The political right-wing, Tea Party based or influenced media has taken up the effort to build a mosque and Islamic community center near NYC’s ground zero, as its latest cause célèbre. In so doing they have been using the same tactics successfully employed during the “Stop the Madrassa” campaign to destabilize the Khalil Gibran School in Brooklyn. The outcome of their skillfully designed and executed work was described by the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission in its decision published last March.
The EOEC wrote that the Dept. of Education (as part of the Bloomberg Administration) “…succumbed to the very bias that creation of the school was intended to dispel and a small segment of the public succeeded in imposing its prejudices on D.O.E. as an employer."
Implicit in the arguments put forth in the case of both the Gibran School and the mosque near ground zero, have been disguised, racist, anti-immigrant, anti-Islam and anti-Muslim sentiments. Call them “stealth, white supremacist crusaders”. A key undercurrent of the public denunciation by these right-wing Tea Party mentality people, of the Cordoba Center’s construction, is the “Us vs. Them” theme well-digested in the underbelly of American life, since the birth of the nation.
The Center’s opposition (i.e. the crusaders) asserts that “they” (i.e. Muslims) attacked either “us” (i.e. Americans or non-Muslims ). This implied “they” visits guilt by association of faith upon all Muslims and their religion – Islam, because of the terroristic acts of political extremists. Yet extremists and terrorists exist that claim various faiths, or none. One simply cannot blame all adherents of a faith or way of life for the acts of an extremist fringe minority.
An article published in today’s New York Times ( Across Nation, Mosque Projects Meet Opposition , Sunday , August 8, 2010) exposes the truth – that across the country far from ground-zero in NYC, people ( and is there any doubt that they are predominantly white folk, who are vulnerable to manipulation because they lack knowledge of Islam, and also fail to put a human face on the Muslims they hear about unceasingly in the media?) – are fighting the building of mosques and exercise of freedom of religion by Muslims. When one reads or listens to their concerns it is obvious their their opinions are influenced by the same forces who falsely characterized both the Khalil Gibran School and its creator, Debbie Almontaser, who lost her job and suffered greatly because of the injustice directed against her.
The “us” of the right-wing Tea Party mentality dismisses the presence of 7-10 million Muslims who are just as American as anyone else. Two-thirds of American Muslims are themselves of immigrant origin, like most other Americans. The other third are African Americans. Seven-eighths of all Muslims in the land are people of color, of so-called third world origin. Does anyone realistically doubt that this is a factor –consciously or unconsciously in the opinions of those who mouth and shout racist epithets at public gatherings, as the wave their Bibles and call for Muslim “unbelievers” to worship a god who by the way, looks like the same right-wing Tea Party folk?
The second “us” also overlooks a critical fact of the September 11th attacks, largely un-covered by mainstream media until this day. It is that the 9-11 attacks perpetrated by extremist Muslims, killed many people who were themselves Muslims, as well as people of other faiths, or none. In other words, Muslims are part of “us” too.
Imam Izak El-Pasha of Masjid Malcolm Shabazz (named after Malcolm X) spoke at the 9-11 Memorial Service held in the old Yankee Stadium days after the death and destruction. There was a room in the Twin Towers that served as a musalla (prayer space) for Muslim employees in the World Trade Center complex. Muslim West African immigrants working as waiters in the Windows on the World Restaurant were killed. As a local imam, I attended memorial services held by members of Local Union 32 B-J (Building and Maintenance workers) for slaughtered Muslim relatives and loved ones; the majority of them Arab and Southern-Asian immigrants. Imam Sulaimane Konate (of Masjid Al-Aqsah, in Harlem) – an immigrant from the Ivory Coast in West Africa, lost 3 members of his family in the destruction.
Imam Umar Abdul-Jail (of Masjid Sabur, also in Harlem) - an African American who has been much maligned in local tabloids like the NY Post, supervised the make-shift morgue set up on the West-Side highway, ministering with great compassion and sensitivity to members of grieving families, on an inter-faith basis. The administration of then NYC Mayor Rudolph Giuliani granted permission to the Majlis Ash-Shura (Islamic Leadership Council) of NY to hold a funeral prayer service in closed off Warren Street, right in front of Masjid Manhattan – a large loft utilized for many years as a mosque, just a short walk from Ground Zero. At that time the street reflected the devastation common to the surrounding area. The Muslim mourners arrived in buses provided by the NYPD.
