Last week's Time magazine cover story by Bobby Ghosh reported that "hate speech against Muslims and Islam is growing both more widespread and more heated," with protests against a mosque in lower Manhattan and the building of other mosques elsewhere not considered isolated incidents but part of a nationwide feeling of Islamophobia. A poll by Time/Abt SRBI found that 46% of Americans believe Islam is more likely than other faiths to encourage violence against nonbelievers. Is America Islamophobic? What does the anti-mosque uproar tell us about how the U.S. regards Muslims? Have the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 — and the other attempts since — permanently excluded Muslims from full assimilation into American life?
Let's start with the obvious — any nation who is attacked or living with the knowledge of attempted and thwarted attacks against their homeland by a particular ethnic group is going to have trepidations about aspects of that ethnicity/religion. For example, if the United States hated a particular country/religion and repeatedly attempted to attack it, and was successful on several occasions — with or without due cause — many in that country would fear us, not like us, and be on the defensive as they anticipated future attacks. It is simply a fact and it is on some levels justified.
However, to hate a race or to discriminate against a race on the whole, is sheer ignorance. One of my best friends married a Muslim man. I adore their family. I have many other friends, as does my family, who are of that religion. Do I fear them? Absolutely not. Do I hate their ethnicity and religion? That is preposterous. Do I believe there are Muslims whom we should fear and be wary of? Yes, completely.
This is our country, our home, the place we in which we live, work, breathe, raise families and a place where we should feel safe. If I were part of a religion or ethnicity that attacked another country, I would expect that country to be wary of us. It just makes sense. But to hate or fear on a whole — and to be ignorant — is not God's will and not ethical on any level.
Is Islam more likely than other faiths to encourage violence against nonbelievers? I do see this in our present day, but another faith or ethnicity could easily turn against nonbelievers in a radical fashion at anytime. Islam is simply highlighted now. Should we embrace individuals and families whom we know to be moral, kind people? Of course. It is their extremists — and our extreme views — that must be avoided.
La Vie Counseling Center
Technically, a phobia is an exaggerated, illogical fear of something, a psychological disorder to be diagnosed and treated. And some Americans might well be clinically phobic of Muslims. While most aren't, I believe Americans have simply seen too much bad fruit produced by some who profess Islam. Jesus Christ said that we are like trees, and our deeds are the fruit: "Every good tree bears good fruit; but the bad tree bears bad fruit … the tree is known by its fruit" (Matthew 7:17-18, 33).
The atrocities of Sept. 11 were committed in the name of Allah. To this day the Al Aqsa Mosque defiantly stands on top of the ruins of Judaism's holiest site, the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. In Islamic states, Muslims who convert to Christianity are murdered. In Saudi Arabia, the public practice of Christianity is punished by arrest and public lashing. In Sudan it is estimated that 1.5 million Christians have been killed by the Janjaweed, the Arab Muslim militia.
I feel for the majority of American Muslims who probably only want to practice their faith and live peaceful lives. It's unfair to hold these individuals personally accountable for such deeds. It is a test of our will and our faith to live sensibly and peaceably with them. But the anti-mosque uproar is a two-sided test. Will Muslims be allowed the rights of any other citizens who wish to build a place of worship? And will Muslims be sensitive to the impact of exercising their rights upon families who lost loved ones only two blocks away?
Jesus Christ promised his followers freedom from fear. Once we trust in his saving work on the cross we no longer fear condemnation by God. We no longer fear death, because Christ has promised to raise us up. We need not fear any person, for since Christ is with us, no one can stand against us. His perfect love casts out fear, and his love through us frees us to be kind and respectful of our fellow citizens regardless of their faith.
Pastor Jon Barta
Valley Baptist Church
Is America Islamophobic? Which America?
The one which continues to celebrate our melting-pot diversity,or the one which equates anyone "different" with everything bad?
The one which greets change with gladness, or at least with some measure of curiosity and courage, or the one which reacts in ignorant fear and distrust, blossoming too often into anger and hatred?
