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How the plans to build a Mosque near Ground Zero have incited fervor, and exposed us for who we really are. Since it has been proposed, there has been heated verbal exchanges surrounding the construction of the 13 story "Park 51" Islamic Center and Mosque in Downtown Manhattan. It has become a clash of politics and passion. But reason suggests that angst on either side of any issue can neither be dismissed with cavalier disregard, nor should irrational precepts determine our actions. The concerns that inspire our feelings over whether this Mosque should or should not be built must be addressed honestly, so as to constitute their legitimacy or lack thereof. If we hope to achieve any judicious socio/political resolution, the reality on which our perceptions are based must in fact BE reality, and not arrived at through censored language so as to accommodate special interests. Americans are in an age where we are inundated with information, both accurate and otherwise. With honest introspection becoming increasingly rare, the prevailing tendency is to gravitate towards abstracts which will subscribe to our predilections. It is the nature of human subjectivity to justify our predispositions, and as a result there is often a lack of consideration for opposing viewpoints. The indignation that comes with certainty does not accord constructive dialogue. Worse yet, is when that very sense of self-righteousness is derived through bias, and a lack of factual information. Which raises the simple question: Does Islam pose a legitimate threat to America or is it, in fact, a religion of peace compromised by extremists? As I write this, I am troubled by my own lack of neutrality concerning Islam. As someone whose sensibility will not allow for the leap of faith it takes to believe in an omnipotent creator of the universe, there is an according lack of sensitivity on my part towards any of man's interpretations of God's will. Although religion and I have never been very compatible, I am hoping that my lack of faith in regards to any system of supernatural belief will offer some rational, unbiased perspectives. However as I gather information and try to temper it with reason and historical context, there is evidence that bears out some uncomfortable, and politically incorrect truths. While most Americans recognize the Constitutional right to freedom of religion, many are conflicted about violence that is being carried out in the name of Islam, and are having difficulty reconciling religious liberty with the governments responsibility to ensure domestic tranquility, and to protect the citizenry from all threats, foreign and domestic. The concern is whether any newly
introduced culture's right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness will come at the expense of our own. It is not unreasonable to inquire whether Islamic doctrine can allow Muslims to effectively assimilate into American culture and if the Koran is open enough to interpretation for them to do so. There is much about Islam that is difficult for non-Muslims in the West to intellectually harmonize with. Culturally, we operate from such different premises that there are some counter intuitive dynamics to Sharia (Islamic Law) that simply do not coincide with our sense of propriety. Indeed, there is much about the Islamic faith which offends the American sensibility, particularly where it concerns misogyny, censorship, and personal liberty... and while state and Federal laws have legal jurisdiction on domestic soil, they are difficult enough to implement inside the home, let alone within the hearts and minds of the faithful. It invariably becomes a matter of trying to enforce the laws of the land, opposed to what many Muslims feel is the law of Allah. It is also important to acknowledge that these conditions are not unique to Muslims, and they actually occur in one form or another across virtually every ethnic and religious population here in the United States. But just as this might be the case, the disparity between Western culture and Islam is particularly diametric. While there are many Muslims, both here and abroad who are liberal in their faith, and who feel that the West has much to offer, the determining factor as to how the social, economic, political and religious landscape of the world will be shaped in the future is most likely dependent on how America negotiates Islamic assimilation. At over 1.5 billion people, Islam is the fastest growing religion on Earth. It would be unwise for America to ignore that fact. However it would be even more foolish to believe that we can respond by pompously imposing Western values around the globe. As Islam increases its appeal to the economically oppressed who cannot conceptualize freedom, it becomes our responsibility to introduce humanitarianism or risk isolation and ideological conflict. In the global recruiting war, Islam is clearly winning the battle for the souls of the impoverished, and disenfranchised. Governments around the world are compelled to acknowledge this as a growing political force. This fact alone is foreboding. But with religion having significant political power both in America and abroad, few (if any) dare attempt to define where the line is between religious, and political precepts. In this regard, virtually all religions are complicit in each other's efforts to control public thought, and by extension, political influence. Thus it makes it extremely difficult to present the merits of Westernized freedom and the separation between Church and State versus the promise of eternal paradise. Regarding religion's global socio/economic power one must ask what determines any religion's viability. To offer some perspective: As offensive as this may be to some, if a group of people were to create a religion based on Nazism, and adopted Mein Kampf as their God inspired holy writ, and Adolf Hitler as their prophet... it would not be difficult for them to meet standardized religious criteria. In fact, in comparison to Islam there are some staggering parallels. Both ideologies are derived from totalitarian doctrine. Both are vehemently anti-Semitic. The Koran consistently commands that infidels (non-believers) be either killed, or converted, whereas Mein Kampf mandates a "New World Order". Indeed, both set out to conquest via jihad. "Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator." -Adolf Hitler (Mein Kampf)
