“Malicious generalizations about Islam have become the last acceptable form of denigration of foreign culture in the West; what is said about the Muslim mind, or character, or religion, or culture as a whole cannot now be said in mainstream discussion about Africans, Jews,… or Asians.” -Edward Said, “Covering Islam”
Muslims share in the grief and anger that everyone in America feels when looking at the hollowed space that was once the World Trade Center. Muslims also suffered when those buildings collapsed and thousands of lives were lost. No one wants to live in fear of an attack, but they do every day… from other Americans. Now, more than ever, a cultural center devoted to eliminating the misguided beliefs about Islam is needed at the place where it all began: Ground Zero.
September 11 gave birth to Homeland Security laws that allowed discrimination against Muslims or anyone who looked Arab. Hate crimes increased. My own father owned a candy store in Brooklyn and watched the same youth who once purchased juices and after-school snacks, hurl bricks through his store window and set it on fire. He was even beaten to within mere inches of life. He appeased America’s fear of foreign men with long beards by shaving and going by the nickname “Sal.”
America was wronged on September 11th. But on September 12th, America was wrong. We are not at war with Islam. Religious fanaticism, not Muslims, murdered your children. Blind religious zeal takes many names and faces: Crusade, Jihad, Dharma Yudh, Holy War. Much religious persecution and suffering comes from people who misinterpret religious text.
History tells us that where we find religious intolerance, we find tyranny and violence. Not even revered saints are spared by the blinding fanaticism of zealots.
History tells a sometimes unforgiving tale of religion, but we do not condemn the many for the wrongs of a few. We have to rise above our fear if we plan to conquer hate. We must rise above our ignorance to hear the truth and learn from it. It’s easy to like someone who is like you; it’s far more difficult to accept and respect people who are different. The cultural center does not mark the degradation of humanity. It is a harbinger of much needed peace and affirmation of First Amendment rights to the Muslim community. Rights have been ignored for far too long, and voices have been silenced at too great a cost. It is wrong for a country, known for welcoming poor and huddled masses, to close the door on hospitality. It is wrong for a country founded by immigrants and committed to the rule of law, to lose interest in preserving the rights of minorities. It is wrong for a nation that fought half a dozen wars to uphold freedom and justice for all, to cease to maintain principles etched in our Constitution. It is wrong to make Muslims the scapegoat for the war on terrorism. It is un-American to not admit that we have been wrong for far too long.