With mosque attacks in California, Wisconsin and Tennessee and the heated controversy over the Islamic Center near Ground Zero in New York, islamophobia is now running rampant in the United States. "America has a significant Muslim problem, and I think that what we've seen now really shows what's the tip of the iceberg," John Esposito, author of The Future of Islam, recently told ABC News. Thus, anyone with ties to Islam or who simply has brown skin is now under threat in this hostile climate. While Americans have every right to fear terrorism in a post-9/11 world, unleashing that fear through acts of violence and bigotry creates more problems than it solves. I've outlined five reasons why embracing religious intolerance against Muslims makes no sense for Americans.
Insensitivity to Muslims Puts Troops at Risk
Americans who lash out against Islam by being callous and offensive, such as threatening to burn Korans, may be putting American troops in harm's way. Florida Pastor Terry Jones learned this lesson when he announced plans to burn Korans at his church on Sept. 11, 2010. Pressure from dignitaries who expressed concern for the safety of American troops in the Muslim world ultimately swayed Jones to rethink his plans. Gen. David Petraeus, for example, said that if Jones carried out his Koran-burning protest, the Taliban would use it as a tool to stir up anti-American resentment. Of course, this resentment would very likely help terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda recruit more individuals to commit acts of terrorism.
Just days before Jones was set to burn Islam's holy book, hundreds of Afghans rallied to condemn the act. But these Aghans didn't just target Jones; they targeted the United States as a whole. They reportedly chanted "death to America" and demanded that the U.S. withdraw troops from Afghanistan. If Jones had actually gone through with the Koran-burning, violence may have very well spread throughout Afghanistan, putting the American military in a precarious position.
Why Protest the Ground Zero Islamic Center When the Pentagon Has a Muslim Prayer Room?
According to an ABC News poll, 71% of New Yorkers believe that the proposed Islamic center near ground zero should be moved. They argue that to have an Islamic center so close to the site where Muslim terrorists knocked the Twin Towers to the ground is insensitive. But Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the man behind the Islamic Center, refuses to relocate it. He says that, if he does, "The headline in the Muslim world will be 'Islam is under attack in America.' This will strengthen the radicals in the Muslim world, help their recruitment."
Gen. Colin Powell, former Secretary of State, agrees that the Islamic Center should not be moved from its proposed location. During an appearance on talk show "The View," Powell reminded the public that on 9/11 terrorists also struck the Pentagon. Nonetheless, there's a place of prayer Muslims there. "We weren't having these prayer places in the Pentagon and in Walter Reed (military hospital) for extremists," he said. "They're for Americans. American soldiers and American people who work in the Pentagon and in Walter Reed. And so the center that is being proposed for here in New York City is a center that will attract Americans-of all faiths."
Muslims Are Americans, Too
Debates about Islam in America often take on an "us vs. them" slant. But as Gen. Colin Powell has pointed out, Muslims are Americans, too. On Sept.11, 2001, an estimated 32 Muslim Americans lost their lives in the terrorist attacks. The mother of one of 9/11's Muslim victims-Rahma Salie-faced prejudice after the attacks by extremists. Haleema Salie remarked, "I would like everyone to know that she was a Muslim, she is a Muslim and we are victims too, of this tragic incident." As many as seven million Muslims live in America today. The overwhelming majority of these Americans are peaceful, law-abiding. They, too, fear terrorist attacks. They don't, however, want to be persecuted for their beliefs.
Islamophobia in the U.S. Puts Christians at Risk Globally
Christian missionaries live around the world. When American Christians such as the Rev. Terry Jones threatens to burn the Holy Koran, he incites international backlash against followers of Jesus Christ. When the Rev. Richard Cizik of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good appeared on ABC's "This Week," he explained that he participates in interfaith outreach and has supported the Islamic Center at Ground Zero, is because he wants the Christians throughout the world to be safe. "The real victims (of Islamophobia in America) can be Christians overseas who themselves have been victims of persecution, and so we evangelicals have to be sensitive to the plight they face in their countries, and when we simply say, 'Well, we're not going to give the Imam (behind the Ground Zero Islamic Center) what he wants because that would be to bow down to Islam or whatever,' we're essentially saying to evangelicals around the world, 'We don't care about you or your plight.'"
Religious Persecution Is Un-American
America's forefathers knew firsthand what it was like to suffer religious persecution. While the Church of England dictated which faith the English would practice, early Americans relished the opportunity to be practicing Quakers, Puritans, Baptists, etc. When Thomas Jefferson and James Madison devised the Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom, they reportedly took pains to ensure that the act represented people of all faiths. Jefferson believed that Virginia's representatives wanted the statute "to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahomedan, the Hindoo, and Infidel of every denomination." What would Jefferson, who himself owned a Koran, think if he could travel forward in time and see Americans threatening to burn Islam's holy book?