"The only true faith in God's sight is Islam." (Surah 3:19) Those who are offended by the comparison will point out that there are many peaceful Muslims who do not condone violence perpetrated in their religion's name, which is true. However the same could be said of any individuals who identify with various tenets of philosophy that conflict with one another. So while it is important to acknowledge that an individual should not defined by his or her affiliation alone, ideologies need be culpable for when violence occurs in accordance with it's convictions. There is simply no denying that Islam is at the center of much of the world's conflicts, and it would be injudicious to not seek the answer as to why. So what actually determines how we perceive what constitutes religion as opposed to a political platform? Is it longevity, population, or the mere assertion that a philosophy is God inspired? One must consider what makes it so politically incorrect to contrast one belief system with another. Surely time helps shape perspective, but so too do the media, and those who write history. Although it would be irresponsible to unilaterally cast a billion and a half human beings in an oblique light, it would be equally nonsensical to ignore the accompanying social trends in countries where Muslims have immigrated to, both past and present. From a historical perspective, Islam is approximately 600 years younger than Christianity, which weighs heavily on how Americans perceive it in relation to our predominantly Judeo/Christian Culture. If we were to turn back the clock to this point in Christian lineage, the contemporary Islamic mindset is more easily recognizable in ourselves. During what we refer to today as "The Dark Ages", there were countless atrocities carried out by Papal mandate in the name of Christianity. The Inquisitions, in a fanatical search for heretics were ruthless in their tactics, and the Church itself endowed inquisitors with the ability to use torture as a means to coerce confessions. Devices were invented to increase a victim's suffering while simultaneously sustaining agony. Murder was committed with abandon, and women who dared voice an opinion were denounced as "witches" and burned alive. By today's Christian standards, the barbarism that took place is unthinkable. Of course, as evidenced by our being here, things eventually changed. What allowed Christianity, and moreover, humanity to evolve out of the Dark Ages and into what we now refer to as "The Enlightenment" can be traced back to the introduction of a single concept. Martin Luther's challenge of the Papacy empowered people to express skepticism regarding Church Law, and as reason gathered momentum, new ideas sprouted in it's wake. Questions were asked, and answers were sought. Art, literature and science thrived. Hypothetical, and theoretical constructs which were once considered heresy by the church (e.g. gravity) were able to be written about and discussed openly, without fear of holy retribution. The concept that religious doctrine could be interpreted as metaphor was of particular significance, because still allowed people to maintain their faith while asking questions. ...and herein lies the hope for American Islam. However there are some compelling differences between medieval Christianity, and contemporary Islam, the most notable of which involves their canons. For instance, it is extremely difficult to read the New Testament on which Christianity is based and justify any acts of violence carried out in it's name, let alone the savagery of the Inquisitions. And despite a wrathful Old Testament, this ethical
contradiction made the questioning Church authority much easier. But the same cannot be said of Islam and the Koran, which is replete with directives to kill in the name of Allah, and dissociate one's self from no-believers. It is simply more of a metaphorical challenge to interpret "When you meet the unbelievers, strike off their heads" (Sura 4-89) as "live and let live". Another noteworthy difference is that we now live in a nuclear age. While we can only speculate over what medieval Muslim conquerors or Christian Crusaders would have done with weapons of mass destruction in the fourteenth century, several modern Islamic regimes have defiantly expressed their intentions should nuclear weapons come into their possession. They would use them...on us. This becomes all the more alarming when we consider the amount of Islamic immigrants to both the United States, and our European NATO allies. Presently, there is a cultural "Islamification" occurring in England, Italy, France and Spain where a disproportionate influence on government policy is being imposed by a small, but growing Muslim population. The looming threat of violence, as well as actual acts of terrorism are giving Muslim protestors increasing leverage, as they petition to have Islamic Law institutionalized throughout Europe. The religious and cultural "tolerance" that is demanded is rarely returned, and it seems the peace they claim to be seeking can only be arrived at through subjugation. A growing concern is that by utilizing the same tactics that have won so much political leverage across the ocean, Islamics are taking advantage of American tolerance and a politically correct, albeit historically ignorant media.. Fully aware that choosing a location so near to Trade Center attacks would create public outrage, executive director of Park 51, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf arrogantly moved forward with his building plans with utter disregard for people's sensitivities. Having written a book Titled "What's Right With Islam is What's Right With America" Rauf surely understands that the tenets of Islam reject much of the American constitution, and why many are cynical as to his intentions. A simple castigation of Islamic human rights violations would go a long way to ease people's fears and allow for a level of hope, but sadly those words never seem to come. Even promoting individual liberty, equality of men and women, equality of Muslims and nonMuslims, the right to private property, and freedom of religion would allow for a certain level of optimism. To the casual observer, Rauf doesn't seem remotely concerned with his public image, and that many feel he's pouring gas on his own fire, and burning the very bridge he is alleging to build. The Contradictions, if not the hypocrisy are equally infuriating. While Imam Rauf is utilizing the first amendment, and