A couple news stories have come out lately that have really annoyed me. People’s aversion to Islam and Muslims is really appalling, especially in a nation that is supposed to be a beacon of democracy and a nation of immigrants. I know that other nations are struggling with anti-Islam sentiments as well, especially in European countries with high levels of Muslim immigrants. However, I’m an American and so, am particularly peeved at what is going on here in the U.S.
A recent article in the Economist reported on the city of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, where locals are protesting the building of a mosque. Signs announcing the construction have been vandalized, local “leaders” such as congressional candidates and pastors have been outspoken about the negative impact of the mosque, and construction equipment at the site has been set on fire.
Now, three of the residents have brought a lawsuit to block construction of the mosque, citing that they “have been and will be irreparably harmed by the risk of terrorism generated by proselytising for Islam and inciting the practices of sharia law.”
First, in typical religious zealousness, the pastor forgets the principles of his own religion. What happened to love thy neighbor? Or the general human practices of acceptance, tolerance and understanding. Or just not being ignorant. Instead the pastor guides his flock by inciting hatred, suspicion and bigotry by pronouncing, “We have a duty to investigate anyone under the banner of Islam.” Please.
Are there extremists who practice Islam and may in fact either truly believe they are living by the Qur’an or use Islam as lightning rod for gathering followers and a cover for their true, non-religious motives? Of course there are. Very few would deny this. However, there are extremists in virtually EVERY religion. There are people who hide under a veil of religion to achieve non-religious goals. There are people that truly believe that their atrocious acts are what devout followers of X religion should do. This is not unique to Islam. Christians do this. Hindus do this. There was the 1995 Sarin gas attack on Tokyo carried out by the religious group Aum Shinrikyo. The Westboro Baptist Church protests military funerals proclaiming that those deaths were god’s punishment for our tolerance of homosexuals. It goes on and on.
What is completely ridiculous, and really just adds to the problem, is assuming that anyone practicing Islam is a terrorist. Islam and Terrorism are not synonyms. Some Muslims are terrorists, but MOST are not. Innocent until proven guilty is how our justice system is supposed to work and as a personal value, I always try to belive the best in people and look for the positive. This is not to say that we should all walk around wearing rose-colored glasses in a constant state of naive, delusional “the world is perfect” bliss. But, to go over board and be suspicious of all “under the banner of Islam” is absolutely absurd. In fact, one-fifth of the world population is Muslim. So because a small portion of these followers of Islam are terrorists, we should believe that over 1 billion people are terrorists because they are Muslim? Just stupid.
Another problem is the congressional candidate. Politicians often deserve the ridiculous reputation they have earned themselves. People make fun of them for a reason – they say dumb things, change their opinions to pander to voters, donors, party leaders or whomever else can help them in some way. At the worst, they abuse their powers, are corrupt and don’t care about enacting any positive policies. Of course, there are other politicians who really work hard to do the best they can to balance constituent concerns, broader national concerns, personal beliefs etc. to make tough legislative choices and represent their constituents well. This TN candidate is likely to be more of the former if she continues to make statements such as this one where she says that she is “opposed to the idea of an Islamic training centre being built in our community”. Besides the inherent ignorance in a statement like this, which I have addressed above, it is stupid for another more practical reason – there are already mosques in the community! This mosque is not even a new mosque, but an existing mosque that bought a larger property.
Finally, if you are going to assume a leadership position of sorts, such as a congressional candidate or pastor, you have some sort of responsibility to the general public to be more thoughtful in what you say and to think about what the consequences might be. Of course there are amendenments that give you a lot of leeway in what you can legally say. However, what is legal and what is right does not necessarily go hand in hand. As Uncle Ben says, “with great power comes great responsibility.”
Anyways, it looks as though this case will go to the TN Supreme Court. Hopefully they will do the right thing.
The second story comes from Oregon, where a Somali-born teen was caught in an FBI sting in which he was plotting to bomb a Christmas tree lighting in Portland. Yes, this particular person was going to do something wrong in the name of Islam. It is fantastic that the FBI was able to catch him and that he was not able to cause any harm. But the reaction of his community was intolerant and short-sighted. The mosque that the the man occasionally attended was burned. The rest of the story is here. What about the rest of the worshippers that have done nothing wrong and simply want to attend religious services like any other religious person? Punishments should be dealt to those who have committed crimes, not to everyone associated with them.
The most worrisome part of an increasingly ignorant view of Islam, is that it’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy in a way. Our attitudes and news stories such as these, fuel the extremists and help them persuade people that they are right – that Americans hate Islam and Muslims.
I know we can do better, so let’s stop the nonsense.