Friday, August 27, 2010

By Reginald Johnson
Aug. 27, 2010

Bigger than 911

The backers of the mosque in lower Manhattan should stand their ground ---- and not submit to the hysterical demands of critics that they move their facility.

This issue has become much bigger than the sensitivities of those who lost loved ones at Ground Zero, when terrorists flew planes into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, resulting in the deaths of nearly 3,000 people.

Those attacks were horrific, and we should never forget the people who lost their lives. Ground Zero is a special place.

But there is something at stake here that is much more important than honoring the feelings of those who think that a mosque near Ground Zero is somehow wrong, since it was Muslim fanatics who were flying the hijacked planes.

Freedom of religion, one of the cornerstones of the American constitutional system, is on the line. The framers who drew up the Constitution and Bill of Rights, knew all too well the injustice of a society where one could not practice the religion of one’s choice. Their parents and grandparents had come to the New World to escape religious persecution in England.

With the First Amendment’s provision that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” the framers made clear that the United States would be a place where people would be free to practice the religion of their choice.

The backers of the mosque, which will be part of a larger Islamic community center called Cordoba House, purchased the property for their project and obtained all the needed land-use approvals from the city. They now have a right to build the facility the same way Christians might want to build a YMCA or Jews a community center.

To say the community center backers are somehow tainted because they share the same faith as the 911 attackers is grossly unfair and cruel. This smears all Muslims. There were 19 hijackers; there are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world.

While some of the people criticizing the plan for the mosque are local people who are having an emotional reaction because they lost loved ones on 911, it’s clear there are many opponents who live far from New York and just don’t like Muslims, period. They’re using the center controversy to whip up Islamophobia and spread hate.

In fact, there appears to be a campaign going on nationwide to smear and persecute Muslims.

There are cases all around the country where people are trying to block the construction of mosques or engaging in acts of harassment and even violence against Muslims. In two other locations in New York City, opposition has sprung up against proposed mosques. Protests against mosques have also arisen in Tennessee, Illinois, Wisconsin and California.

Right-wing politicians, including Republicans and Tea Party members, are jumping into the act, demagogically pandering to opponents. A candidate for governor in Tennessee said Islam was not a religion and Muslims shouldn’t have First Amendment rights.

In Florida, a Christian pastor denounced Islam and said he would hold a Koran book-burning at his church.

Right here in Bridgeport, a group of Christian zealots recently picketed a local mosque, shouting “Islam is a lie” and yelling verbal abuse at worshippers entering the building. Two children were called “murderers.”

And in New York this week, a cab driver was slashed with a knife by an enraged passenger after the driver told him he was a Muslim.

The wave of Islamophobia is an ominous development. It harkens back to the anti-Semitism whipped up by the Nazis in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s.

The hate directed at Muslims is part of a surge of Christian nationalism. The bigotry has to be denounced and stopped in its tracks. If the trend is not stopped, the First Amendment's protection of both religious freedom and freedom of expression will be destroyed.

We’ll be that much closer to a Christian fascist state in America.

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