Wayne Besen: Why I Support the Muslim Center in New York
The 9/11 hijackers were jihadists who crashed airplanes into the World Trade Center because of their religious beliefs. In Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan and other countries, women are treated worse than pets at an animal shelter. And in Afghanistan on Sunday, the Taliban ordered a couple stoned to death after they eloped. Clearly, these are not nice people, and anyone promoting such barbarism should be vehemently opposed.
If anyone from this aforementioned crowd of terrorists and tyrants tried to open a mosque next to Ground Zero in New York City, I would understand the heated opposition. If extremist sympathizers pledged to erect a monument celebrating 9/11, I’d say they should be turned down. I also would not support in this space an intolerant Saudi Arabian-backed Wahhabi Madrassa that trashed America.
However, the group behind the controversial Islamic community center has no connection to terrorism and nothing in common with radical extremists. They have gone out of their way to explain the project and mollify fears. The center represents an olive branch to other faiths and hopes to promote a peaceful brand of Islam.
Indeed, the project’s imam hails from the moderate Islamic sect of Sufism, which is widely despised by America’s jihadist enemies. They hate this form of Islam so much that fundamentalists have intimidated many of its followers and attacked its shrines in the Middle East and Southeast Asia.
In regard to this mosque, Islamophobia is real and being spewed by frightened people who probably think Ramadan is a dinosaur in the movie Jurassic Park. Opponents of the building are asking questions but purposely not listening to the answers, which would have assuaged their concerns. They are intentionally painting all forms of Islam with a broad paintbrush and failing to differentiate what each sect actually teaches its followers.
Memo to protesters: Osama bin Ladin does not represent all of Islam any more than Rev. Pat Robertson is a spokesman for all of Christendom. Don’t you get it?
Predictably, much of the overheated political rhetoric is coming from politicians, such as Newt Gingrich, who is exploiting this issue in his early audition for the 2012 presidential race. “Nazis don’t have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust Museum in Washington,” said the former House Speaker. “There’s no reason for us to accept a mosque next to the World Trade Center.”
Well, there is one good reason: The United States Constitution promises freedom of religion. Furthermore, Gingrich’s loaded example is an emotionally charged non sequitur. The Nazis killed six million Jews. Obviously the goal of a sign denying this tragedy would be to explicitly antagonize Jewish people. It is insulting and unconscionable to compare such butchers to a group of liberal-minded, peaceful Muslims who want to build a center with a swimming pool, performing arts center and include board members of other faiths.
Quite frankly, Gingrich sounds more like a radical Mullah than the promoters of the Islamic center. For instance, the former House Speaker has proclaimed that America’s woes are the result of “a secular assault on God.”
Would Gingrich prefer a non-secular, Christian version of Iran in the United States? The genuine threat we face is not radical Islam but religious extremism of all stripes, including that preached by Gingrich.
Those who are mindlessly attacking this mosque are doing exactly the opposite of what should be done to stop terrorism. When we bash moderate Muslims, we alienate youth and make them more susceptible to online jihadist recruiters. These extremists can say, “See, no matter how mainstream your religion is, it will be rejected. Fight back against such humiliation by joining our group.”
Building this mosque will also play well internationally where we are already spending millions of dollars to win over skeptical Muslims. Most people will likely see this as a monument to America’s religious pluralism and our would-be detractors might think, “Wow, this is a great nation and this is what true freedom looks like.”
Finally, one cannot help but notice how anti-gay activists are trying desperately to link gay people to this controversy. One way is to claim that marriage equality will break down all morality and lead to Muslim harems in the U.S. Another tactic is to corner liberals and force them to choose between gay rights and religious freedom by saying, “Let’s test the Muslims by building an Islamic gay bar next door to this community center.”
Let’s not forget that in order to conquer, our homegrown extremists must first divide. It is obvious that they are capitalizing on this issue to gain power. It is up to us not to let them get away with this cynical political, election-year ploy.