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September 2, 2010

The true threat to America

Scott Stockdale

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Islamophobia - an irrational fear of Islam - and bigotry threatens the fabric of the American way of life, according to a statement released by Majlis Ash-Shura of Metropolitan New York Islamic Leadership Council (ILC).

“The efforts to demonize Islam and Muslims have become a political football that now threatens the First Amendment rights and freedoms not only of Muslims, but indeed all Americans,” the (ILC) statement says.

With mosques and Muslim community centers facing a small but fierce resistance from an increasingly vocal minority of local citizens' groups that claim mosques represent a threat to America's way of life and values, the ILC says it's actually this vocal minority that's the true threat to America.

“The fast-spreading cancer of Islamophobia must be recognized as unacceptable as anti-Semitism. It is a threat to the very fabric of our democratic pluralistic way of life, one that tests the mettle of our democratic principles and values. Political and religious leaders, commentators and experts must do more to counter hate speech; they must lead in safeguarding and strengthening religious pluralism and mutual respect.”

While such luminaries as President Obama, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Rachel Maddow, Keith Olbermann of MSNBC, Roland S. Martin, CNN contributor and Fareed Zakaria, of Newsweek, have set a high example of statesmanship and principled media punditry, in calling for freedom of religion for all people to be respected, in accordance with the principles set out in the U.S. Bill of Rights, one wonders why misunderstandings and outright bigotry remain prevalent in American society.

The ILC offers an explanation for this phenomenon in its statement:

“The right-wing media has generated a national hysteria, and implied the voices of the far right, that succeeded in creating enough suspicion and arousing public passion against Muslims-Americans and Islamic institutions, through misinforming and unfounded accusations.”

Ironically the terms Islamic terrorist or Muslim terrorist are ubiquitous in the U.S. media; but when fanatics claiming to be Christians bomb abortion clinics, or groups like the Jewish Defense League bomb those they don't agree with, one would be hard-pressed to find the terms Christian terrorist or Jewish terrorist in the media, if they are, in fact, present at all.

The ILC explains that this type of reporting has resulted in a blizzard of bigotry that paints all Muslims and the entire religion of Islam as being evil. It adds that this is an outcome of the vicious demonization of Islam by a hate industry.

In such a political climate, critics have been vocal in condemning a proposed Muslim community center, formerly known as the Cordoba House, in Lower Manhattan.

The ILC statement points out that the proposed community centre, that includes a Muslim prayer room, will be two blocks away from Ground Zero, full of all the facilities of a top-notch community centre, and open to guests from all faiths.

Although the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution makes clear that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” the ILC's statement says it's up to American citizens to ensure that the principles enshrined in the constitution are applied in practice.

“When a religious group, in writ or practice, is kept from establishing a gathering place for the community, those ideals are undermined.”

Although the overwhelming majority of the 9 million Americans, who practice Islam, are fully integrated into American society, the ILC says their rights of religious freedom and civil liberties are often threatened.

“Today, opposition to mosque construction, in locations from New York City to Staten Island to Tennessee and California, has become not just a local and national political issue. Plans to build a community centre – that includes a Muslim prayer area – in the near vicinity of the World Trade Center site have been transformed into a national referendum, polarizing political and religious leaders and the media. Right-wing political commentators, politicians, hard-line Christian ministers, and some families of 9/11 victims have charged that building this Center is insensitive to 9/11 families; overlooking the fact that hundreds of innocent Muslims who worked in the World Trade Center and first responders were also victims.” 

The ILC statement concludes that “greed, pride, hypocrisy, racism, moral corruption, xenophobia and social injustices are our worst enemies. These are the sins that make us hate, humiliate, kill, starve whole nations and pollute the planet.” 

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