by Reynold N. Mason Esq.
Over the past week the noise surrounding the building of the proposed mosque near ground zero has drowned out other nettlesome issues on the political scene. Only the Shirley Sherrod controversy eclipsed the squabble over the building of the mosque. Ironically, Shirley Sherrod, whose father was shot in the chest and killed by a bigot, was herself victimized by the very bigotry and prejudice that led to her father’s killing, and now has given rise the controversy over the ground zero mosque.
After 9/11, prejudice against Muslims has become de rigueur. Many Americans view Islam as somewhat of a cultural pariah, inferior in teaching and practice to American mainstream mores and, as a violent political ideology. Hate crimes against Muslims spiked in the aftermath of 9/11, from 354 in 2000 to 1501 in 2001. A good number of Americans view Islamic rules about marriage, divorce and custody as regressive. We rail against amputation for stealing, and the stoning of an adulterer but we impose the death penalty on criminals. We criticize Islam’s unequal treatment of women, but we treat divorced fathers like serfs, in virtual servitude to alimony drones. American feminists have successfully changed the courts and the law, as well as American attitudes about divorce, custody and child support. Instead of viewing fathers as individuals we make sweeping assumptions and treat all fathers as second class citizens. We incarcerate unemployed fathers who are not able to pay child support. So who are we to criticize Islam for making sweeping assumptions about women? Our cultural elitism is misguided and misplaced. Simply being different does not make us superior.
The Islamic community has just as much right to build near ground zero as the catholic community would have to erect a cathedral at the same site. Sara Palin is wrong and misguided in her expression of opposition to the mosque. Islam did not destroy the World Trade Center. A few Islamic extremists did. We do not condemn the entire Catholic Church or seek to drive it away from schools because of a few pedophiles in its ranks. But we refuse to apply the same discriminating logic to Islam. Instead we lay responsibility for the misguided acts of a few extremists at the door of the mosque. Muslims are entitled to the same religious freedoms as every other American. Unless we can demonstrate that the proposed mosque would endanger the peace and safety, then we are wrong for opposing it.
For once, mayor Bloomberg is right. In spite of polls showing New Yorkers oppose the building of the mosque at ground zero, he has taken a principled position. As a representative of all the citizens on New York, he has an obligation to refrain from expressing any preference for one religious group over another. He is right to ignore calls of those engaged in demagoguery over this fundamental America freedom, the freedom of religion. It is wrong for Rick Lazio and others seeking political advantage to engage in unprincipled opposition to the mosque.
Democracy is organized anarchy. There must, of necessity, be dissent, disagreement and dialogue. But the knee-jerk response to the proposed mosque near around zero is based on irrational fear and prejudice, and has no place in the democratic process. It is that species of prejudice that spawned Jim Crow jurisprudence in the old south that we as Americans would like to forget. It is high time we heed the lesson of our own history. America interned its innocent citizens of Japanese descent during world war two because the empire of Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. And in the 1790’s, (as Morton Borden writes in: Jew Turks and infidels) when most Americans were Protestant Christians, 11 of the states denied Jews the right to vote or hold office. Americans should not demonize and vilify all of Islam because it is at odds with many of our cherished American values, such as equality, freedom of expression, the traditional family, and separation of church and state. The erstwhile speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, in opposition to the ground zero mosque has said: “There should never be a mosque near ground zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia.” To him I say, we should never abandon our obligation under our constitution to respect religious differences. This is the basis for true religious freedom that we as Americans have enjoyed. It is unjust and unwise to deny Muslims the free exercise of religion. Opposing the ground zero mosque is a smoke screen, a decoy, behind which we seek to hide our Islamaphodia. It is religious intolerance plain and simple.