Wednesday, August 4, 2010

About this mosque stuff

I've been avoiding this topic for a while because I keep hoping that it will go away, but now that everyone including Sarah Palin has something to say about it I kind of feel a responsibility to comment. Besides, given my... "cultural background" and the fact that I live in New York, it's actually quite a relevant subject.

So to bring everyone up to speed, there is a building two blocks north of Ground Zero (World Trade Center site) here in New York that some people want to make into an Islamic community center, and that plan is drawing cries of "too soon" and "too close" from critics. They're saying that the site is a "war memorial" and that a mosque in that location would be a slap in the face of those who died on September 11th. Others like Sarah Palin are calling it insensitive. There was actually quite a bit of controversy, so much that there was actually a meeting held where many New Yorkers showed up to express their views on the subject.

Now some facts. Before everyone starts talking about how inappropriate it is to build a mosque there, let me just make this clear - the building already serves as a mosque. Nearly 400 people gather there every Friday for prayer services (Friday for Muslims is like Sunday for Christians, it's the main mosque-going day, although you can also go on other days). So the current plan is not to create a mosque where there isn't one. Rather, the plan is to build a community center that seeks to do a few things:

- Expand the mosque to cater to more people
- Build better relationships with local non-Muslims
- Promote better understanding of Islam

Now to discuss the controversy itself.

Do I think it is appropriate to have a mosque near Ground Zero? I think it's completely inappropriate to even ask that question. Because doing so implies that the terrorist attacks were an act committed by the entire religion of Islam against America, and vilifies all Muslims collectively. There seems to be a perception that Muslims are a group of a few thousand people who live in Saudi Arabia in tents, beat their women, and eat falafel while dreaming up plans to bomb America and hating freedom at the same time. People seem to forget that all 1.5 billion Muslims who live on this planet are not fanatics and that Islam is the world's second largest religion by population.

Just to get an idea of how ridiculous this is, imagine if a group of Christian fanatics had blown up.. say... the Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Do you think that anyone would have argued for a ban on churches near the bomb site?

The answer, clearly, is no. We would have labeled those people as "INSANE" rather than "Christian." What makes it so easy to blame Islam as a whole is that they are a minority in this country and that as Americans, we do not know enough about minorities to make proper judgments.

Like all religious fanatics, Muslim fanatics claim that they do what they do in the name of God and religion. But again, like all fanatics, the "religion" that they live by is a grossly skewed and distorted version of the Islam that the other 1.4999 billion people follow. For example, PROPER Islam actually teaches that Christians and Jews should not be persecuted for their beliefs. This is fact. It is explicitly stated. Bet you didn't see that one coming.

Rather than defending Islam in a long post though, because that's not what I want to do here, I'm just going to use this as an opportunity to point out how quick to judge people can be. How many of the people that use the word Jihad on a daily basis even know what the word really means (the answer is not "holy war")? How many people actually know the building in question is already a mosque? People hear the words Islam and mosque in the same sentence as Ground Zero and they immediately start behaving like uneducated bigots. I'm not even joking, I heard someone say that "America won't stand for this, we won't submit to Islamification like in Europe." What the fuck does that even mean????

Let's think back to our proudest moment as a country... you know, when after Pearl Harbor we rounded up all the Japanese Americans (and even some Chinese and Koreans) and threw them into concentration camps. What did we learn from that? If anything, it's that as Americans we are not going to collectively punish people for the sins of others.

It's normal to fear what we don't understand. In the case of this mosque, we are denying people who are American citizens their constitutional right to freedom of religion because of clear and simple Islamophobia.

I'm not quite done, but I'll end it here and open the topic up for discussion. This is the kind of subject that is best discussed, not ranted about.

Mo out.

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