This article was originally published in The Clarion Call.
All summer, we as a nation were subjected to much manufactured outrage over the Park 51 Muslim community center set to be built in lower Manhattan, a few blocks away from the former site of the World Trade Center towers.
The vast majority of New Yorkers weren’t against it. It was established over and over that the owners of the site (which now is home to a derelict Burlington Coat Factory) have every right to build whatever they please on their property. Feisal Abdul Rauf, the New York City imam who would lead the new community center, has been demonized in the right-wing media as a terrorism-connected monster. But he was quickly revealed to be a Muslim leader with stellar moderate bona fides.
To the people protesting against Park 51, none of this matters. To them, the project isn’t a community center complete with basketball courts and a swimming pool, comparable to a YMCA (whose initials, some often forget, stand for Young Man’s Christian Association), it’s an insidious invasion by a terrifying foreign menace. Forget that Imam Rauf has been living in New York City since moving there as a child in the 1960’s, or that he was chosen to assist with Muslim outreach in the Middle East by George W. Bush’s State Department. A decade of scapegoating has led to all Muslims being treated as “others” to be hated and feared in the minds of millions of Americans.
While we should not forget the responsibility that radicalized, politicized Islam has for motivating terrorists to kill, we must not let fear and prejudice get the best of us. We must recognize that there is a difference between the kind of Islam that drives disaffected young men to strap bombs to their chests and the kind that lives up to the ideals of peace and gentleness preached by mainstream imams. A similar difference exists between the kind of Christianity that motivates volunteering at a soup kitchen and the kind that inspires the assassination of doctors who provide abortions.
Not recognizing this difference leads to disastrous consequences, recently demonstrated in Sidney, N.Y. when the town board sought an injunction to stop the burial of Muslims in a graveyard owned by another Muslim house of worship. This would be appalling by itself, considering that the town council approved the land for use as a cemetery by the mosque in 2005, but the locals are so blinded by their hatred of all things Muslim that they are even demanding that Muslims already buried there be disinterred and moved outside the city limits.
This kind of bigotry is corrosive to a free society. If your hatred of anyone is so powerful that it extends even beyond the grave, it may be time to get some help. Your family and your country will thank you.