Local view: Americans continue to be ignorant of our nation's ideals of freedom
A recent controversy over plans of the Cordoba Initiative to build a community center complex, including a mosque, near Ground Zero in Manhattan has demonstrated that ignorance and hatred are vices to which a large number of Americans continue to...
A recent controversy over plans of the Cordoba Initiative to build a community center complex, including a mosque, near Ground Zero in Manhattan has demonstrated that ignorance and hatred are vices to which a large number of Americans continue to adhere. Opposition to this project is fundamentally un-American, and nobody who values the ideals of freedom, upon which this country was founded, should be in the opposition camp.
Opponents argue that the sacredness of the World Trade Center site should preclude Muslims from building the center, that they should simply recognize how painful it is for the rest of us to see Islamic symbols rise in such a place. The fact is that the proposed complex is to be two blocks from Ground Zero, certainly more than the "yards away" suggested by some critics. It would not displace any memorials to the fallen; rather it would make use of an empty building. There is nothing about the construction of the facility that would conflict with remembering those murdered that day -- aside from the tendency of the ignorant to lump all Muslims into one undifferentiated category defined by the most violently extreme.
Muslims are constantly asked to condemn Muslim extremism in a way that Christians and Jews are never asked to distance themselves from their own extremists. Yet when moderate Muslims do precisely this they are frequently ignored or accused of hiding their real feelings and convictions. The case of the Cordoba project is simply the latest example of this phenomenon.
The Cordoba Initiative is dedicated to the promotion of human rights and democracy in the Muslim world, as well fostering understanding between mainstream Muslims and broader American society. The founder, Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf, has been an outspoken critic of terrorism and violence and a vocal advocate for the integration of Muslims into American society. The center would be a powerful statement to would-be terrorists and their companions that Muslims in America are fully American, and that terrorists will not define Islam here. What a powerful repudiation of terrorist ideology; it seems patently absurd to demand such a stand from American Muslims and then shout them down when they take it.
There are more than 6 million Muslims in the United States, and they are entitled to the same rights of religious expression as are the rest of us. Muslim-American civilians were killed in the Sept. 11 attacks. Muslim soldiers in the U.S. Military have given their lives fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq and continue to guard you every night while you sleep. They defend their fellow Americans despite the fact that many of their countrymen have only hate for them and for the religion that brings them comfort. Americans must not make the same mistakes that have been made in Europe, where the ghettoization of Muslims has resulted in a significant number feeling they cannot identify as nationals of their respective countries, and those who convert to Islam feel they are forced to choose one community or the other. Forgive the triumphalism, but we are better than that, and should act like it.
The Prophet Muhammad taught his followers that, "None of you truly believe unless he wants for his brother what he wants for himself." One could paraphrase this teaching to say that no American truly believes in the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution unless they apply them to others as they apply them to themselves.
The Cordoba Initiative project in Manhattan deserves not only our tolerance as a free expression of religion but our support as a stand of moderate American-
Muslims against tyranny committed in the name of their faith.
Trevor Swoverland of Two Harbors holds a master's degree in social work from the University of Minnesota Duluth and is a member of Temple Israel in Duluth. The views expressed here are his own.