Friday, September 24, 2010

Non-Believers To The Rescue?


Posted: 22 Sep 2010 08:25 PM PDT

As Muslim groups give fresh support for the planned Islamic community center and mosque two blocks from where the Twin Towers once stood in lower Manhattan, opponents will no doubt continue to protest which could eventually lead to some real nasty violence.

The place where the center known as "Park51″ is planned is likely to be a target of violence if the plan proceeds due to years of building mistrust, misinformation and just plain ol' religious zealotry.

Mosque burned in Nashville.

Rallies in Manhattan on Sept. 11 were not peaceful, and Islamic centers and mosques have already been bombed and burned in Tennessee and Florida in recent years. Add to that a general dislike and hatred of Muslims by the religious right in various parts of the country (and many other Americans not being too keen on them either), it would be an anomaly if nothing were to happen if the center finally gets built.

In Texas, the school board is looking to fan the flames further by making sure Islam doesn't get any kind of positive reading. Complaining about "pro-Islamic, anti-Christian" viewpoints in books that aren't even used, the board is poised to slam the door shut on any version of religious history that doesn't put Christians in the best light imaginable while highlighting "worldwide Muslim terrorism." This move is not directly due to the planned Islamic center in New York, but the timing doesn't help to calm the situation.

There's even anxiety in Fargo, ND over plans for an expanded Islamic Center due to the national religious mood.

The support now being offered by several Islamic groups for the Manhattan center seems to be centered on the idea of religious freedom, at least publicly. But that doesn't really matter to most people.

"We are here as religious leaders at a time when there is religious intolerance and bigotry that is prevailing," said Imam Al-Hajj Talib Abdur-Rashid, deputy amir of the Muslim Alliance in North America, one of the groups now offering support after a weekend gathering. "So we wanted to make clear our unified stance in light of the problems that all Americans are facing because when one group is deprived of their rights, all groups are deprived of their rights."

"Ground zero does not belong to a specific group of people or religion," said Nihad Awad, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, another group giving support. "Ground zero belongs to all Americans."

In order to put this conflict in perspective globally, it might be helpful to look at at least one case where Christians are looking to maintain a church in a majority Muslim country and having a hard time of it. In this case, there is not the emotion tied to a 9/11-type event to add into the mix, but there are similarities none-the-less.

In Indonesia near Jakarta, the capital, there is a church that has been closed by the government after an attack by extremist Muslims, members of a group calling themselves Islamic Defender's Front who want Sharia Law implemented in this officially secular country. Ten members of the group were arrested for attacking two preachers, one being stabbed and both being hospitalized.

In this case, the extremists may be motivated by a small growth in the non-Muslim population, even though Muslims make up 98% of it. The government has offered to let the Christians worship at an alternative location–on government property–but members would rather worship at their own church freely, as the law allows. This base request seems, at least on the surface, to match the request of the Muslims wanting to build in Manhattan. In both cases, however, members of the majority belief system don't offer up too much in the way of religious tolerance.

Violence seems far too common when it comes to religion and what people see as any kind of insult in relation to it, imagined or real. Even when there's no violence, some people are so sensitive to religious topics that even the smallest thing can force an apology. In Portland, ME, the Maine Sunday Telegram published an apology after running a story on how local Muslims ended Ramadan. The apology was run simply because the story coincided with Sept. 11, a coincidence of the calendar.

The whole burn a Koran fiasco has even reached India,where a church and Christian school was set on fire in response to it.

I could go on and on with examples of religious hatred and violence all over the world, as has been the case for thousands of years. But it appears that we are at a point where religious intolerance and violence are on the rise, which has never ended with a positive result, and there doesn't seem to be a leader people can look to as an example for tolerance. Things don't look good right now.

Freedom of religion seems to be on few people's lips at the moment, and it is especially missing from the lips of believers. Ironically, it might just be up to non-believers to carry the banner of religious tolerance and offer peaceful leadership while the religious among us fight over which of them can offer something positive to the world and really only offer misery. Because they can't produce peace–which requires tolerance they don't possess–maybe it's our time to shine.

Related articles:

1.       Use of Government Property to Relocate NYC Mosque Raises Serious Legal Questions, Says Americans United

2.      Burning Qur'ans: Don't Hate, Celebrate!

3.      FFRF: Islamic Center not a state/church violation, we're not suing over it


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