By guest columnist David Schupak. Photograph above.
As an American, comments like Bill O'Reilly's that criticize the founding of the Cordoba House because it is a Muslim center bother me deeply. Beyond defenses that focus on the legality of building the center and the technicality of whether it is a mosque, it seems wrong that, in a society that supposedly prides itself on being open, democratic and accepting of many different cultural groups, so many people are blatantly associating Muslims with terrorism.
I do believe that Imam Rauf should have made more of an effort to reach out to the families of 9/11 victims. He could not have been blind to the significance of the Cordoba House being built two blocks from Ground Zero and the planners could not have been ignorant of the emotions that would be stirred with this plan. Regardless of anyone's intentions, there should have been an effort to reach out to those injured in the attacks on the Twin Towers and the families of those killed.
What bothers me is that many people across the country with little connection to the attacks are insulted simply because something Muslim is being placed on a symbol of an attack against the US by Muslims. This is a shallow association based on elementary semantics and a tenuous understanding of major religions. Islam, like Christianity and most other major religions, has a diverse number of followers who run the ideological gamut. Just as it is unfair to hold peaceful Christians responsible for the actions of Christians who bomb abortion clinics or murder homosexuals, it is unfair to judge or impede the legal actions of peaceful Muslim-Americans because of attacks by radicals they do not support.
Worse, the vitriol in this debate shows that we are once again failing to accept the presence of a new cultural group. Otherwise, there would not be as violent a reaction toward members of a group going about their normal business because that group's violent fringe committed atrocities. This is almost definitely alienating some Muslims and strengthening our enemies in Muslim communities because they are not blind to the fact that they are being grouped with Islamic terrorists. What the opposition is accomplishing is to reinforce the idea that Muslims are seen as removed from the American mainstream and therefore separate.
Muslims are coming to America just as the Italians, the Japanese, the Indians, and every other cultural group did before them. So take this opportunity to better understand the growing segment of the population that is Muslims. Be open to learning about their religion. Most importantly, understand that every group has a radical fringe of which it is not proud and does not control, even Muslims.