Opinion

Religious differences and
Ground Zero tolerance

Tolerance comes from understanding. Ignorance leads to fear, prejudice, and hatred. That’s why everything got twisted in Lower Manhattan by those who don’t know about the proposed Park51 center.

 Many religious leaders, including Jewish and Christians (some of who are board members of Park51), community members, city officials and even families of 9/11 victims who have been following the center’s process and understand its mission, do not see any problem — thus it received unanimous approval from New York City community board committee. Those who oppose the center do not really care about its true story.

Even after important facts have been revealed, some people stubbornly call this proposed community center (with a prayer room for Muslims) open to all, located over two blocks away from the northern edge of ex-WTC building as the “Ground Zero mosque”.

Why? Listen to how ridiculous their “six degrees of association” theory is in speculating about the man behind the project, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf’s possible ties to radical Muslims, despite the lack of evidence whatsoever as well as his 27 years dedication in promoting peaceful Islam in the city — in fact in the same neighborhood. Why are they so eager to investigate the financial source of the center even before the fundraising has started?

It is all hatred out of ignorance and prejudice.  

Nothing is right about the “Ground Zero mosque” fabricated controversy, but cheap politicians and bigots need only loud jargon and dark provocation to stir public emotion.  

Thus we heard all sorts of opposition and accusation. “Stop Islamization of America” (SIOA) of Pamela Geller — a longtime anti-Muslim blogger who believed that Barack Obama was indeed an illegitimate son of Malcom X, the “Nazis comparison” of Newt Gingrich, the “terrorist command center” of Dick Morris, the “stab in the heart” and “an intolerable mistake on hallowed ground” (with Pussycat Lounge strip club and New York Doll Gentleman’s club in the same neighborhood) of Sarah Palin and the “kill the Ground Zero mosque” TV ad of National Republican Trust PAC.  

Even worse, this is abetted by the Anti Defamation League (that has made Fareed Zakaria return his ADL award as a protest), the pseudo intellectual Sam Harris and others. Surely Fox News and the News Corp. Empire belong to Rupert Murdoch, a neo con media billionaire, excitedly glorify the controversy to its zenith.  


“Don’t let bigots use Ground Zero to exercise zero tolerance on others and create a world full of prejudice and hatred.”

Fortunately, joining Mayor Michael Bloomberg and President Obama, more and more people are learning that everything is completely bogus.

People don’t need to sign up for graduate class on Islam to know that, much like Halakha in Judaism, sharia is understood by most Muslims as the Islamic principle on how to practice the faith in daily life, for example, how to pray five times a day and how to fast during Ramadan. Islamization of America?

Even in Indonesia, the largest Muslim country with more than 230 million Muslims, the idea of state-a sponsored implementation of sharia is rejected by majority Muslims on its face.

Anti-Islamists, however, want to hear only what they want to hear. Facts are not real except when they serve their prejudice. Muslims who don’t share the jihadist stance on sharia are categorized as either “not part of mainstream” or even non-existent.

That is why they just do not care about what Imam Abdul Rauf and his people have done through interfaith work and building mutual understanding between the US and Muslim world, including many trips sponsored by the US Department of State since the Bush administration.  

We should better learn from the Alfred Dreyfus Affair in 1894. Those bigots really don’t care whether they speak the truth or whether the truth will soon turn their head upside down. They just want to make their case, motivated by prejudice and hatred for their own short-term political gains.

Let Jerry Jones and his followers burn the Koran on 9/11 — can he really differentiate between the Koran and other Arabic texts? Let Flip Benham, Pat Robertson and other Islamophobists accuse all Muslims as evil people. Bigots like them are everywhere and yes, there are even more in the Muslim world, each and all of who are useless. Every people of conscience should speak up against them and not be misdirected.

Perhaps, the only almost plausible reason of the anti-mosque group is the sensitivity argument.

However, this is acceptable only if we assume that the small group of al-Qaeda individuals is identical with more than one billion Muslims. That all Muslims are somehow collectively guilty for 9/11.

That the feeling of Muslim families of 9/11 victims does not count. That freedom of religion is negotiable to the manipulated feeling of the majority.

But where in the world would any sane people share that idea? Or, do Americans want to repeat the dark story of Jews, Catholics and African-Americans from the previous centuries?

Also, why does the US bother to make so much effort and build allies with the Muslim world in fighting the war on terror if all Muslims are evil? Even George W. Bush, strange as it is, now looks too liberal.

Certainly, the wounded hearts and memories of the families of 9/11 victims (including Muslims) should be highly respected and not be played with. It is certainly insensitive to play with the deep emotions and trauma around the 9/11 tragedy for the sake of your own hidden agenda.

Whether American politicians will get or lose their vote in the coming election, the world is looking forward very much to the end of this controversy. The result will not only speak for the future of freedom of religion in the US, but also around the globe.

If we let neo cons win the game and the proposed Park51 center is either shut down or involuntarily pushed farther away for some people’s “convenience”, the Muslim world will see “anti-Islam America” on display. The radicals on both sides will dance in joy and are ready for the awaited Armageddon.

If on the other hand, once again, Americans can set an example on how to guard the principle of freedom of religion and let Muslims fully practice their faith, the success will be an excellent inspiration and encouragement for the Muslim world and others on how to treat minorities fairly.

Don’t let bigots use Ground Zero to exercise zero tolerance on others and create a world full of prejudice and hatred.

Ground Zero is a monument. A memorial to tragedy, strength and hope for a better world for all.


The writer is president of the Nahdlatul Ulama Community in North America.

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