What began as a local issue in New York about a push to build a mosque near ground zero is shaping up to be a major issue in the lead up to the mid-term elections in November. More so following President Obama’s intervention in the debate in which he expressed his personal opinion backed by the Constitution that guarantees freedom of religion at a White House dinner with Muslim leaders supporting the building of the controversial mosque.
At issue is the fact that the mosque will be built close to the sight of the unfortunate and cruel event of Sept. 11, 2001, when 3000 lives were destroyed by terrorists who used Islam to justify their inhumane acts.
Republicans are using the New York mosque fight like an Easter gift to show that Democrats and President Obama’s administration are too soft on national security issues. Even though the evidence to suggest that could be unfounded, an emotional issue such as Ground Zero — considering the families of those whose lives were lost there — have the potential to turn the tide against Democrats in the elections.
But beyond the mosque question lies the challenge for moderate Muslims to counter the extremists and those who want to hijack Islam for their own gain.
The war within Islam is a battle between moderates and the fanatics, and the moderates should not allow the fanatics to drown out their voices.
President Obama reached out to the Muslim world in a historic speech in Cairo last year which was vilified by his opponents.
“We meet at a time of tension between the United States and Muslims around the world — tension rooted in historical forces that go beyond any current policy debate,” the President said.
“The relationship between Islam and the West includes centuries of co-existence and cooperation, but also conflict and religious wars. More recently, tension has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims, and a Cold War in which Muslim-majority countries were too often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations.
“Moreover, the sweeping change brought by modernity and globalization led many Muslims to view the West as hostile to the traditions of Islam.”
Obama continued, “Violent extremists have exploited these tensions in a small but potent minority of Muslims. The attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 and the continued efforts of these extremists to engage in violence against civilians has led some in my country to view Islam as inevitably hostile not only to America and Western countries, but also to human rights. This has bred more fear and mistrust.”
Obama went on to say he was seeking a new beginning between the United States and the Muslim world, one “based upon mutual interest and mutual respect, and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap and share common principles — principles of justice and progress, tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.”
In an era of the echo-chamber, justice and equality can easily be lost, and what is constitutionally guaranteed can be denied because too often demagogues are feeding our frustrated minds with insanity.
Extremism of any kind from any religion should be condemned in the strongest terms. We cannot allow those who want to exploit the power of religion to have free reign. Freedom of religion should not even be a debate in 2010. Our freedom quickly ends if we allow demagogues to begin to severely alter the limits of that freedom.
The United States remains one of the most cherished and admired democracies in the world, unlike some places in the Middle East, Africa and others where freedom of religion is at the beck and call of the powerful.
Denying the building of a mosque in New York means allowing extremists to win the ideological battle. That is the reaction they want, that the United States hates Islam and believe that Islam is a violent religion.
A church in Florida has planned to burn several Korans (the Islamic holy book) on Sept. 11, an apparent exploitive measure to promote itself as Christian fundamentalists. But the danger is that this kind of behavior, by Pastor Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center, indirectly empowers the extremists to justify their evil acts. Other Christian leaders should condemn this kind of act as a dangerous precedent that threatens religious freedom and tolerance.
But soon, Pastor Jones will be the face of the new religious right, walking around with some kind of a concocted prophetic unction to endorse candidates running on an extreme religious right platform. The Joneses of the world should not be allowed to hijack Jesus Christ in this kind of ego exercise and blatant disregard for religious tolerance.
In the Middle Ages the Roman Catholic Church went through all kinds of reformations that gave birth to different denominations, and eventually the church reformed from within. In the wake of the abuse of children by priests in the Roman Catholic Church, the challenge on the church was to reform itself, because angry people speaking out.
Moderates within Islam draw a distinction between fanatics and the real tenets of Islam. The issue is how moderates present Islam with a different identity, unlike the one that the extremists have created. People of goodwill cannot relent. Rather, they should intensify their efforts to change the image that is being created by fundamentalists which could easily be misconstrued as representative of Islam.
The Obama speech in Cairo empowered the moderates even though it came at a political cost.
THIS WEEK on “Center Stage With Bankole Thompson” — Rev. Jesse Jackson talks about the Aug. 28 march in Detroit for jobs to commemorate the anniversary of the historic March on Washington, led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The show will air on Saturday, Aug. 21, 1 p.m., on WADL TV38, Comcast Channel 4.