Building tolerance

Park51 controversy is a chance to reassert American ideals

Zahida Mehirdel works in SN&R’s business office

The media fuss over Park51 has triggered Islamophobia gone wild. People keep calling it the “ground zero mosque,” perhaps because such a title elicits the image of a tall, imposing building on ground zero commemorating a victory to Al-Qaeda’s criminal terrorist acts of 9/11.

But this community center, which welcomes people of all faiths, plans to house a culinary school, an auditorium, a basketball court, a pool and, yes, a prayer room. Ironically, however, Park51 won’t even be visible from ground zero.

A tit-for-tat logic has proliferated, arguing that American Muslims can build a mosque near ground zero only if Christians can build a church in Mecca. But as an American Muslim, my First Amendment rights are not contingent on the rules and policies of foreign nations.

And more broadly, as Americans, we should not abandon our own liberties and tolerant lifestyle because of another nation’s practices. It simply doesn’t make sense.

Some of the families who lost loved ones on 9/11 are opposed to Park51. As human beings, we must acknowledge their suffering and do all that we reasonably and morally can to alleviate it. However, this does not entail accepting the false narrative that victims affix to their suffering (i.e., holding all Muslims accountable for the actions of a group of criminal extremists), even more so when such baseless arguments contradict our core moral principles.

To support their argument against the community center, opponents in the media quote the Quran out of context in an effort to show that Islam promotes violence and hence all Muslims are collectively responsible for the actions of criminals.

But I could do the same thing. When taken out of context, many passages in the King James Bible appear to encourage violence. For example, in Luke 19:26-27, Jesus orders the execution of anyone who refuses to be ruled by him; in Exodus 15:3, the Bible says “The Lord is a man of war”; in 1 Samuel 15:2-3, the Lord orders Saul to kill all the Amalekite men, women, children and infants; and the list goes on. But context is important, and when such passages are read in proper context, these apparent cruelties disappear.

Sadly, this does not stop a terrorist from interpreting the Bible or Quran in such a way as to concoct religious validations for any atrocities they might plan to commit. Political and religious extremists have abused Islamic, Jewish and Christian scriptures throughout history. In the Quran, God says, “Whoever kills a person … it is as though he has killed all mankind. And whoever saves a life, it is as though he had saved all mankind” (5:32).

As an American Muslim, I will not be classified with the terrorists of 9/11, nor will I be marginalized in my own country. It is vitally important that Muslims around the world see Americans as credible partners in the struggle against global terror, rather than as a society at war with Islam. Park51 is an opportunity for us to get back to our foundational ideals, which have always stood as a beacon of enlightenment for the rest of the world.