The year 2010 is the bloodiest yet for the American military since they invaded Afghanistan in 2001. At least 321 American soldiers have been reported killed so far.
In Gainsville, Florida, the Dove World Outreach Centre plans to burn Qurans on church grounds to mark the ninth anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks. This prompted General David Petraeus, commander of the U.S. forces in Afghanistan to condemn the church’s plans to burn Qurans, warning it could endanger troops in Afghanistan.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, General Petraeus said: “It is precisely the kind of action the Taliban uses and could cause significant problems. Not just here, but everywhere in the world we are engaged with the Islamic community."
The plan to burn Islam’s holy book is not an isolated incident but appears part of a pattern across America to vilify Muslims around the world and portray them as evil. Where has religious tolerance gone? Or the constitutional right to practise one’s religious belief?
It all started when passions across the religious divide flew all over the place concerning the building of an Islamic cultural centre and mosque two blocks from Ground Zero in New York. This was followed by the heated debates between those in favour and against the proposed building or expansion of mosques in California and Tennessee.
The controversy caused by the opposition to the New York Islamic Centre near Ground Zero shows how much America misunderstands Islam, that even those who are not particularly anti-Muslim would think it would be in bad taste or offensive to the victims of the 9/11 attacks. Because implicit in all the anger and hostility in this Muslim hysteria is that 9/11 was a religious act. That it was an act by Muslims attacking infidels.
If it were a religious act, one still wonders why the Muslims who hijacked the four airliners chose the targets they picked. They could have flown the planes into packed football or baseball stadiums in the midwest or south if all they wanted was to kill thousands of American infidels. Not the Pentagon or the financial centre of downtown Manhattan. They were attacking symbols of U.S. military might and imperialism. It was clearly not a religious act, but a political act.
As one observer of the hatred of Americans by Muslims said: “It was revenge for decades of American political and military abuse in the Middle East. It works the same all over the world. In the period of the 1950s to the 1980s in Latin America, in response to continuous hateful policies of Washington, there were countless acts of terrorism against American diplomatic and military targets as well as the offices of US corporations; nothing to do with religion.”
Somehow, America and its leaders have to learn that their country is not exempt from history, that their actions have consequences. When America carpet-bombed Iraq and Afghanistan, killing thousands and injuring hundreds of thousands of people, including innocent women and children, such action has tragic ramifications to the citizens of the United States. Internal security has to be beefed up and always on alert that retaliatory attacks are imminent. America reaps what it sows: the wars it wages beget wars against its own people.
Islamic Centre Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who is also an American, said that the dispute over a piece of real estate in lower Manhattan “has expanded beyond a piece of real estate and expanded to Islam in America and what it means for America.” The imam hinted that the fierce opposition to the planned mosque and community centre could have serious and disturbing consequences to the minds of many Muslim believers in America. Foremost among them is what their place in American political and civic life is.
During the late 19th century, the forces of religious division in America targeted Roman Catholics, branding them as “alien Romanist” who swore allegiance to the pope in Rome rather than the country. Catholics were pilloried for their rejection of fundamental American values such as freedom of the press and religion.
Hate organizations and conspiracy theories about Jewish influence spread like wildfire in the early part of the 20th century. The Jews were the new target of religious division in America. Anti-Semitic diehards rallied in Madison Square Garden in 1939 against Jews with banners that read: “Stop Jewish Domination of America.”
Reminiscent of the persecution of Catholics and Jews in previous eras, the forces of religious division in America have now turned their hostility towards Muslims in America and everywhere. Mosques and Muslim community centres are being vociferously opposed from New York to Tennessee to California. Tennessee’s Lieutenant Governor even went on the record stating that Islam could be a cult and not a religion; therefore, constitutional guarantees to religious freedom might not apply to Muslims.
Eboo Patel, founder and director of Interfaith Youth Core, a Chicago-based community service program that tries to reduce religious conflict, aptly summed up the arguments advanced against Muslims today as follows:
• The tenets of Islam are opposed to the values of America.
• Muslims have undue influence with American elites.
• Muslim integration into America is a veiled Islamic invasion.
These charges were the very same arguments levelled against Catholics and Jews before. Patel argued that while the forces of religious division have always been alive in America, this division has never defined America. The core principle of America is that people can live together in unity.
This year, September 11 coincides with the celebration of the finale to Ramadan. In this present climate of Muslim hysteria, Muslims in America want to avoid appearing as if they are celebrating on September 11. Instead, major Muslim organizations have urged mosques and their members to use the day to participate in commemoration events and community service.
The present forces of religious division in America could be likened to the crusades waged by Western Christian Europe over a period of nearly 200 years, between 1095 and 1291. Recapturing Jerusalem and the Holy Land from Muslim rule was the original goal of the crusades, but those who participated in the crusades used them as an outlet for extreme religious piety. Just like what the Christian Right and fundamentalist Christians in America are doing in inflaming resentment against Muslims. Even U.S. President Barack Obama is being accused as a Muslim, as if a Muslim believer is an enemy of the state.
It is tragic that September 11 will be remembered this year with growing animosity against Muslims. The sad part is not because those who attacked the Twin Towers professed their faith in Islam, but because the tragedy of September 11 and the hopes for interfaith dialogue have been ambushed and manipulated by certain groups that want to exploit ignorance, prejudice and fear in pursuit of a political goal.
Peter Clothier, author and blogger of The Buddha Diaries wrote: “Americans have taken leave of their senses, that they have abandoned their fine principles to ill-thought, knee-jerk reaction to political rhetoric, manipulation and transparent lies….. if there are victors in this, it will be those who sought to destroy the best about this country on that dreadful September 11, 2001, not those who seek to preserve and protect its ideals from the assaults within.”