The author of the piece excerpted below asks this and three other pertinent questions related to the debate taking place in America regarding freedom of religion especially as it applies to Muslim Americans. The answer to this first question is conditional, based on what is described below
I got home from vacation late on Friday night and was soon asked to join in the fracas around the planned Cordoba House two blocks from Ground Zero. In less than 36 hours after getting back to Washington, I was walking into the Fox News studio on Sunday morning. Welcome home.They asked about a letter that I had just signed supporting religious freedom for Muslims. I said we should ask three simple questions:
- Should we as Americans be able to worship and pray when and where we choose? Haven’t we fought for that?
- Are American Muslims … Americans?
- And, for those of us who are Christians (and I am an Evangelical Christian), are we obeying the commands of Jesus to love our neighbors? Aren’t Muslims our neighbors? So what might Jesus say to this controversy?
There was a brief silence from the Fox and Friends anchors. OK, they said, but what about “sensitivity” to the families that lost loved ones in 9/11? Well, I said, 59 Muslims also died on 9/11 because of a vile, cowardly, and criminal attack by al Qaeda. Does it honor them, or their families, by somehow connecting all American Muslims to that horrible attack?
Well, thank you for joining us today Reverend, they said. Thank you, I said, but how we handle this is very important–to what it means to be Americans or what it means to be Christians.
I was ready to talk about my friends Imam Feisal Rauf and his wife, Daisy Khan, who are among the leaders of the vision to build a new community center committed to peace, interfaith dialogue, reconciliation, and bridge-building. I know them both and can testify to their long record on denouncing terrorism in the name of their religion and their consistent work for peace. Until very recently, Daisy says her main concern about the new interfaith center was whether there would be enough stroller space. Daisy called me Sunday to describe how their lives have been turned upside down. If Ground Zero is the “gaping wound” my Fox and Friends anchors described, what could be more helpful than a religious center dedicated to healing?
That morning, as I watched continued coverage, I was disappointed to hear the low level that discourse has dropped to. The politicians who spoke to it sounded more like the people leaving nasty and false comments on YouTube videos than anyone deserving of public office. Well, it is the election season again.
This guilt-by-association “sensitivity” argument is very dangerous stuff. Millions of American Muslims are not responsible for the heinous crime of 9/11. And an imam’s desire to heal and build bridges should be a welcome thing. Exactly how far away from what places should Muslims be able to pray in America? Is there a measurement requirement that is emerging from all the other places in the country now where mosques are also being opposed?
Fundamentalism doesn’t only exist in Islam. The things someone like Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell have said certainly are an embarrassment to other Christians — remember Robertson’s assertion that 9/11 was the judgment of God on America because of liberalism and feminism. So how about preventing fundamentalist churches that like Robertson from worshiping within 3 blocks of Ground Zero because of “sensitivity”?
How we handle this one will affect our future as a nation. Do we believe in our principles or not? Do we believe Muslims are also Americans or not? Are we an inclusive and pluralistic nation, or not?
Perhaps FoxNews that Rev. Wallis dealt with was the network Obama was referring that is pervasive with its innuendo driven coverage of his faith? In many people’s minds, the answer to the last two questions is a resounding no!
- Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, Shariah, and Democracy (blogher.com)
Islamophobic racists are all singing the dangers of Shari’ah law as something that will overtake the Nation and either make everyone Muslim or kill those who don’t convert. From the looks of this article, their fears are misplaced; rather it is their own Christian-Judeo tradition which has enveloped the US military they should be worried about. Imagine, an American military force made up of Christians determining whether you meet the criteria for safety or punishment. Think it won’t happen here? Maybe it already is.
The Army said Friday it was investigating a claim that dozens of soldiers who refused to attend a Christian band’s concert at a Virginia military base were banished to their barracks and told to clean them up.Fort Eustis spokesman Rick Haverinen told The Associated Press he couldn’t comment on the specifics of the investigation. At the Pentagon, Army spokesman Col. Thomas Collins said the military shouldn’t impose religious views on soldiers.
“If something like that were to have happened, it would be contrary to Army policy,” Collins said.
Pvt. Anthony Smith said he and other soldiers felt pressured to attend the May concert while stationed at the Newport News base, home of the Army’s Transportation Corps.
“My whole issue was I don’t need to be preached at,” Smith said in a phone interview from Phoenix, where he is stationed with the National Guard. “That’s not what I signed up for.”
Smith, 21, was stationed in Virginia for nearly seven months for helicopter electrician training when the Christian rock group BarlowGirl played as part of the “Commanding General’s Spiritual Fitness Concerts.”
Smith said a staff sergeant told 200 men in their barracks they could either attend or remain in their barracks. Eighty to 100 decided not to attend, he said.
“Instead of being released to our personal time, we were locked down,” Smith said. “It seemed very much like a punishment.”
You can read more about the efforts of many in the military to make it Christian, thereby usurping the Constitution, here.
Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic Party is the latest person in Obama’s party to undercut the commander-in-chief by saying the supporters of Cordoba House, while they have the RIGHT to build their community center where they want, should build it elsewhere. Harry Reid, running for reelection in Nevada as well as Dean are more concerned about their party’s health than the health of the Nation and are the worse examples of political hacks, people who live to advance the cause of a special,narrowly defined interest not taking into account the greater good of the citizenry of the entire country.
In the face of such flight from principle it is apparent that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may acknowledge the legitimacy of the Constitution’s right to religious expression but when these very same individuals begin identifying with a group other than the entire citizenry of America they tend to dilute their position with the caveat ‘but they should build elsewhere’ thereby negating completely their concession and in the process become immoral.
Such was the conclusion arrived at by Martin Luther King as he sat in a Birmingham city jail in 1963, confronted by fellow white Christians who wanted to encourage him to go slower in his quest for overthrowing segregation in racist America. The people he addressed in his letter who agreed with the principle of desegregation were not throwing their weight behind King’s action of non-violent protest and social agitation because they didn’t want to upset the status quo, although that is exactly what they were doing by agreeing segregation shouldn’t exist.
We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct-action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”
In the parallel universe between 1960s Birmingham, Alabama and 21st century America, “freedom” becomes freedom of religion and religious expression and “segregation” becomes denial of a place to worship at the place of one’s choice. The comparison is real, palatable, and in all the fervor caused by the controversy very few people have spoken out against the Islamophobia that has embraced the opposition movement to build the Cordoba House at another location. Some people have even taken to a wholly unconstitutional position of building the cultural center on land provided to the developers by the state of New York in what would clearly be a breech of separation of religion and state. No one has thought for a moment about the ramifications this has for other faith communities that may be considered more main stream? What would you say to a evangelical church that has permission to build on a property while government officials insist they build elsewhere or prominent members of society insisted such abrogation of that church’s decision. Would that be considered coercion?
For those who say it is insensitive to build such an establishment close Ground Zero, that it’s presence exacerbates emotions towards Muslims and this should be avoided King answered that concern while sitting in a Birmingham jail so many years ago
I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, we must see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.
If you remove the adjective “white” every time it modifies moderate and replace “Negro” with Muslim, and where you find names of obstructionists who opposed King in his day you replaced with the Republican or Democratic party you would have the essence of the argument against those who say Muslims have the right, but……
I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fan in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality.
Dean, Reid, Clinton and Bush (the latter two having not made any statement on this issue) have done a disservice to citizenship and betrayed the trust they have to America to represent all of its citizens. The rights given to all of us were unconditional and that as long as the citizen was in good standing with the law they are expected, nay encouraged, to practice those rights to the utmost of their ability. Those who say, ‘yes, but……” are the same obstructionists faced by King during the dark days of American segregation. It is up to Muslims and other freedom loving Americans, freedom riders/fighters to agitate for total and complete freedom of expression for which they are entitled. Nothing less is acceptable now as it wasn’t acceptable then.
As Israel continues its assault on the human rights and lives of those who disagree with the terrorist state, it appears even some of its citizens have to fear the Draconian beliefs of the Zionist state. While European countries are decrying Muslim women’s choice to wear articles of clothing they want, Israeli Jewish men are deciding for women what they can and cannot think or where they should and should not worship without any condemnation from Western leaders who are far too quick to invade Muslim countries for similar offenses. Perhaps as Israel seems intent on pushing America into war with another one of her neighbors, Americans should reflect on just whether the examples above reflect American values the next time it’s asked to send its sons and daughters to fight wars for this ‘democratic ally’.
A lot has been said lately about profiling Muslims, either those in the US military or ordinary citizens, because some fear their presence on American soil presents a threat to the safety and security of Americans and their way of life. It doesn’t matter to those who make that call, most recently like Sarah Palin, that those Muslims themselves are prosperous members of the same society, their religious preference and acts which have been associated to them by an obsequious press have stuck to them and made them visible, likely targets by society. Undeserved targets, it might be added, but the idea that an entire group of people are responsible for the same crimes committed by 19 hijackers or one lone gunman, resonate in a hate filled and drenched society in much the same way that some say President Barack Obama is not really a citizen of America, is a racist or a secret Muslim. In fact the genesis for this idea of racial profiling comes from a source that now implies it is ok to get rid of unlikeable people, such as Obama, by having them murdered. If you think this is an unfair jump from a Biblical verse to death threats on the President just look at the 400% increase in death threats against this president versus his predecessor who was seen as a “born again” Christian. One of the common elements in the vitriol directed towards a sitting President is Christianity and its religious scriptures. Indeed, some of the slogans voiced in opposition to Obama are steeped in religious references; “The Anti-Christ is living in the White House”, “Oppressive Bloodsucking Arrogant Muslim Alien”, just to name a few.
