‘No Mosques at Ground Zero’ - Is this the next battle cry for the soul of America?

Abdul Cader Asmal

Posted Aug 6, 2010      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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‘No Mosques at Ground Zero’ - Is this the next battle cry for the soul of America?

by Abdul Cader Asmal

The categorical pronouncement by Newt Gingrich, ‘No Mosque at Ground Zero’ (Newt Gingrich Letter, 7/28/10) was a stunning blow to the proponents of the projected $multi-million mosque complex in Lower Manhattan. It should also have been a wake up call for the silent masses of Muslims, Americans by birth or choice, from their torpor. By the same token the Landmark Preservation Commission’s decision to pave the way for the complex should not be greeted with premature euphoria but rather by solemn reflection and debate. For the anti-Muslim forces are well organized, with deep pockets and are totally unscrupulous.The stakes could not be higher, even though regardless of the outcome there will be no winner.

For Muslims in America living in dispersed communities without any central regulation, mosques sprout up randomly, as the size of a community attains a certain critical mass. As a fledgling minority struggling to enter the mainstream of America, with limited resources and competing needs, and now facing antipathy from wide-ranging anti-Islamists, there is a demand for Muslims to place into context the instinct for mosque-building against more pressing priorities. These imperatives include such critical actions as confronting the rampant Islamophobia as the foremost goal, to which end, establishing a self-sustaining media infrastructure, strengthening interfaith alliances, increasing political activism, ensuring civil rights protection, standardising Islamic education and amplifying the role of Muslim women in society are all vital components. Pari passu is the obligation on all Muslims to get involved in the activities that challenge society at large - such as the slumping economy, with its attendant poverty, hunger and homelessness, supporting the calls for affordable housing, comprehensive healthcare, and preservation of the environment, and actively encouraging law enforcement to combat the threat of terror, drug trafficking and corporate predatory malfeasance.

While national Muslim organisations have dealt with these agendas with some success, the escalating level of Islamophobia testifies to the fact that they need to prioritize these into short term and long range goals. To this end, the topmost priority for Muslims in this country at this juncture is to coopt the brightest intellectuals to create a think tank that strategizes such monumental ventures such as this project, and actively collaborates with public relations experts to stem the tide of malicious anti-Islamic propaganda. 

The current focus of anti-Islamism is to stymie attempts by Muslims to build houses of worship in various parts of the country.The latest furore has been created by a proposed plan to erect an Islamic center/mosque structure near ground zero that was conceived to promote integration, tolerance and community cohesion and harmony for all of God’s beings Instead the concept has been projected by bigots as a monumental insult to the memory of the victims of 9/11.The counterclaim that all those who oppose the mosque are bigots is tantmount to blaming all Muslims for the tragedy of 9/11.Sure there are angry people who have lost loved ones; there are scared people who see Muslims overseas mindlessly blowing up one another; and there are people with concerns about home grown terrorism. These are not bigots but outraged, terrified or anguished citizens with understandable objections. In contrast are the highly orchestrated xenophobes( with their traditional ranting ‘plants’) who are attempting to polarize the silent majority of Americans, into ostensible grassroots protests groups with an inherent animosity toward all Muslims. It is their intention to pit Americans with genuine ‘concerns’  against Americans with ‘Constitutional ‘rights’. While few right minded American would characterize Mr Gingrich as a bigot he is a powerful demagogue with an historically undisguised contempt for Islam. His entry into the fray with his masterly exploitation of codewords such as ‘Radical Islam’, ‘Shariah’ and ‘The Muslim Brotherhood’, is enough to strike terror into the hearts of every ill-informed American.

While some Muslims are proposing a monument of goodwill,with no ulterior motive or strings attached, have the backing of the Constitution, the support of the City of New York, a legal recourse, and every right to proceed with their plans, given the orchestrated acrimony it has engendered, and the counter productive effect it would create, it would not be a sign of capitulation under pressure to xenophobia or demagoguery, but one of pragmatism, if not magnanimty, for those who suffered on 9/11, that the architects of the $100,000,000 mosque complex at ground zero, downscaled their project, and dedicated it in part (as they have indicated) as a memorial to those who perished on that day. This would have the effect of not only de-escalating the no-win confrontational positions, but it would also help to free up some $90,000,000 in change for other agenda items sorely needed in the American society of which Muslims are an integral part. It would also be an expression of gratitude to the wide spectrum of religious and civic leaders, and the countless fairminded fellow citizens led by a man of impeccable integrity, Mayor Bloomberg, who all went out on a limb to support the rights of Muslims.Having the rights but exercising restraint is the moral high ground. By doing so through their own wisdom, volition, and respect for the sensitivies of others, and not due to any coercion or intimidation, the architects of the present project will create a climate such that the establishment of Mosques, henceforth, far from being exploited as a battle cry for the soul of America, would in the future be showcased with a ‘sign of welcome’. 


Akbar Ahmed warns that U.S. Muslims underestimate 9/11 effect http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2010/08/05/u-s-muslims-underestimate-911-effect-muslim-thinker-warns/