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Omid Memarian Headshot

To Build or Not To Build: American Muslims, the Rise of Bigotry and Religious Intolerance

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I recall a Muslim friend of mine once asking me what I thought of the United States? I responded that the US is the kind of country which after living there for only a few years, you could grow to love it in such a way that you could sacrifice your life for it. Today, the Quran burning phenomena and anti-Mosque movement has made a mockery of that image. How can we expect this episode and the intolerance around it to not translate into a growing sentiment of "Islamophobia" and violations of American Muslims' First Amendment rights? How can it not result in discrimination and radicalism at home?

It's disturbing that, beyond the surface of public debates, Pastor Jones and those who are opposed to the building of a mosque near Ground Zero both see Islam and Muslims behind the 9/11 tragedy or somehow responsible for it.

Quran burners and anti-Mosque supporters are basically punishing American Muslims for what they have nothing to do with. These two groups, one with just 50 and the other with probably with thousands supporters, are feeding the same narrative that Al-Qaeda has been trying to establish over the past ten years; that it was not just a small radical group behind the 9/11 attacks but the whole of the Muslim community, and Islam itself, condoned it. Those who are against building the Mosque and Quran burners basically magnify what radicals claim outside US borders.

Neither Americans here, including American Muslims, nor Americans abroad, including US soldiers across the Middle East, benefit from this false narrative.

Just as many Americans hope that Pastor Jones is not viewed as representative of the great nation of America, American Muslims do not wish to be equated with Al Qaeda operatives and 9/11. Building a cultural center a few block from Ground Zero in no way harms the country, the families of 9/11 victims or non-Muslims in New York. Therefore, preventing a mosque from being built seems irrational and insensitive.

The idea that some of the family members of 9/11 victims believe that it was not just Al-Qaeda but Islam which was behind the attack is, itself, an indication of the poor job the US government has done to put that tragic event in its proper context. The mainstream media has irrefutably played a role in perpetuating such a portrait. The families of the victims have every right to be angry and upset, but angry at whom? Is it right to punish American Muslims because of what a group of Al-Qaeda members did on 9/11? Didn't the majority of American Muslims and millions of Muslims around the world condemn the attacks? Does it make sense for opponents of the mosque to ignore the voice of the majority, the majority of Muslims that are the US's most reliable ally in it's war against extremism and terrorism?

Negative stereotyping and mischaracterization of American Muslims can have grave foreign policy implications for the Obama administration as well, which is conducing a multifaceted war with Muslim extremists and working to secure a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians.

The effect of actions taken in the United States transcends its borders. The last thing the United States and the American people need is to be perceived as a nation that is hateful and intolerant of Muslims - traits contrary to American values of freedom and democracy US soldiers defend abroad.

For those Americans who have traveled abroad, and particularly those who have traveled to the Middle East, it shouldn't be difficult to see how the recent emergence of fierce intolerance of the Islamic faith can contribute to religious-based hatred, increased polarization around religious lines, the endangerment of US national security, and most importantly, damage to the fundamental values this nation was built on.

The dilemma of whether to build or not to build a place for New York's Muslims to pray is simply discriminatory and contradictory to the core values of this nation. Those in the United Stated who fuel the fire and encourage bigotry and intolerance pave the way for others to view Americans the same way. It's a lose-lose fight.