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.