Sunday, August 15, 2010

In Support of the Imam

Spending this past weekend in New York, talking to the taxi-wallahs and the museum security-guards and waiters I have realized this: everyone who is not in New York City has a very strong opinion about Cordoba house. To New Yorkers the answer is as simple as it is profound: duh. Of course. What is the debate about? The loudest voices of disapproval stem from places far away from NYC, and from a class of largely bigoted people who want to make voters afraid of Muslims, of foreigners, and then to exploit this fear and skim their votes. It is important to support the building of the Cordoba House for two reasons: first, to oppose it because it is a Muslim institution is to oppose everything that America stands for. Second: to oppose it would be a strategic blunder that would seriously impede America’s security interests.

Let’s face it: the opposition is only from a sliver or the political spectrum and has, as its best predictor, a membership in the GOP. They dislike Muslims and foreigners (except when it comes to sending money to Pakistan, when they are exceedingly generous) and blame them for everything. If Arizona has a copious serving of crime, it is because of immigrants. If the jobs are going abroad, it is those evil Chinese/Indian/Bangladeshi sweatshops; if a Chinese company wants to acquire an American one, it is the evil Communist Chinese government plotting to overthrow America. These politicians look to blame foreigners for everything that they do not understand. Their world view is simple and toxic. They are simply angry at Muslims, but know better than to oppose the construction of Cordoba House on any legal ground. To do so would be legally unjustifiable.

Instead, they have turned, using Twitter, to tell Muslims that it was their fault that a bunch of lunatic people flew planes into the World Trade Center and Pentagon. That by practicing their religion Muslims are celebrating the fall of the Twin Towers. How else can you interpret the following from the WSJ:
But the objection here is not about the right to religious free expression. It is about the prudence—and some would say effrontery—of seeking to build a symbol of Islamic faith at the doorstep of a site where terrorists invoking the name of Islam killed 3,000 Americans.
A logical extension of this would be to denounce the building of any Christian Church anywhere that was affected by the Crusade. It would be to tear down every building built by a white man that condoned slavery. The matter of time—the pain is too raw, Sarah Palin says—is rather silly. Would 100 years be enough? How about 49? How about now? This center is an expression of the best of Islam in America, a symbol of the maturing of Islamic institutions in America, where a place to formally deliberate Islam out in the open is being created. It is spearheaded by an imam who unequivocally condemned the 9/11 attacks just like any other American; an imam who has done more to promote interfaith dialogue than most politicians. Ask Sarah Palin if she knows the difference between a Sunni and a Shiite.

Ostensibly their problem is location. It is two blocks away, but their geographical skills are so weak that commentators are calling this the Ground Zero mosque. Still, what if it was three blocks away? Would that be ok? I suspect that the only way to pacify this would be to build Cordoba House in Saudi Arabia or Iran. The only problem is that it would be of no use to Muslims in NYC. A corollary of this is as follows: by denying Muslims their rights to practice religion, politicians would be fueling that sense of alienation that Muslims in America already feel. It would push Muslim youth into that very alienation which terrorist cells can exploit to recruit American jihadis. An easily accessible space where Muslims can come to debate their religion and discuss questions of identity and solidarity, something this center would encourage, is probably the most damning message America can send to pseudo-Muslim terrorists around the world: we, in America, have a Muslim community that is out and engaged in the civic process; it enjoys civil liberties that people in your countries can scarcely imagine.

There is no reason to oppose this center, and every reason to support it. It is indeed comforting to note that the President and the Mayor of NYC thinks so too. I look forward to the day when a Hindu center would open in America: a center which would encompass a place of worship as well as a place of debate, and which would allow community engagement at the level of the YMCAs. Until then I am content in knowing the people of America continue to embrace the people of the rest of the world, like their founding fathers had intended. 

1 comment:

  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cordoba_House
    Few excerpts which I found noteworthy.
    First -
    "A group of victims' relatives, 9/11 Families for a Safe & Strong America, called the proposal "a gross insult to the memory of those who were killed on that terrible day."[24] Debra Burlingame, a co-founder of the group whose brother died in the attacks, said:

    This is a place which is 600 feet from where almost 3,000 people were torn to pieces by Islamic extremists.... it is incredibly insensitive and audacious ... for them to build a mosque ... so that they could be in proximity to where that atrocity happened... The idea that you would establish a religious institution that embraces the very shariah law that terrorists point to as their justification for what they did ... to build that where almost 3,000 people died, that is an obscenity to me.[38]"
    The hurt expressed by the above statement is very representative of all the next of kin of those victims. Whereas simply changing the venue of the mosque will make no material difference to the Muslim community, the families of the victims and those who fight such extremists will be totally demoralized.

    One more excerpt -
    "Some opponents also criticized its original name, Cordoba, considering it a reference to Islamic conquest because the Christian Spanish city of Córdoba was conquered by the Islamic Moors and became the capital of the Muslim caliphate;"

    It may be a hope that the allocation of this site for the mosque would extend a bridge for the muslims to join mainstream American society . But I find that the threat to security as a consequence of its non allocation very intimidating. Why not some other place ? It is precisely the reason why it should not be allocated. I am not sure that the course of jihadi recruitment will change if the site is not allocated , but if the mosque is built , it will surely be used to illustrate why muslim youth should be joining the jihad movement. It will clearly be used in the Muslim world to illustrate the power of Islam. Such has been the history in India too.

    Sarah Palin has inadequate formal education to provide a proper reasoning. Nor do the taxi wallahs. I personally will not give importance to their communication abilities.

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