The America which eats at a different ethnic restaurant every day, which listens to music and owns pieces of art from cultures around the world, which speaks a respectable conversational smattering of several languages, whose kids go to school with friends of every heritage and persuasion? Or the America which eats 'A-MURR-kin' food, listens to the same music it's always listened to, speaks English and only English, and whose kids have barely seen, much less known or befriended, someone of a different ethnicity?
The America whose heart still sings at Lady Liberty's invitation to all nations to "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free," or the America that wants to shut down its borders?
The America which still thinks our country was founded, and should still be about, freedom in our land — particularly and especially religious freedom — or the America for which the word "freedom" has become a propagandist excuse to impose American force abroad, and which seeks to define American identity at home by an increasingly narrow set of religious values and affiliation?
We are two Americas in this country: an increasingly small, apparently, segment of the population which embraces diversity, tolerance, progressive thought and inclusive practice; and an increasingly large, apparently, population which is angry, fearful, reactive and vindictive — and getting more so every day.
One America is certainly Islamophobic; the other is trying hard not to be — and should try harder.
The Rev. Amy Pringle
St. George's Episcopal Church
I believe that no religious or ethnic group should be excluded from American life. The right of full inclusion in our society — including the freedom of worship —- is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, and must be safeguarded by all who value our country's core ideals. I stand strongly against Islamophobia, anti-Muslim hate speech, or demagoguery of any kind.
There is no doubt that our Constitution protects the right of any religious organization to construct a house of worship on privately owned property. So if a Muslim group decides to build an Islamic community center and mosque near Ground Zero, there really is nothing that can be done to stop them. The question is whether this plan is appropriately sensitive to the memory of the thousands of Sept. 11 dead and their families.
There are many fair-minded New Yorkers and a majority of citizens across the nation who feel that it is not.
The way I see it, there are various sects within Islam. The Wahhabis are extremists: they degrade women, encourage violence and abhor freedom.
And then there are moderate teachings of Islam to which it seems most American Muslims adhere. I feel that if Feisal Abdul Rauf — the imam of this congregation — would unequivocally place himself and his flock in the latter group, opposition to this new mosque would be significantly reduced. The problem is that he has declined to rule out funding from Islamic extremists, and at a debate earlier this summer refused to describe Hamas as a terrorist organization and is on record making the shocking statement, "The United States has more Muslim blood on its hands than Al Qaeda has on its hands of innocent non-Muslims."
All of this is reason for concern. While Rauf has a right to build a house of worship wherever he pleases, others certainly have a right to protest the creation of a center that they see as insensitive — and that they fear could promote hatred and prejudice. To be sure, some voices in the current debate have oversimplified or obscured the facts due to political agendas or misinformation. However, I feel that this uproar is not about anti-Islamic sentiment or an attempt to exclude Muslims from American life. Rather, it is about people questioning the wisdom of this Muslim center's location near the site of a tragedy and trying to prevent the worst-case scenario that would introduce radical elements in their midst.
Rabbi Simcha Backman
Chabad Jewish Center
Critical thinking requires you to not believe everything you read in the U.S. press. On the other hand, Time magazine's Aug. 30 cover story "Is America Islamophobic?" represents a seminal piece of American journalism. So rarely do the U.S. media get to the heart of the matter regarding the real dynamics of the American Muslim community. Please read the full magazine edition.
A definite "yes" is my answer to the cover-story question, "Is America Islamphobic?" but only when it comes to individuals who are predisposed with an agenda and those who are simply not informed with authentic knowledge about Islam and Muslims. The answer is most likely "no," if you include Americans who have a personal relationship with Muslims or seek to understand mainstream American Muslim perspectives.
The uproar over the Islamic community center in lower Manhattan is simply political. In 2009 and before, this was a non-issue. In 2010, it is the favorite wedge issue of the mid-term elections used by the right wing to polarize and dredge up false fear of mainstream, moderate and peaceful American Muslims. Fox News anchor Laura Ingraham was totally supportive of the work of Imam Faisal Rauf and his wife Daisy Khan in December 2009. Recently, Ingraham has become a consistent source of vitriol; an example was her interview with Muslims for Bush leader Muhammad Ali Hasan on Aug. 26.
