Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Ground Zero Islamic Center, Fareed Zakaria, and Islamophobia

Aren't you glad we live in the age of Obama, where racism no longer exists? Man, what a load off my mind. You know, there's a black U.S. president. That makes everyone everywhere equal somehow (even though he hasn't actually changed policy that much from his white predecessors regarding U.S. financial institutions, foreign policy, welfare policy, etc. - but those are just facts, don't mind them). Oh wait...sonofa...

Now, I don't usually do the race/identity stuff that much. It's not my thing. I leave that to much smarter folks, like my friend Professor Lewis, amongst many others. However, all the talk about the Islamic Center near the Ground Zero site, the reaction to it, and the press coverage of it made me say, screw it, I'm going to put in my two cents.

So, as you know, one of my favorite uplifting topics is the always-fun subject of Islamophobia. I wrote about this before in response to South Park and the Danish Muhammad cartoons. Now, obviously, there is no such thing as Islamophobia in America. We here treat everyone the same. It's just that Muslims don't get all the same perks that everyone else does (like civil liberties, freedom of speech and religion, etc. - minor things). I mean, why should they? They all were connected to 9/11, right? What's that? You say...they weren't? Are you sure about that?

There has been an uproar over the potential Islamic Center being built near Ground Zero - it has brought out both critics, and critics of the critics (crititics?). This goes along with a lot of trepidation about mosques being built in American communities. Why? Well, remember the Muslim spies on Capitol Hill who were part of the conspiracy to Islamize America (which was somehow linked to the Fort Hood shooting)? Seriously...there was a book about this, with the foreword written by Representative Sue Myrick (R-NC), who holds a seat on the House Intelligence Committee. Yeah, that's not troubling or anything.

Jon Stewart did a nice job summing up my own thoughts on this matter on an excellent diatribe on The Daily Show a few weeks back. Thanks, Jon!
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Anyway, the "outrage" is a bit ridiculous. The obvious ground zero, if you will, is the proposed Islamic Center near Ground Zero itself. The reaction has been...what I expected. I get it, this is not exactly a light topic. 9/11, Muslim extremists...I get it. However, last I checked, there was nothing "Islamic" about the attacks. And...I could be wrong about this, but I'm pretty sure I'm not....the Islamic Center is supposed to be a breeding ground for community interaction and social projects for the entire community, not just Muslims. Of course, they could be lying and they will instead use it to train Muslims to commit acts of violence against Americans, as many fear, but yeah...probably not. Though Glenn Beck and his band of merry makers/lunatics think that's what's up.

Of course, the coverage allows for the crazy views to be counted as legitimate. I've been subject to a few segments on television news shows discussing the Islamic Center that made me want to throw things at the television. Okay, look, I get the point that you want to show different sides of a story. However, you need to be wary of treating racists like they're legitimate. How many interviews have included batty people arguing against the plan because of the vile nature of Islam? About the nefarious goals of the center? If you're going to give these fools air time, at least make it very obvious that they're nuts. Don't go out of your way to nod your head and act as if they're making good contributions. They're saying crazy things. That we've let this happen for 9 years is largely why so many people believe these crazy things in the first place, morons.

This past week, the Anti-Defamation League (the ADL for short) and Fareed Zakaria even got into the mix. Now, for those who don't know, the ADL isn't exactly what it sounds like. They do some good things, mind you, but when it comes to Muslims, they're not exactly cool. Don't get them started on the whole Israel-Palestine issue. Anyway, they gave Zakaria an award a few years back. Well, turns out the ADL opposes the Islamic Center by Ground Zero. They argue the feelings, even though they may be prejudiced, of 9/11 families, should be respected. As such, they oppose the center. Controversial ADL leader Abraham Foxman told the Wall Street Journal earlier this week that if the goal of the mosque was aimed at healing the community, it shouldn't be done "in our cemetery." Nice, Abe. Well, among other things, 9/11 families aren't monolithical. Plenty of them don't play the fear and bigotry game. There were countless groups of 9/11 families opposed to any war in the name of their lost ones. Also, Muslims died in those planes and towers, too. Now, Fareed's hardly a firebrand, and he was trained by the guy who wrote "Clash of the Civilizations", but he's a smart and thoughtful guy (even if I disagree with him often), so he called the ADL on their nonsense. He has publicly attacked them for their stance, and is returning the award to the organization.

So...yeah, nice light topic, right? Okay, so here's my overall view of this. It's clear the center is being built to try and heal the community. There is some strong opposition, but it is being driven by fear, bigotry, and paranoia. Now, here's the thing. Most of the people opposing the mosque are the same people who support our wars abroad.'re telling me it's okay for us to impose democracy abroad (we're not really spreading democracy, btw, but that's neither here nor there), even by force, but we need to allow prejudiced and uninformed thoughts to dominate us at home? What? Look, I see that some of those who lost loved ones on 9/11 have some issues with this. However, why? Because the bigotry that has been allowed in America post-9/11 hasn't really done a ton to correct their views. Bashing Islam and Muslims with these ridiculous, widespread cultural arguments, is the norm.

There will always be some bigotry, but the fact is, given all we know about this proposed Islamic Center, there is nothing to be alarmed about at all. You'd think, given all our issues with the Muslim world, that any and all efforts to try and educate, heal wounds, and encourage civic engagement would be the best thing possible. Instead, we have the debate on the Ground Zero Islamic Center. On the pro side...all the facts. On the anti side...arguments about sensitivity, bad taste, fear, and bigotry.

The latter two reasons, I could care less about. Those people are problems, period. But for those who say it would be in bad taste, and argue we need to respect the sensitivity of the situation, I say this: we shouldn't be at a point where either of those two arguments matter. This is not a minor issue. This is an opportunity to make some real progress on the Islamophobia problem in America, help people in the community around Ground Zero, and have some positive interfaith dialogue. This is way more important that being sensitive. The climate we've had in this country for the past 9 years is a reason why this is even an issue. By the way, scholars at Duke and the University of North Carolina (What? Teamwork between those two schools? Damn!) find that mosques today help deter terrorism and religious extremism through active efforts by mosque leaders, particularly reaching out to the youth. You know, important things.

A line from a recent NY Times article on this very topic says it all..."there is now widespread debate about whether the best way to uphold America’s democratic values is to allow Muslims the same religious freedom enjoyed by other Americans, or to pull away the welcome mat from a faith seen as a singular threat." This points to the ridiculousness of this whole thing. How is this even a debate? Having it be one shows just how institutionalized this type of bigotry has become in America. Indeed, letting the racist rhetoric fly with no repercusions (permitted national bigotry, if you will) for the last decade is at the root of all the hysteria in the first place. Oh, and in case you forgot, 9/11 and al-Qaeda have a hell of a lot more to do with politics than religion, but you know, that wasn't an important missing part of the dialogue all these past years, right? Right?

One last thing...lots of people have argued that one of the reasons we should build a new skyscraper at Ground Zero is to show American strength. A symbolic structure, if you will. Well, you know what would also be an even stronger symbol? Putting an Islamic Center right by Ground Zero as well, to show America's religious tolerance. There's a reason Zakaria has argued this potential center would be a blow to religious if only that notion could propagate into the terribly-flawed "debate" on this issue.

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