Breaking New Ground at Ground Zero

Published August 24, 2010

“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.

  • Jesus was condemned to death and tortured on the cross by Jews.
  • Muhammad was harassed throughout his life.
  • The Trail of Tears and the massacre of thousands of Sioux at Wounded Knee was a result of Native Americans viewed as savages for not converting to Christianity.
  • During the 1947 British Partition of India, millions of Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs were slaughtered based on being on the wrong side of the newly formed border. When the partition lines were drawn, many Muslims who found themselves on the Indians side of the border were targeted by militant Sikh and Hindu mobs.
  • Hitler, a Roman Catholic, killed millions of Jews with the support of much of the public as Swastika flags flew in nearly every church.
  • The religious history of Europe and the Middle East includes Christian "Crusaders" and Muslim warriors killing each other and destroying thousands of sacred places of worship in the name of religion and God.
  • Christians burned and butchered thousands of other Christians during the reign of the Spanish Inquisition.
  • In the name of religion, thousands of innocent people (most of them young boys) lost their lives in large-scale violence in Punjab during the ’80s.
  • In 1984, thousands of Sikhs were dragged from their homes by the fanatical Hindu mobs and burned alive in Delhi and other parts of India.
  • Recently, on September 11, 2001, thousands of innocent people in America were killed by members of al Qaeda, an alleged Muslim sect.

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.

 

Written by Ruqaiyah Najjar

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