Special-interest pundits across the country will make shallow accusations toward the Muslim community for supporting the Park51 project. They have many valid arguments and bring up important issues of concern, but miss several superseding points based on American principles.
First, American Muslims are not the enemy. All Americans were attacked on Sept. 11. American Muslims are not guilty by association. Those with an agenda will simply not listen to the American Muslims' unequivocal condemnation of terrorism committed in the name of Islam. For the record, American Muslims died as victims and firefighters on Sept. 11. Nonetheless, we do not distinguish our sensitivities between religions; we were all Americans first on Sept. 11, and our common enemy is Islamic extremism that has attacked our country and subsequently the religion of Islam by utterly false claims. There are Sept. 11 victims as well as Muslims on both sides of this issue, and to brand those in favor of Park51 project as insensitive is not intellectually honest. American Muslims have proven to be on the frontlines, working with law enforcement to weed out the radical Islamic elements.
Our highest act of nobility is to protect American principles in the face of demagoguery and fear. Among our noblest are those who serve in the military. Col.Douglas Burpee, a Glendale resident and a retired Marine Corps helicopter pilot with 27 years of service, is a Muslim. His call sign was "Hajji," given affectionately to him by his fellow officers recognizing his religion of Islam while serving our country. Burpee has seen Islamic extremism first-hand with tours in Afghanistan and in other parts of the Muslim world. According to Burpee, those who oppose the construction of the Ground Zero mosque are allowing extremists to hijack cherished American principles.
It is those cherished American principles, including religious tolerance and respect for diversity, that we as a society must safeguard in order to preserve the greatness of our nation and to ensure that all our citizens regardless of their faith are fully assimilated into American life.
Islamic Congregation of La Cañada Flintridge
I am sure there are some Americans who are Islamophobes. Just as there are French who are disdainful of American tourists. Or Baptists who despise gays and lesbians. There's a smorgasbord of bigotry.
Intolerance is a universal flaw — not limited to any one nation, race or religion. The Spanish Inquisition was all about persecution in the name of God. Genocides occur on every continent because one group cannot tolerate another.
I find it ironic that our differences and individuality make this world so incredibly beautiful. And yet defending the individuality of one another seems almost impossible to achieve. That is why acceptance without judgment is one of the standards by which I measure the truly divine. That which does not accept and allow without prejudice cannot be deemed godly, in my opinion.
That said, I believe the media plays a big role in today's society. It seeks the negative energy because it gets better ratings. Absurd sound bites that attract more absurd sound bites draw larger audiences like moths to the flame. Good things do happen more frequently than bad. But bad gets the majority of our attention.
Personally, I believe there are more Americans who are tolerant of Muslims than are not. Sadly, that is not nearly as interesting as televising angry mobs of the unenlightened. Those without the desire to form their own opinions are inclined to believe the one they hear the most or the one that is shouted most loudly. And the cycle of negativity perpetuates.
Open-mindedness is one big part of living a more joyous and enlightened life. The best thing we could possibly take away from Ground Zero is an understanding that intolerance played a major role in the events of Sept. 11. If we are unwilling to rise above the prejudices of the small group responsible for that attack, we do nothing but perpetuate the pain they created. Being tolerant, considerate and protective of the rights of Muslims, and of all people, would neutralize the actions of those who seek to terrorize us all with separatist thinking.
No, I don't believe that Americans are Islamophobic. I do believe that the recent media coverage of the proposed Park51 Mosque has, in many respects, polarized and heightened the debate. But, as noted in the Time magazine article (which was also confirmed recently in the Los Angeles Times), hate crimes against Muslims have not increased substantially over the past several years, although the rhetoric may have intensified.
I do believe that Americans do not have a good understanding of Islam, and especially the distinction between "Islam" and "Islamism." (To be clear, I use these two terms in a general sense, with the recognition that "Islamism" may have different meanings to different groups.) To me, Islam is a religious tradition that has been practiced for centuries in many countries, both Arab and non-Arab. On the other hand, Islamism is represented by individuals or groups who believe in a set of ideologies where Islam is not only a religion but also a political system with the objective of asserting Islamic values in all spheres of life.
