Amongst the numerous consequences of the 2001 terrorist attacks against the United States, is the labeling of Islam as a religion pro-violence and terrorism. Many Americans turned against Muslims – of which seven million are Americans – blaming them for the deaths on September 11th and for many of the country’s subsequent woes.
Some U.S. conservatives, as they like to be called, such as Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich, have gone even farther by equating Muslims – nearly one-fifth of the world’s population – to Al-Qaeda, the Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan.
This weekend, the tragedy of 9/11 was remembered amid demonstrations of misunderstanding. Even though the day was only about respect, loss and mourning, many tried to politicize the celebration. At the core was the debate over plans to build a Muslim community center near ground zero. The still inexistent site is popularly referred to as the “Ground Zero Mosque”. But note, we are not talking about constructing only mosque nor are we planning to build it at ground zero.
Nonetheless, the media labeling strategy has been successful, for now we automatically associate the horrors of September 2001 with the construction of a Muslim – or why not say Al-Qaeda – worshiping site on the 9/11 burial ground. And we cannot see much beyond that. We ignore that the community center is supposed to be a place of teaching and tolerance, and we forget that many of the victims and survivors of 9/11 were and are Muslim American heroes.
Even though this past Saturday was calmer than many had predicted, the national and international repercussions caused by pastor Terry Jones’ plans to burn two-hundred copies of the Koran, forced President Obama to declare, one more time: “As Americans we are not – and never will be – at war with Islam,” but with a terrorist organization which diverted its teachings.
Some Americans still chose to take a more defiant stance. Near ground zero, a New Yorker burned pages from the Koran, while standing in front of a sign: “Real Americans don’t burn Korans”. Pages from the text were tore in front of the White House. Although such scattered incidents attracted little attention they represent the ignorance which fuels intolerance.
No one is saying protesters against the Park51 Islamic center are tomorrow’s terrorists, but should ignorance justify their vile actions? Such extreme stances strengthen radicals around the globe and promote violence.
Newsweek quoted Mr. Zabihullah, a Taliban operative, on the debate over the mosque near ground zero: “By preventing this mosque from being built, America is doing us a big favor. It’s providing us with more recruits, donations and popular support. […] The more mosques you stop, the more jihadis we will get.”
Have we not learned enough lessons from history on the dangers of bigotry? Should we not own up to the privilege of living in a country where diversity, acceptance and freedom are supposed to rule? Maybe we ought to see our neighbors as who they truly are and not as what we believe them to be. Maybe we should start respecting others, regardless of color, background, sexual orientation or sacred belief. Maybe, above all else, most of us wish to live in a world of tolerance and peace. Have we thought about that?