on the opportunity to cultivate reformist Islam. I make no pretense about the fact that radical Islam is indeed a threat to our security, but with that in mind we should be compelled to support moderate Islam as a force that could ultimately push radicalism to the margins.   It is also short sighted to think that Islamophobic comments exist in a vacuum. In reality, when we paint Islam as the enemy of the United States, we paint the United States as the enemy of Islam. Anwar al-Awlaki, an American cleric hiding in Yemen, has used examples of anti-Muslim rhetoric in the United States in a series of web videos as a recruitment and morale-boosting tool for extremists. Conventional wisdom holds: With every action comes an equal and opposite reaction. It is quite reasonable to think that the more we push against Muslims, the more radical Muslims will begin to push back. The entire discussion about the role of Islam in the United States, and more specifically, the building of Park51 ought to be a non-starter. Muslims in the United States have a constitutionally sanctioned right, just as do peoples of all faiths, to practice their religion as they see fit within the boundaries of the law. Islam has just as much a place in this country as any other religion; that place is not earned through numbers, or capital, but simply by the fact that there are people who wish to practice it. The fact that so many have had their judgment obfuscated by fear and misinformation to the point of attempting to limit the enjoyment of that right is nothing short of tragic.

David Murdter is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He may be reached at dmurdter@cornellsun.com. Murphy’s Lawyer appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.

Original Author: David Murdter