by Bob Maley, Editor-in-Chief
As of recent weeks, arguably the most discussed political issue in the United States has not been the continued occupation of Afghanistan, the stagnant unemployment rate, or the countless amount of crude oil that continues to plague the Gulf of Mexico. Rather, our politicians and political pundits have shifted their focus on whether an Islamic community center may be built in the near vicinity of the former site of the World Trade Center.
Most opponents of the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” claim that their uproar over the community center is over the respect of the victims of the 9/11 attacks and their families.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Nothing could be more disrespectful to the memory of the heroes of 9/11 than the trampling of religious freedom in their names.
As stated by the Declaration of Independence, liberty is a universal right of all mankind that may not be compromised under any circumstances. In the United States, it has long been understood that a necessary extension of the right of liberty is the right to religious liberty, which is codified in the First Amendment of the Constitution. However, true religious freedom has often been met with hostility throughout American history. This was the case of the Irish-Catholic immigrant workers who served as the backbone of the Industrial Revolution. They were exposed to similar sentiments of xenophobia that American Muslims are exposed to today. Immigrant Catholics were perceived as outsiders and a threat to what was then the Anglo-Saxon Protestant establishment. Sadly, history is repeating itself as Muslims are being threatened, discriminated against, and even attacked across our country.
Since the right-wing media decided to make the New York City Islamic center a front page issue, a series of violent acts has been directed toward Muslim Americans. Across the country, Mosques have been subject to vandalism and arson; Muslim children are being harassed at their schools; and a New York City Muslim cab driver was stabbed and slashed in the face and neck by a passenger who is now being charged with a hate crime for the attack.
In an 1838 speech, Abraham Lincoln asked “At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.” Lincoln recognized that, with little potential for foreign invasion, America’s only feasible threat of destruction would come when the principles on which it was founded were somehow compromised. If the right to worship freely in security can no longer be taken for granted by Muslim Americans, how can we in good conscience still consider ourselves a nation that prides itself on freedom of religion? The answer is that we cannot. Fundamental rights cannot be compromised; they are not malleable nor subject to the passionate and impulsive whims of a people who still live in the shadow of fear cast by the 9/11 attacks.
September 11 was about more than killing innocent Americans; it was a challenge to the freedoms that we as a people had long cherished, freedoms the perpetrators of the attacks and those who would subscribe to their radical and twisted world view have long despised. So I ask, what better way to honor the legacy of the 9/11 victims than to send the clear message to believers in violent perversions of Islam that we hold our religious freedom so sacred that we will allow an Islamic place of worship to be built in the shadow of the site where 19 cowardly hijackers tried to take it away?
Opponents of the Islamic center have called the community center a “victory mosque” for the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks. And if we continue to tolerate anti-Muslim hysteria in our country, their assessment will have been correct.