We have abundant reason to rejoice that in this Land the light of truth and reason has triumphed over the power of bigotry and superstition. In this enlightened Age and in this Land of equal liberty it is our boast, that a man’s religious tenets will not forfeit the protection of the Laws. . . . – President George Washington, January 27, 1793.
Some opposition comes from the likes of extremists and blowhards, such as the former head of the Tea Party Express, Mark Williams, who referred to Allah as a “monkey God” (he later apologized), and Ed Rodgers, author of Islam and the Last Days, who hallucinates that President Obama is a Muslim who secretly supports Islam’s goal of world domination. Rodgers absurdly argues that those who support building a mosque near the site of Ground Zero are committing treason. As far as I can tell, Rodgers’ religious illiteracy, unfortunately, is shared by millions of Americans and this ignorance is exploited for political gain by the likes of Palin, Gingrich, and Tennessee’s lieutenant governor, Ron Ramsey, who has suggested that Muslim Americans do not have a constitutionally protected right to worship in the United States, because Islam, in his view, is a cult, not a religion.
That most of the opposition to the proposed Islamic Center is based on Islamophobia -- namely, hostility and fear of Muslims generally -- is confirmed by protests in other parts of the United States. In Murfreesboro, Tennessee, for example, hundreds of protesters, urged on by Ramsey and other Republican candidates, are fighting plans for a large Muslim center near a residential subdivision, not exactly the “sacred ground” of the 9/11 attacks. In Temecula, California, a local Tea Party group picketed Friday prayers at a mosque that plans to build a new worship center on a vacant lot nearby. In an attempt to offend the prayerful worshipers, some protestors brought dogs with them, because Islam considers dogs ritually unclean. And in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, some so-called “Christian” ministers have been leading a fight to prevent a mosque from opening in a former health food store that had been purchased by a Muslim doctor.
Even worse is the ADL’s short-sightedness. As Fareed Zakaria recently explained after returning a humanitarian award received five years ago from the ADL, “If there is going to be a reformist movement in Islam, it is going to emerge from places like the proposed institute. We should be encouraging groups like the one behind this project, not demonizing them. Were this mosque being built in a foreign city, chances are that the U.S. government would be funding it.” A two-year study of the relationship between American Muslims and terrorism, conducted by Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy and the University of North Carolina, found that contemporary mosques act as a deterrent to the spread of militant Islam and terrorism, and that many leaders of American mosques put great effort into countering extremism by building youth programs, sponsoring anti-violence programs, and scrutinizing teachers and texts. The Islamic Community Center and mosque planned for 51 Park Place would include a 500-seat auditorium, a swimming pool, art exhibition spaces, bookstores, restaurants, and a range of programs modeled on the YMCA and the Jewish Community Center of Manhattan. As a broad-based attempt to give voice to moderate Islam, its proximity to Ground Zero is its strength – a symbol of American religious freedom to counter the intolerant extremism that victimized Americans on 9/11.