Hani Almadhoun: Koran Burning and Mosque Building Through Muslim Eyes
Park51 is not that big of a deal for the majority of Muslims living outside America. In fact, in a recent poll by Elaph, a popular news website, 58% of respondents said they are for moving the mosque to some other location. Many of the comments on mainstream news sites like Alarabiya recognize the sensitive nature of the site and simply suggested moving the mosque someplace else. I was not surprised by this poll’s findings, as I do not expect my Muslim and Arab peers to fully understand the value and the wisdom of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, a thing that many Americans consider to be sacred.
That’s when I realized this planned Park51 project says a lot about America and little about Islam. This is a question of rights, not taste. What kind of America do we want? Do we want an America that engages in fear mongering using outdated and recycled talking points? Or do we want an America that lives up to its ideals, a land that delivers on its promises? I know I immigrated to the latter America.
The majority of those Arab/Muslim survey takers who support moving the mosque do not see the issue through the American cultural lenses. Instead, they are using their own set of cultural frames. While many in the Muslim community here were open to choosing another location for the mosque, thanks to right-wing rhetoric and politicians with little to offer but incitement, a lot more Muslim Americans are standing firm on this site for Park51.
While the issue of Park51 is about America, the church that plans to burn the Koran is making waves in Muslim countries.
Many Muslim news outlets are reporting this planned event in Gainesville, Florida. The funny thing is, this idea from the Dark Ages of burning texts is coming out of “the Top Tech city in Florida.”
The Pastor is within his constitutional rights to burn any book he chooses. Again, many of my Muslim and Arab peers do not fully comprehend the concept of freedom of speech. Even though the majority of Americans think the Pastor’s actions are idiotic and unwise, there is little one can do to stop him from his planned event. This can easily be viewed as a hate speech, which is not protected under any law. I echo the sentiment in On Liberty (1859) by John Stuart Mill, “The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.”
I think those who might be harmed by the Pastor’s reckless actions include American troops in Muslim countries and Muslims themselves. Arab Christians in Arab countries are also condemning the pastor’s actions so did the Vatican, every US spokesperson and the EU. I debated the Pastor back in July and called him out on calling his day “International Burn a Koran Day.” How can you call it that when it’s not even a statewide event? How can you call it that when the Gainesville Fire Department declared this event is in violation of the city’s fire codes?
Where will he get all those copies of the Koran he plans to burn? I hope he will be spending enough cash to stimulate the local economy, and in the process getting rid of all those badly-translated copies of the Koran.
On a serious note, I wish we Muslims would stop being easily provoked by colorful characters like Pastor Terry Jones and tasteless cartoonists. I think more often than not, we empower those hateful figures and allow them to be in the driver’s seat when their ideas, in fact, belong at the back of the bus. They have the right to do what they do, just like the organizers behind the Park51 project have every right to build their community center.