Sunday, 1 August 2010

Don't Build it and They Won't Come

In his isolated farmland in Iowa if Ray Kinsella had built a Mosque instead of a 'Field of Dreams,' I wonder who would have showed up? If you listen to Rush Limbaugh, or Sarah Palin, or Sean Hannity, most likely Osama bin Laden. It's actually not a bad guess, based on what happens when you build a Mosque. I wanted to let you in on a little secret, straight from an insider, inside the world of this thing called Islam. The first invitations for a mosque opening always go to potential suicide bombers. They are normally written by female mistresses of rich Arab sheikhs. Then their 11-year old daughters wrapped in two burqas seal the letters in envelopes. On the seal of the message they write the phrase "I hate Jews." This is par for the course. The actual facility is inaugurated with several events, headlined by a longest-beard competition, which is of course over-shadowed by chants of Allah Akbar. This is followed by a lengthy discussion about how to take over America and convert everybody by the sword. It's the story of your average mosque, and I'd be surprised if it's the first time you've heard it.

Of course, this is not even close to a description of Islam in North America - or of Islam anywhere. It is a sharp caricature that would be funny, if it were not actually believed by far too large a segment of people around the world, and these days, particularly in the United States. This September 11, the ninth anniversary of the brutal attacks on America, the Dove World Outreach Center (based in Florida), will of course be holding "International Burn a Qur'an Day." The Pastor leading the effort asks in a separate clip - "Have you ever seen a happy Muslim?" Well probably there won't be too many happy ones on International Burn a Qur'an Day.

It is in the face of this dual ignorance of Islamaphobia and the perverted Islam that motivated the 9/11 hijackers themselves, that has pushed Imam Feisal Abdul-Rauf to build an Islamic center in downtown Manhattan, not too far removed from Ground Zero. Why should Islam be hijacked by those who espouse a language of violence? Why should the image of Islam that resonates in Manhattan be that of violence and aggression? Is it not better that destruction is supplanted by dialogue? Imam Abdul-Rauf, a recognized figure in building interfaith understanding, described the vision of the Islamic center:
My colleagues and I are the anti-terrorists. We are the people who want to embolden the vast majority of Muslims who hate terrorism to stand up to the radical rhetoric. Our purpose is to interweave America's Muslim population into the mainstream society.
The reaction to the Cordoba House project, however, has been evocatively vitriolic. Apart from some brave souls such as Mayor Bloomberg and Rabbi Irwin Kula who have stood as vocal supporters, political figures have tried to either stay away from the controversy or add to it. Sarah Palin has called it an "unnecessary provocation." Republican candidate for Governor in New York, Rick Lazio, said there are "serious security questions" about building the center. Conservative mainstay and former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich goes further calling the project "an aggressive act that is offensive." Even the Anti-Defamation League, that opposes all forms of bigotry, labelled the project "not right."

Cordoba House will be a multi-story community center, in the same spirit of a YMCA, that will also house a mosque. It is meant to be a place of outreach as well as interfaith understanding, in addition to meeting the spiritual needs of Muslims. Does placing the center near Ground Zero make a statement? Perhaps. Yet, mosques that are being built all over the United States (as seen in the clip by Jon Stewart at the bottom of this post) face a hostile environment. Moreover, from a policy standpoint, developing and encouraging an American Islam in the mainstream is in America's interest. Muslims in the shadows will always be viewed upon more suspiciously by the rest of society. Fundamentally, Imam Abdul-Rauf is trying to deconstruct the chasm of understanding between the West and parts of the Muslim world. He is attempting to build an atmosphere of coexistence in the United States and beyond. He is fostering a vision of Islam that goes against violence, extremism, and intolerance. He should be encouraged. And instead, he is demonized.

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1 comment:

  1. Nice sentiments, my brother-in-Islam, befitting a man from the only country that could possibly get away with screening a sitcom called 'Little Mosque on the Prairie'. Gentle multi-culturalism somehow does exist in gentle Canada (current government notwithstanding).

    But in the states? Americans are pissed. And Muslims are pissed. But 'moderate' Muslim just wants to do woodhoo (ablutions) and keep the ladies modest. Verily.

    And that just ain't right, in the USA. Maybe we need less moderation and more taqwacore, some Nation of and a bit of west coast esotericism. Communes, gangs, lobbies. But not inter-faith. America is the land of the persecuted, set free to persecute (or just tune out) in constitutionally guaranteed freedom.

    So shouldn't American Moslems refudiate the centre, and go for the edge?

    Just sayin'...