Whether the religion is Islam, Christianity, or otherwise, when religion and politics are mixed together, and religious beliefs are forced upon the populous, negative outcomes are the result. History is replete with examples of this.
For Americans, the challenge is to become more knowledgeable about Islam and the distinction between it and Islamists. We live in a world where such knowledge is essential. The balancing act is to understand, respect and befriend those individuals who practice Islam in a peaceful manner while at the same time protecting the American homeland and interests from groups that have destructive intents.
Although I lived for a brief time in the Middle East, took classes from Muslim professors on Middle Eastern history and culture, and visited Mosques and other religious sites, I can't say that I have the best understanding of Islam myself. Therein lies the challenge for me.
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
A phobia is by its nature irrational — a strong, irrational fear of something that poses little or no actual danger. Phobias become traps, as those who suffer from them limit their lives to avoid even the vaguest possibility of reliving a traumatic experience. The anti-mosque conversation in America reveals this level of anxiety. A little cognitive behavioral therapy does seem to be in order.
What would that consist of?
• Continue to be in prayer for the healing of the nation after Sept. 11. As one religious leader notes, we were traumatized by the event, and then jumped right into retaliation, giving ourselves no time or process for healing.
• Increase our knowledge of what our moderate Muslim neighbors believe. It is easier to assume what is being taught in your neighborhood mosque than to actually find out. Will Christians agree with everything? Probably not, but I'll bet that we continue to find common themes of worship, mercy, justice and charity.
• Form relationships with Muslim neighbors. When a stereotype takes the form of an actual human being, we see that we share personal concerns about family and work and community. The Islamic Congregation of La Cañada Flintridge is proactive about building its relationships with the community. Some of my church members were recently at their potluck Ramadan dinner, where we heard about their support of Doctors Without Borders, watched children play together, talked about schools and ate good food.
• Be aware of times when our speech and actions cross the line. "They will know we are Christians by our love," goes the song. When we ooze hate and call it "love," that doesn't count. Just because someone on TV says something doesn't mean you should repeat it.
With prayer, mercy, patience and perseverance we will grow in our understanding of God's will for ourselves, our neighbors, our country and our world.
The Rev. Paige Eaves
Crescenta Valley United Methodist Church.
With the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks still vividly in the minds of Americans, yes, I believe the majority of our citizens are Islamophobic. Now is not the time to build a mosque near where the World Trade Center stood. Instead of a mosque, an interfaith center including Islam could possibly promote better understanding among and between all religions of the world.
Until all Islamic communities in the United States openly, collectively and loudly condemn terrorism, and openly embrace the principles on which this great country was built, anti-Islamic sentiment will continue.
I had the privilege of attending a conference in 1998 sponsored by Harvard University — "Spirituality & Healing in Medicine." One of the presenters, Dr. Shaykh Hisham M. Kabbani, stated that true followers of Islam do not advocate terrorism. I also have belonged to interfaith groups that included Muslim members and have learned that Islamic basic tenants are similar to those of other world religions — helping people be the best they know how to be.
Doctrine and dogma of Islam will have to be changed/updated to conform to our changing world, particularly where women's rights are concerned, before that religion is fully assimilated into the American way of life.
The Rev. Beverly Craig
La Crescenta Church of Religious Science
No, I don't think so, but until some more time goes by, I think it will seem to many Americans that Muslims will never be fully accepted here. Remember that we at one time hated the Germans and Japanese.
In fact, I have known fellow Americans — most of whom are deceased — who would never trust a German or a Japanese because of the animus felt toward both countries. But we are trading partners with both countries now, and we consider Germany and Japan to be our allies. I think such an evolution of feelings will occur with regard to the Muslim community.
The Muslims I know in the La Cañada Flintridge area are reaching out to those of other faiths in an effort to heal the wounds that Sept. 11 brought about. So the Muslims I know and consider friends are trying hard to say that not all Muslims are as wacko ("knuckleheads" is what one Muslim friend called them) as those who perpetrated Sept. 11.
So try to be a peacemaker; you'll be called a child of God (Matthew 5: 9).
The Rev. Clifford L. "Skip" Lindeman
La Cañada Congregational Church
United Church of Christ