That said, why aren’t there more calls for profiling Christians, and especially Christian members of the Republican party who have justified every turn of their opposition to Obama in some way or another to their religious principles. If you think that is too extreme, then is it too much to ask those in the opposition to at least condemn the tactics of their “brothers” to the rhetoric directed towards the President? With the exception of the about face made by Rupert Murdoch to Glen Beck’s anti-white tirade against Obama, no one from the “opposition” has said such extreme rhetoric is out of place or inconsistent with the ideals of a Judeau-Christian society. The silence from the Right has been deafening and only serves to encourage the fundamentalists to even greater heights of hyperbole and violence. Where are the calls for a more systematic government approach to Christians’ opposition to Obama, and ensuring his safety from their menace? Where are the calls from members of other faiths to stop the tide of Christian fundamentalism that endangers the life of our elected officials and in turn the political process we hold so dear? Why is political expediency what keeps people silent in the face of such threats against the Republic, while the very same silent voices encourage the deafening roar of calls to profile others of the society who have not expressed such incitement, but for whom lone individuals have become the standard by which they and their faith are judged?
One bright side of all this is the ACLU has been consistent in their opposition to stemming free speech, even if it borders on threats to the President of the United States. Quoting biblical verses whose meaning they consider ambiguous is not reason enough, in their mind, to prosecute people who use them in ways others of us consider threatening. The very people who in years gone by usually threw scorn on the American Civil Liberties Union for their liberal approach to litigation are now being shielded by the organization from calls that they, abusers of free speech, be held accountable for their speech. I applaud the ACLU for being predictable even though their position vis-a-vis these latest scoundrels on Americas political landscape hardly deserve their succor. Regrettably, one can only come to one conclusion and that is no group is responsible for the actions of individual members of that group……no matter how relevant the scriptures they may all believe in inspire the acts of those individuals. The idea of collectivisim…mentioned before here in this blog, have no place in American discourse but people with political agendas that have nothing to do with American ideals of justice will never say that because they want to use government to suppress those they dislike or mistrust. Such manipulators of government are the true enemies of the State yet the ones whose profiling is the most difficult to achieve. It is not altogether an impossible task and the sooner we get on with it, the safer the Republic will be for everyone.
Any form of religious expression which is incontrovertibly linked to a religion should be classified as free speech in America and therefore the bearer or wearer should be allowed to go wherever need be. It was disgraceful for personnel in a Georgia court room to cite a Muslim woman for contempt of court and sentence her to 10 days in prison for the “offense” of wearing her religiously mandated scarf to court. She wasn’t scheduled to testify, she wasn’t a defendant or lawyer in court, she was merely accompanying a relative and was met at the door with the State’s infringement on her right to freedom of religion. That has now changed, for the Muslim citizens of Georgia.
Georgia courtrooms will allow religious headgear after last year’s arrest of a Muslim woman who refused to remove her headscarf in a west Georgia courthouse.The Judicial Council of Georgia voted unanimously this week to allow religious and medical headgear into Georgia courtrooms. It also allows a person to request a private inspection if a security officer wants to conduct a search.
“If this had been a nun, no one would have required her to remove her habit,” said Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Carol Hunstein, who heads the Judicial Council. “I think this is a good rule, and I think it’s clear.”
The policy shift stems from the December 2008 arrest of Lisa Valentine, who was ordered to serve 10 days in jail for contempt of court after she refused to remove her hijab at a courtroom in Douglasville, a town of about 20,000 people west of Atlanta. She was released in less than a day.
Muslim rights activists were infuriated by the incident, pressing the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the incident and organizing a protest. The city also said its employees would take sensitivity training classes.
City officials at the time said they were trying to follow courtroom rules that restricted headgear, but the city said the officer who detained Valentine should have sought a solution that “would preserve the spirit of the law.”
Valentine, who did not immediately return phone messages Friday, said she was accompanying her nephew to a hearing when officials stopped her at the metal detector and told her she couldn’t enter the courtroom with the headscarf, known as a hijab.
She said she was stopped by officers when she objected and turned to leave, and that she was later brought before a municipal court judge who ordered her held for contempt of court.
City officials did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment, but Douglasville Police Chief Joe Whisenant characterized the incident at the time as a miscommunication.
The police department said in a news release that Valentine was found in contempt for fighting with one of the officers, not for wearing a scarf. The city said she was released after it was determined there had not been a fight.
Muslims are just as much a part of the American fabric as any other ethnic group and their rights as citizens cannot and should not be abridged because of personal dislikes or community wide prejudices. Personal likes and dislikes have no place in determining what is legal and illegal. The Constitution, and particularly the 1st amendment says in clear language that the legislative body of this Republic cannot make any law prohibiting the free exercise of any religion. In this regard we are different and better than our European cousins who bend the rules to satisfy contemporary societal mores usually directed towards those they deem distasteful. Whether we like it or not, we have become a pluralistic society that is home to people of faiths, colors, creeds that span the entire breath of human existence; we must live under this umbrella of law that has been developed throughout the lifetime of America, sometimes carefully and deliberately, and at other times impulsively yet judiciously. To do otherwise would make us criminals before the law and before our Creator.