Rev. Bekeh Utietiang: The Islamic Center and the Character of Our Nation
Since the debate on the Islamic center in New York City began, the Islamic religion has been under severe attack in our news media. Islamophobes have used all sorts of derogatory terms to describe Islam. Many, knowing very little about Islam, have become experts who have erroneously dissected Islam to appeal to the fears of Americans. It is a mistake to lump all who oppose the center into one group as some in the liberal left have attempted to do. Those who oppose can be divided into three classes: 1. those who are using this “non-controversy” for political purposes; 2. the evangelical supremacists who use it to advance their narrow salvific vision; 3. those who have genuine fears about Islamic extremism and question what this mosque symbolizes.
It is completely unnecessary to try to debate the first two groups. They have an agenda that is fixed and absolute and nothing can change their positions. What is important to the first group is getting votes in November and handing the Republican Party a majority in Congress. The second group has a narrow view of religion and is convicted that only evangelicals will make heaven. This group’s position is informed by the view that America is an evangelical Christian nation and the country should be governed by the values of evangelical Christianity. Inherent in this position is the belief that anyone who does not conform to this viewpoint is not ‘one of them’ and thus cannot be a patriotic American. To this group, the understanding of America as a melting pot is a country in which everyone is an evangelical Christian. This group is not only a problem to non-Christians, but to other non-evangelical Christians as well. Members have a narrow litmus test for true Christianity that excludes some other mainline Christian churches like the Catholic Church or the Episcopalian church. I have met a few of those who believe my soul is in jeopardy because I belong to a cult religion, the Catholic Church, and as a Catholic, I worship idols. They are clearly ignorant of the Catholic faith and are not open to learn the truth.
The voices of the two groups have dominated the airwaves. Their positions or sound bites are more sensational and our news media loves sensation to keep people watching and to acquire higher ratings. Newt Gingrich’s sound bite equating Islam with the Nazis was looped over and over again on cable, a sound bite that did not deserve any attention and should have been dismissed. When such sound bites are played repeatedly, they begin to create imaginary equivalency in the minds of unsophisticated listeners or viewers who sooner, rather than later will begin to believe that Islam = Nazism. Such comparisons have no place in our public discourse and the media has a responsibility to give them no more legitimacy than they deserve. The people we need to debate are those with legitimate fears about Islam. This group needs to understand that just because a small percentage of Muslims are extremists does not mean that all Muslims are extremists. There are Christian extremists as well and they could be as evil in their own way. We must treat all religions and cultures with respect knowing that wherever we step is Holy Ground, if not for us but for the people who abide there.
The debate over the Islamic center close to ground zero and of the mosques around the country should be taken seriously because the character of our nation is in question. Are we going to be true to our principles as a nation, which gives individuals the freedom to practice whatever religion they so chose? Comparisons between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia or other Islamic countries that do not allow freedom of religion are poor comparisons. It is funny that the same people who are making these comparisons are the ones who always trumpet American exceptionalism. America is no Saudi Arabia. I would not want to live in Saudi Arabia, but I sure would live in the United States because I am sure my rights as a citizen and my fundamental human rights will always be constitutionally protected.