Zahra Khan: The Potpourri Resolution for a Ground Zero Mosque
Several million Muslims live in the US, including a large number in New York City. The vast majority of Muslims refuse to buy into a media scripted xenophobic image of Muslims as terrorists. Certainly, there are criminals of Muslim descent, just as there are criminals of Christian descent, or any other group for that matter. In the aftermath of the Oklahoma City federal building bombing, no one would have questioned the right to hold Christian prayer services near that site, despite the fact that Timothy McVeigh was of a Caucasian and Christian background. His Christian roots were deemed irrelevant to his crimes.
Similarly, Muslims do not feel connected to the terrorists of the September 11 tragedy, and should feel no remorse in building a mosque near ground zero. Indeed Muslims also perished as workers in the WTC towers and as innocent passengers on hijacked airplanes. These victims deserve a monument in their names too. The purported terrorists on 9/11 were Saudi nationals, working for a man, Osama bin Laden, whose political views were so extreme that he had to abandon his own country to hide in a cave in the lawless lands of Afghanistan.
In that region, he was able to develop a quick following amongst some local Taliban, who resented US abandonment of their war ravaged nation which had faithfully served earlier US interests during the crucial cold-war era. Famine, poverty, instability, and anarchy were the results of that abandonment at a time of Afghanistan’s greatest infrastructural need. The Taliban mentality became angry at having been “chewed-up and spit-out.” The Taliban’s alignment with Osama bin Laden was at its fundamental core political, not religious. Hence, the attacks on the WTC were seen by a great majority of the world, barring the Western media, as an extreme criminal reaction to US foreign policy consequences abroad.
However, the Western media, together with the government, manipulated the 9/11 tragedy by using it as an opportunity to propagate public hate not against plain “terrorism,” but against “Muslim terrorism.” The Bush Administration developed a National Strategy Security document stating that “the struggle against militant Islamic radicalism is the great ideological conflict of the early years of the 21st century.” This philosophy became the crux of the Bush doctrine, which supported pre-emptive war, leading to an invasion of the largely Muslim nation of Iraq on the false proposition that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
U.S. public support for this action was easily bolstered by a media that supposedly acted as an independent watchdog, even as other global communities believed from the outset that the underlying attack in Iraq was for oil, not the WMDs that the UN clearly determined to be non-existent. Only later when no WMDs were ever found, US media sources began to acknowledge the lack of critical reporting on their part in numerous mea culpas, an example of which included Washington Post’s Bob Woodward statement that “We did our job but we didn’t do enough, and I blame myself mightily for not pushing harder…We should have warned readers we had information that the basis for this was shakier.”
Yet, the Bush-era anti-Islamic bullying had far reaching consequences for not only Muslims all over the world, but also for all Muslims locally, who became easy targets for racist taunts. Islam is a religion, not a race, but the majority of six million modern day adherents in the US are primarily ethnic persons, of many diverse backgrounds. Yet, together they form a vulnerable racial minority before a prejudiced media that uses religious misnomers like “Islamic terrorist” to garner public support for attacking adherents to Islam, a word that literally means “Peace.”
Ironically, hating Islam means hating peace. Peace is the antithesis of terrorism, and therefore practicing Muslims are only too proud to have a mosque constructed near ground zero. American Muslims are proud of being American because the US constitution is essentially a document with Judeo-Christian-Islamic roots. Islamic? Yes, because Islamic roots are synonymous with Judeo-Christian roots. The only God worshipped in Islam is the same God referred to as “father” by the Christians, although Muslims do not attribute any gender to God. The Holy Quran, the book followed by Muslims (analogous to the Holy Bible for Christians) is meant to correctly repeat all relevant parts of God’s former holy books, including the Old and New Testament, while completing final guidance on a message of peace, the ultimate form of love for humanity. Accordingly, the Quran and the Bible are more similar than different.
The Quran is deeply steeped in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Hating Muslims is the equivalent of hating that tradition, which when practiced correctly, respects diversity. American Muslims represent the most ethnically diverse group in the US, with immigrant roots from numerous nations, including Africa, which was ransacked for slaves hundreds of years earlier at a time when this nation was openly racist. Those mostly Muslim slaves were terrorized by their masters to abandon Islam. Today’s mosques in this country are a testament to the rich fabric of this immigrant nation that has progressed so remarkably in its struggle against racism.
The controversy about building a mosque near ground zero defines one major culprit: the racist media, which has used a propaganda campaign against Muslims to falsely comingle the peace loving values of Islam with un-Islamic acts of terrorism. Both the Muslim and the non-Muslim public is a victim of this misinformation, something President Obama has tried to redress. His team has been working to reverse the incendiary anti-Islamic language of the National Security Documents sanctioned by President Bush. Most importantly, last night at a White House iftar dinner for Muslims, President Obama publicly explained to our nation that “Al-Qaida’s cause is not Islam …. These are not religious leaders… they’re terrorists …. In fact, al-Qaida has killed more Muslims than people of any other religion…and that list of victims includes innocent Muslims who were killed on 9/11.”
Endorsing the Ground Zero mosque, President Obama has transcended the current anti-Islamic hysteria by reminding our country that respecting diversity is a core constitutional value shared by the American public, Muslim and non-Muslim alike. This value allows everyone in our nation to live peacefully together, while respecting each person’s individuality. In essence, we are not supposed to become a melting pot, but rather a potpourri, in which diverse elements retain their characteristics to collectively produce the scent of liberty.