Group cannot be held responsible for actions of a few
In a recent Wall Street Journal article, terrorism analyst Evan Kohlmann said that anti-Muslim rhetoric in America is bad news for anti-terrorism efforts: "We are handing al Qaeda a propaganda coup, an absolute propaganda coup."
By many accounts, the man who could blunt the power of that coup is Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the religious leader behind the planned Islamic Center near Ground Zero. The imam has been surprisingly mum on the issue while he travels in the Middle East. What message of faith could he offer to Muslims and non-Muslims alike that could turn this moment of division into a time of healing?
Where does the blame of insensitivity belong? Is it with the imam of the Islamic Center in Manhattan? Or, does the real blame for insensitivity belong to the Sarah Palins and Newt Gingrichs of this world? Where do we place the blame? Should it be directed to fundamentalist Christian ministers who have chosen to fan the flames of provocative behavior by planning a "burn the Koran" event? Does the blame of being insensitive and divisive belong to the countless preachers who mis-taught the history and tenets of Islam in the aftermath of September 11? It seems to me, as a pastor who understands that I live in a richly diverse world, that the winds of political and religious language and discourse have gone absolutely insane! But this insanity has been calculated and used by some as an attempt to realize favorable political results in our mid-term elections.
The onus for diffusing the division does not rest with Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, one of the leaders of the proposed Islamic Center, but belongs to those who aspire to political or religious leadership and therefore should know their responsibilities in nurturing and educating those that they seek to lead. It seems to me that the Palins and Gingrichs, and all of the preachers, and political pundits have failed in these regards, and have inflamed the discussion in order to advance their own personal, political and economic ends.
As a culture, and a nation we cannot laud the idea of religious freedom when it is convenient for us, and then disregard those values later on when it doesn't meet our political or religious ends. I am not saying that this issue is not an emotional one for the nation, and particularly those families that lost even more than all of us on September 11, 2001. But we need to be careful in confusing the events of that terrible day with Islam, Muslims, or the Islamic center.
Everyone comes out of a cultural context. Within these contexts are beliefs and religious perspectives. Someone next to us on the train, bus, or driving down the highway in the next car may be of a different religion than our own and a different racial group. This is the diversity of America. This is what the nation we live in looks like. There are people who are black, Latino, Asian, white, and from a world of places and homelands too numerous to list. There are people who live in this country and definitely within our world who practice Christianity from a liberal, radical or conservative perspective. There are Jews, Buddhist, Muslims, Hindis and Sikhs. We live within a culture where there are entities like the Unification Church and the Church of Scientology. There are Humanists and Ethicists within our nation and throughout the world. When anyone from any of these groups or faiths engages in something destructive and injurious to others do we place the blame for the destruction and injuries on the individual(s), or on the whole religious or racial group? If we were to apply the mentality of the "broad brush," as these various xenophobes seem to be doing then all black people would be judged by the acts of an individual black person; every white person by the action of a individual white person; and every Christian by the act of an individual Christian. We would find this unacceptable, and it should also be unacceptable in regards to the discussion around the proposed Islamic Cultural Center.
Yes the controversy surrounding the Islamic cultural center gives credence to any despotic group or individual that cites the evils of the West and the need to destroy it. It lends credibility to the rhetoric that the United States is engaged in a war against Islam. If it were not so then how come America's principle of religious freedom and practice can be so easily be scraped when it comes to one group of believers? If a Catholic Church or a Buddhist Temple were proposed for that site there would not be such uproar because houses of worship have a right to build and develop if zoning criteria does not preclude it. Furthermore, if the assailants on the planes on September 11th were homegrown terrorists and Christian we would not be having this discussion at all, and we would certainly not be debating whether it was correct and sensitive for a church to be near Ground Zero given what Christian terrorist did!
So who is to blame for this divisive atmosphere? It is people that so easily forget the precious principles of the nation and choose to penalize minorities, newcomers and those who are different? Is it people who articulate the language of the mob - feeding the hysteria, stretching the point, and working people into an illogical emotional frenzy?
Finally as a black man in America I am extremely conscious of the mob mentality because in history it was used to lynch and mutilate other blacks indiscriminately because some individual was accused of speaking to a white woman or man in a disrespectful way. I am conscious of the race riots of the early 1900s that burnt towns to the ground and killed innumerable black men, women and children because people fanned the flames of intolerance and hatred to advance personal political and economic ends. I pray that we will take stock and pull back from the brink.
We are a nation of diverse peoples, cultures and histories and each has contributed to the nation's development and growth. When we are open and principled as a nation and as a people we are a beacon of hope to the world. But when we are small minded, illogical and politically plotting as we are in this discussion then our detractors are able to build a case that we have a difficult time dispelling. Let us not give credibility to those who choose to make us their enemy, but let us dare to remain a beacon of hope and light to the world.
If an Islamic cultural center has the monies to develop near Ground Zero so be it. It is a statement that America is for all people, and that no individual from any of our faith groups shall hijack and tarnish the loving and just principles of any of our faiths.
Posted by: jholmva | August 31, 2010 9:33 AM
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Posted by: Secular | August 27, 2010 12:03 AM
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