Quit scaring us and quit calling us ignorant. The great Park51 mosque debate

I’ve been mulling over this issue of the Park51 community center containing a mosque for the past week now, trying to reconcile in my own head the disconnect I have with an unconditional freedom of and from religion and the general unease and empathy I feel with those who oppose the placement of a community center containing a mosque two blocks from Ground Zero. After being scared to death by the Republicans and called ignorant and intolerant by the Liberals, I struck me what was at the core of this issue.

Most Americans don’t see Islam as a religion but rather as an imperial political and cultural machine. When a “religion” becomes politicized, it then becomes fair game to oppose, much like Fascism, Communism or Socialism. The intolerance becomes perfectly rational because this “thing” you oppose is no longer a religion. Ok, just hold on a minute and I’ll explain how I’ve arrived at this conclusion.

In the West, we’ve been conditioned to believe that the natural state of religion is separate from the secular state. When we look “over there” at governments like Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, The Philippines and such, we see a religion that trumps the secular state. To us, it is the equivalent of the Supreme Court being overruled by clergymen and The Bible.

I object strongly to the Republicans painting a picture of fear and mistrust, comparing Islam to Naziism and the like. I get why they are doing it. Nobody pays attention to the rational anymore. Everything has to be hyperbolic. But what irritates me even more than the calculated contrived craziness of the Right is the haughty indignation of the Left, calling us all ignorant for not recognizing Islam as a religion for which we need to be tolerant. They scold and berate us for having a bit of trepidation about the intent of the Muslim community when clearly we can see established government states being unnecessarily cruel and inhuman, run by the same religion that tells us it is peace-loving. We are conflicted. What is Islam then? Islam ultimately must be a religion that is peaceful until it gains power. Then it is not.

For eight years, the peace-loving Evangelical Christians had the US Government at its beck and call, wielding power over who was and was not worthy to serve as an elected in a secular government. Only toward the end of the George Bush Administration did their stranglehold loosen.

A Catholic as late as the 1960s was seen as unelectable because it was believed that allegiance to the Pope in Rome would trump the Oath to defend the Constitution. John Kennedy proved that wrong; Bart Stupek made us wonder all over again.

In 1620, the Puritans landed in Massachusetts after getting kicked out of England and The Netherlands and promptly set up a theocracy which eventually led to some witch trials some seventy years later. Eventually, secular sense took hold, but not before a lot of people were scared into confessing sins which they did not commit as a matter of civil law. It is a convenient myth to believe that the Puritans were kicked out of England for practicing their religion, when in fact, they wanted their version of religion to rule the State. King James kinda had it right.

We mistrust the Muslim intentions because we mistrust our own. We’ve seen how a religion that purports itself to be tolerant, patient, peace-loving and kind will turn cruel, ugly and destructive when it gains power. While many of us can’t articulate exactly why we feel like we do about the Mosque at Park51, these feelings of uneasiness are no less valid. It is not empty fear stoked up by loud voices nor is it intentional ignorance and faulty logic the arrogant intellectuals would have us believe. Perhaps it is our own sense of history with regard to religion that gives us pause.

But we are not ignorant, fear-mongering intolerant trolls. We mistrust because there is a reason.

And a small pup is easier to kill than a full-sized bear.


7 Replies to “Quit scaring us and quit calling us ignorant. The great Park51 mosque debate”

  1. With all hyperbole, fear-stoking and haughty dismissals set aside for the time being, what’s at stake here is the United States’ status as a nation governed by the rule of law. The First Amendment to the Constitution grants all American the right to the free exercise of religion, the right to free association and the rest of the birthrights the opportunistic like to forget. The beauty of law is that it’s blind to emotion. At the end of the day pluralism may step on some toes, but it works. Singling out a specific religion sets a precedent and once that precedent’s set it becomes a matter of who’s next? The Constitution doesn’t have asterisks or footnotes and the law is clear. As imperfectly as it’s practiced sometimes, the rule of law is the only thing that keeps us from turning into the very societies the popular mind likes to link to Islam.

  2. Of course I fully support the Rule of Law, without which this country stands for nothing. But moderate American Muslims (worldwide for that matter) need to call out the radical violent anti-West segments of Islam (and they are many), just as the moderate Republicans in this country need to stop their party from being hijacked by the fundamentalist (yes sometimes violent & racist) Christians. You cannot let your party preach hate and violence, and then feign innocence. And BTW to pretend that religion is not political is to ignore 2000 years of evidence to the contrary.

  3. I appreciate you admitting your fears even though I disagree some. The weapon terrorists wield is not Islam although sometimes it is the convenient vehicle in which it is delivered. If, like you say, we admit that the mistrust of Islam is born of our OWN mistrust then we also have to concede that just like our own history with regards to Christianity it is really the hand that holds the ‘weapon’ that decides whether it will be peaceful or destructive.

    As someone who works daily with Muslims and considers them my close friends it is very easy for me to separate the reason for the fear from the religion and the people that worship in it. I have witnessed the building of a mosque in my small Southern town (about two hours away from Murphreesboro, TN) and the great lengths the town took to stop it. When that failed they burned down the house of the blind Imam that lived there (he survived) – a crime that is still unsolved probably due to the lack of “investigation.” I consider it my duty as an American citizen and a human being to fight for their right to worship freely regardless of what terrorists choose to do elsewhere in the name of the same religion/politics. I have seen how Christian terrorists have acted in the name of their religion/politics which scares me just as much but I would still support another Baptist church, etc. being erected somewhere.

  4. The Catholic Church scares the hell out of me. I grew up with this religion and it is a beast just laying in wait. While he was clumsy and over-played his hand too early, Stupek reveals exactly how the Church sees it’s mission.

    What the Evangelical Christians did to the 2000 and 2004 elections, and the mid-terms therein is unconscionable and resulted in the effects of our culture and economy that we are living with today. We will recover, but at what cost? All in the name of God and Family Values. But since they were “home-grown,” their creeping influence was not easy to see until it was too late. I live in an area of this country where other peace-loving Christians will ostracize and distrust me if they really knew my real beliefs in a God. (easer to say crap like “It’s God’s will” or “He doesn’t give us any more than we can bear” All crap, but it saves more unnecessary pain, even though it just exacerbates the larger problem.

    Islam is just an easier target, but no less power-hungry than any other religion given the opportunity. If the Catholic Church had the opportunity to set up a theocracy in America, they sure as hell would take it. And we would be just as badly off as if it were an Islamic government.

  5. This is a thoughtful article, but please stop calling the planned use for the former Burlington Coat Factory a Mosque. They aren’t building a mosque. In fact they aren’t buidling a anything. They want to put a Muslim community center in vacant space.

  6. According to the website for the Park51 Community Center, one of the facilities contained inside the building:

    “a mosque, intended to be run separately from Park51 but open to and accessible to all members, visitors and our New York community” http://www.park51.org/facilities.htm

    I see your point and should probably edit the article to read “a community center containing a mosque” to be more accurate.

Comments are closed.