Further, Muslim police officers, firemen, EMTs and relief workers too, were amongst the heavy-hearted responders to the disaster. Undoubtedly they shared the feelings experienced throughout time by people of various faiths, when crimes have been committed by those claiming exclusivity on righteousness in the name of God or religion, while committing evil deeds.
During the after-math of the attacks, Muslim religious leaders both male and female, in New York City and across the country, participated in inter-faith prayer services for healing, reconciliation and comfort. Imam Faisal Abdur-Rauf was one of them, offering a communal mea culpa (which I disagreed with incidentally) for something he had nothing to do with, and in fact denounced.
This is significant, because the Imam is a co-founder of the Cordoba Initiative, which is an interfaith endeavor. Again, mainstream media has not mentioned this. The right-wing, Tea Party catering media insists on painting Imam Faisal as a sort of “stealth-jihadist” with ties to terrorists. Locally, Congressman Anthony Weiner has said so. So has Fox News and WABC talk radio commentator Monica Crowley of T.V.’s The McLaughlin Report , and others.
These are deliberate distortions of the truth. Imam Faisal is the author of the book What’s Right with Islam is What’s Right About America. He is a gentle, moderate toned voice amongst imams, whose father was the imam of both the Islamic Cultural Center of New York, and the Islamic Center in Washington, D.C. for many years. Although I loathe such labels, he is a “Sufi”, not a so-called “fundamentalist” or “jihadist”. But the right-wing media Tea Party folk mis-characterize Imam Faisal by design, in order to manipulate public opinion.
The Cordoba Initiative’s members are Christian, Jewish, and Muslim. Support for the mosque and center is religiously (and ethnically) diverse, including September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, J Street, The Arab American Family Support Center, Auburn Seminary, American Jewish Committee, Cause New York, Chautauqua Institute, Congregation B'nai Jeshurun, Faith House Manhattan, Friends of the Arava Institute, Interfaith Youth Core, Intersections, Interfaith Center of New York, The Interfaith Alliance, Jewish Community Center in Manhattan, Lutheran Seafarers and International House, New York Buddhist Church, Odyssey, New Seminary, Out of Cordoba Averros and Miamonides, NY interfaith Disaster, One Voice, One Spirit, St. Bartholomew's Church, Same Difference Interfaith Alliance, The Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew, Tanenbaum Center, The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, Trinity Wall Church, The Healing of the Nations Foundation, The Migration Policy Institute, Union Theological Seminary, St. Peters Church, UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Asia and the Pacific, UJA Federation of New York.
As a Muslim leader and social justice activist, I was present at many of the above 9-11 related events, and as noted on the recording Restoring Faith: America’s Religious Leaders Answer Terror with Hope, I walked the streets of NY when they looked like a war zone. Many people of different faiths and ethnicities grieved. Personally, I encountered little wholesale recrimination of Muslims or assignment of guilt by association of faith. Students from Yeshiva University in Upper Manhattan called our Harlem-based mosque offering assistance if needed. Women from a local church did the same. Christian, Jewish, and Muslim members of A Partnership in Faith in NYC - a pioneering coalition born of gun-related street violence during the years of the Dinkins administration, huddled and then fanned out throughout the city and on the airwaves, as a multi-faith pastoral crises response team.
Mainstream media was so absorbed with the events of 9-11’s grievous aftermath that the identity of Muslim victims and responders to 9-11 was obscured. It still is. Consequently too many otherwise well-meaning people don’t even know that we exist, and this fuels the “Us vs. them” mentality that fear-mongers shamelessly exploit and manipulate.
The Cordoba Center’s stated purpose is to foster the good and combat the evil – to provide a space where people can learn to be good neighbors. Don’t we need more of that nowadays? Many New Yorkers apparently believe so, including our Mayor. Perhaps if the truth were to be told about “Us and them”, we’d all comprehend the importance of such endeavors as the building of the Center, and dispel the darkness of extremism, fear, and recrimination, with the light of moderation and hope.
Imam Al-Hajj Talib ‘Abdur-Rashid is the religious and spiritual leader of The Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood Inc. 2nd Vice President of The Majlis Ash-Shura (Islamic Leadership Council) of New York, and Deputy Amir/General Secretary of MANA (The Muslim Alliance in North America). In November, 2009 the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University, listed him as one of the world’s “500 Most Influential Muslims”.