Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Muslims in America--What Happened to Civility?

On this ninth anniversary of 9/11, let me extend my sincere condolences to all those who lost friends or family members on that terrible day. I honor your grief and continue to condemn the senseless violence which took your loved ones from you.

In light of recent controversies, and indeed events now ongoing elsewhere in the country, I'd like to share a few thoughts. It is my hope to participate civilly in a conversation that has at times become uncivil, but which I believe it is vitally important that we Americans continue to have.

I was glad to hear that the organizers of International Burn a Koran Day changed their minds and chose not to burn scriptures. It's not that I was horrified that someone might defile my holy book; they weren't about to hurt the Quran, or Islam, or Muslims. No matter who burns a few books, the Quran will still be out there in the world, on people's bookshelves and in people's hearts. Muslims will still be out there in the world. Islam will still be the beautiful and peaceable faith my family and I practice. The organizers of International Burn a Koran Day might have been hurting themselves, but they certainly weren't about to hurt Islam.

That said, in light of the threatened reprisals against Americans overseas, I am relieved that the hateful and divisive event has been called off.

I am, however, deeply disturbed about the atmosphere of hatred in which this controversy has occurred; and I could not disagree more with those who have equated plans to burn Qurans with plans to build an Islamic community center in the neighborhood of Ground Zero. Whether those drawing that false parallel are former governors of Alaska, current leaders in Congress, or imams in Florida, they are mistaken.

There is simply no equivalence. Proceeding with Park 51 at its planned location is controversial, to be sure. Reasonable people have different opinions about it, and while I think the case for proceeding with the project is stronger than the case against, there is room for reasonable people to come together and discuss the matter in a reasonable way. Burning a holy book, by contrast, is an act of bald-faced hate. There is no room for discussion here, no room for reasonable people to disagree. It is an act which intentionally throws civility and the spirit of American pluralism out the window.

In the past nine years, Americans have been asked again and again whether Muslims are truly welcome to worship freely and live as neighbors and citizens in this country. In recent years, particularly since the election of a president many still erroneously believe to be Muslim, too many have answered in the negative. If the United States is to continue to be a place where people from all over the world come to escape religious persecution, if it is to continue to be a place where we may not agree with our neighbors but will always speak up when their freedoms are threatened, if indeed the democracy which was assaulted nine years ago today is to continue to thrive, then my fellow citizens will have to reconsider that answer.

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