his right to both freedom of speech and freedom of religion, he and his supporters (including NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg) are offended by those expressing opposition to an ideology that does not seem willing to adapt to American principles. Perhaps this is because Sharia prohibits preaching religions other than Islam, and does not allow for critical speech. In the spirit of political correctness, American magnanimity must include tolerating other people's intolerance, or else be labeled as bigoted. Yet the significance of The Park 51 Islamic Center are even more profound when we consider recent history. Following the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, Osama bin Laden gave a chilling videotaped speech to the Muslim world that few Americans recall beyond the anger they were feeling at the time. After praising Allah for the Towers coming down, he then spoke of reestablishing Islam in Granada, Spain, which was liberated from conquering Moors by native
Spanish Christians in 1492. Two years after the Trade Center attacks, the Mosque of Granada was erected, symbolizing Islam's return to al-Andalus - the Arab name of their paradise in the Iberian Peninsula. In 2004, Spain was rewarded for their religious tolerance with an Islamic train bombing in Madrid, Killing 191, and injuring 1800. Likewise there have been similar terror attacks all over Europe and even a few failed attempts here in the United States since 9/11. The more accommodating we become in our desire for peaceful interaction, the more dire the cultural relationship becomes. One could easily assert that what ideological Islam couldn't maintain militarily in the early part of the last millennium, they are attaining through (mostly illegal) immigration today. The conquerors are returning to Europe, only this time the invaders are utilizing the infidel's benevolence in lieu of swords. And despite what is apparent, America remains in denial as to this clear and present danger. In order for 21st century Muslims to be able to peacefully cohabitate with the rest of the world, history has shown the path they must take. Fundamentalism as to excuse violence must be denounced. The concepts of analogy and implied comparison must be acknowledged so as to create an exchange of dialogue and culture. A prominent Muslim, in the spirit of Martin Luther must be brave enough to stand up and recognize that ideas, and the human spirit can never be contained by holding them hostage, and that in order to avoid needless bloodshed Sharia Law must adapt itself to accommodate the West, and not the other way around. But such idealism is bloodless on paper, and to date, no Islamic leader, including Feisal Abdul Rauf has shown such impetus. Certainly there are Muslims who see the futility of extremism and violence. All one has to do is search the internet for Middle Eastern dialogue where Muslims are defending Western civilization on Arab television, let alone acknowledge that there are in fact, many European and American Muslims who are making real efforts to peacefully coexist. Once the socio/political strife is put aside, there is much that Middle Eastern culture can offer the West. Islamic contributions to Art, Mathematics, Science, Literature and Architecture are staggering. To deny this is as ignorant as those who believe that fundamentalism can be diplomatically negotiated with altruism. Therefore it is incumbent upon The United States to protect these people. Their interests are ours. Their willingness to acclimate both here and abroad needs to be cultivated if we hope to expose the senselessness of violent extremism to the world. Although presently there may be too few to make a significant change in the prevailing ideological mindset, that doesn't negate our responsibility. But willfully overlooking history and current European sociology in regards to Islam betrays both Americans, and peace seeking Muslims. What is disturbing to many Americans, is that politicians unilaterally claim Islam to be a "religion of peace" without ever having read the Koran. Very few in a position of authority are even asking questions about Islam for fear of what the answer might be. Rather than braving a socially awkward observation, the climate of political correctness dismisses any suggestions of violent cultural assimilation. As a result, instead of making determinations based on factual information (even if those very same facts would lead them back to their original affirmations), cowards on both sides of the political aisle are making assertions based on how they will be portrayed in the media. Although opponents of Park 51 are referring to its construction as a "Trojan Horse"... whether it
truly is or not remains to be seen. It has, for better or for worse drawn national attention to Sharia law. It has also focused on the larger issue of how America will address Islamic acculturation moving forward. How can we balance reason, fear, and the dictates of our passions? Will we take the politically correct approach, and capitulate to cultural demands even when they violate our Constitution? Or will we protect the American Muslims, as well as the majority of Americans who desire peace but require reciprocity for our tolerance? America has it's own dark history, no doubt. Our international reputation for arrogance is undeniable. But in just over 200 years our sensibilities have evolved significantly, and phony nationalism notwithstanding, we do have a lot to be proud of. Although we are subject to human frailty and still struggle with ethical issues, the freedoms and equality that Americans have is worth defending. It is neither arrogant, nor boastful to claim that a culture that values human life, individual liberty, and free speech is better than one that would apply draconian executions on homosexuals and adulterers... or stone a pregnant woman to death in public. I make such assertions unapologetically. Note: I would like to thank Professor and Language and European Culture Dr, "A" for her invaluable contribution to this article, and for setting a standard for integrity that makes me better at what I do.
Rich Woods is a Published Author, Talk Show Host, Public Speaker, and Syndicated Columnist. To get information about his books or seminars, you can visit his website http://www.unlearnnow.com or watch his socio/political Satire "UnLearn w Rich & Tony" @ http://www.unlearn.tv.
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