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Hear hear: ‘MLK tells us why the mosque must be built’

August 22nd · No Comments · Barack Obama, Bible, Christian, Extremism, Interfaith, Islam, Martin Luther King, Muslim

Stephanie J. Jones, in today’s Washington Post (There are no outsiders among us),  eloquently  voices my argument that at the groundbreaking, dedication and grand opening of  the Cordoba Initiative’s Islamic community center in Manhattan, the 9/11 victims’ survivors should be standing out  front — and in front of them, survivors of the innocent Muslim victims. Let’s send that picture of America around the world — instead of Al Qaeda’s message that they win, because we give only lip service to our Constitution:

Lost in the furor over the proposed Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero is a simple fact: The opposition to the center is the strongest argument in favor of it going right where it is planned. By most accounts, much of the opposition is based on an inaccurate conflation of Islam with terrorism, stemming from ignorance about the Muslim religion, culture and people. While troubling, this is hardly surprising in a nation in which a significant minority of Americans believe that our Christian president is Muslim (and so what if he were?).

Jones, a public affairs and government relations strategist, and former executive director of the National Urban League Policy Institute from 2005 to 2010, is refreshingly clear:

Exiling the center to another part of Manhattan will expand and deepen the gulf between the Islamic community and its neighbors. The best way to bridge this gap is to help people understand that their trepidation is based not in reality but born of a myth that has been cruelly exploited. The Islamic cultural center can help span this chasm.

Of course, it’s not fair to expect a minority community to educate the majority, especially when the majority is so hostile to it. Sadly, minorities have long shouldered the burden of proving to the majority that they pose no threat, that they are not inferior and that they, too, deserve everything the majority takes for granted as its due — while patiently enduring misunderstanding and even abuse. They do all this in the face of demands that they are going too fast, pushing too hard and making life too uncomfortable for others.

That was the case in 1963 when white ministers in Birmingham, Ala., accused Martin Luther King Jr. of exacerbating racial tensions by leading protests against the city’s segregation laws. They called his actions “unwise and untimely.” Dr. King responded with his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” in which he wrote: “Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct-action campaign that was ‘well timed’ in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word ‘Wait!’ It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This ‘Wait’ has almost always meant ‘Never.’ “

Perhaps because I am a longtime professional news journalist, including the world’s longest serving news ombudsman, I have long seen this as a sad media story, as indicated by recent posts. But we should note that some news organizations, having been swiftboated again by the far-right, are trying to catch up. Also from WaPost:

Mosque debate: New Yorkers take dim view of rabble-rousing outsiders

The story even has this from Republican Rep. Peter King:

“When people say it’s a battle between cultures or it’s about the violence in the Koran, I never buy any of that. You can find as much of that in the Old Testament and the New Testament; for me that is not the issue at all.”

Also Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler:

“It’s only a slap in the face if you think that the people in the congregation are responsible for al-Qaeda,” Nadler said as he sat in his office, where outdated posters, some featuring the Twin Towers, hung on the wall.

A staunch defender of Israel, Nadler said that it is logical that he is fighting for the rights of a Muslim congregation that he said he might very well vehemently disagree with. “Jews, of all people, should know that we have to support religious liberty,” he said. “Because if you can block a mosque, you can block a synagogue…

“I tend to think that Sarah Palin probably doesn’t [understand the Constitution],” Nadler said. “I think that Newt Gingrich is a very bright man; he probably understands it, at least intellectually. But he doesn’t agree with it or care about it enough to avoid trashing the Constitution for political advantage.”

With regard to the Cordoba Initiative’s Manhattan community center: Aside from the fact that, as someone noted, we Americans do not want government (much less Palin or Gingrich) dictating whether we can build houses of worship that are properly zoned, the New Yorker’s Hendrik Hertzberg underscored some essential but sadly overlooked elements:

Ah, the “Ground Zero mosque.” Well, for a start, it won’t be at Ground Zero. It’ll be on Park Place, two blocks north of the World Trade Center site (from which it will not be visible), in a neighborhood ajumble with restaurants, shops (electronics, porn, you name it), churches, office cubes, and the rest of the New York mishmash. Park51, as it is to be called, will have a large Islamic “prayer room,” which presumably qualifies as a mosque. But the rest of the building will be devoted to classrooms, an auditorium, galleries, a restaurant, a memorial to the victims of September 11, 2001, and a swimming pool and gym. Its sponsors envision something like the 92nd Street Y—a Y.M.I.A., you might say, open to all, including persons of the C. and H. persuasions.

Or as reported by Ericka Werner:

The group behind the $100 million project, the Cordoba Initiative, describes it as a Muslim-themed community center. Early plans call not only for prayer space but for a swimming pool, culinary school, art studios and other features. Developers envision it as a hub for interfaith interaction, as well as a place for Muslims to bridge some of their faith’s own schisms.

Opponents, including some Sept. 11 victims’ relatives, see the prospect of a mosque so near the destroyed trade center as an insult to the memory of those killed by Islamic terrorists in the 2001 attacks. Some of the Sept. 11 victims’ relatives, however, are in favor.

I suspect that one reason for the opposition from some folks still fighting the Crusades is that the center’s healing & reconciliation premise — indeed its very name — undermines the culture warriors by invoking the spirit of the 800-year period in Cordoba, Spain during which Jews, Christians and Muslims enjoyed unparalleled understanding and cooperation, and thrived together in a way the three Abrahamic faiths have not enjoyed since.

Michael Rowe may have said it best, in his “Thoughts on the ‘Ground Zero Mosque’ and the Better Angels of Our Nature“:

The ugliest part of fear mongering is that the “they” and “them” being referred to are other Americans.

Last, for those who didn’t see, here’s Keith Olbermann. Also, Jon Stewart, nailing it all down better than any news organization yet, here, here and here.

— C.B. Hanif

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