Muftic: We have a chance to lead by example
Grand County, CO Colorado
Recently there was a flap in New York City heard around the world: a heated controversy about whether to allow the reconstruction of a historic Islamic Center in the neighborhood of the Twin Towers.
The city’s landmarks Preservation Commission voted 9-0 to allow it to proceed, and they had the full backing and support of Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He was courageous since many in Manhattan opposed the location as “a travesty against the 9/11 memories” or similar expressions of outrage. It is time to “screw our courage to the sticking point,” paraphrasing Shakespeare, and speak out, too.
One of the institutions I highly respect is the Anti Defamation League of B’nai B’rith. I am not a Jew but during my activities in the community, whenever I ran across a situation that appeared to be motivated by anti-Semitism, I got ADL involved in resolving the matter. I had witnessed what ethnic hatred wrought with my adult years spent visiting friends and family of my husband’s in the Balkans, and the ethnic cleansing of populations in the 1990s is now a major blot on the history of humanity.
It was not just Hitler who single-handedly caused the Holocaust; it was the post World War I climate of intolerance that was fertile ground for his demagoguery to take root. It was not the Butchers of the Balkans that ethnically cleansed the Muslim minority, but there was a large, popular body of supporters who fed the climate of hatred that made possible the worst mass slaughter since World War II.
It is the climate of society that makes it possible for the messengers of hate to ascend to power.
Since Sept. 11 I have noticed a shift in the climate of our country, and it is disturbing. Haters have always existed, but now they are joined by many fearful of any and all Muslims, with no differentiation of the various shades, loyalties, and beliefs that make up that faith.
What makes the United States different than post WW I Germany or the Balkans is that we have an official position of tolerance and until now, the majority of people in the country have also reflected that value. It has been a basis for moral authority that has been unique. It has been our brand and an example to the rest of the world.
Now it seems it is more socially acceptable to make statements that indict all practitioners of a religion, mixing misinformation and intolerance with politics in a nasty brew of irrational hatred.
Careful. Aside from sustaining moral or ethical values, there is a practical reason to fight intolerance. What goes around comes around. Our moral authority is taking a beating in the world if this climate of intolerance of anyone different from us becomes the dominant mood of the country, because intolerance can come back to bite the intolerant.
It also makes it more difficult to win hearts and minds of those of the same faith as the terrorists we are fighting.
Not mentioned in any of the news reports regarding the New York mosque controversy was that 10,000 signatures in support of the reconstruction at its historic site were gathered and delivered by a Jewish organization, J Street. The group released a statement: “The response by our community to our call to action on this issue was overwhelming and demonstrated that J Street supporters clearly understand that tolerance and religious freedom are not only essential values, but that sacrificing them weakens us in the fight against extremism.”
All of us should also join that chorus and support the climate of tolerance in the America we love.
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