Friday, August 20, 2010

My Current Take On a Hot Potato Issue

Recently there has been a whole lot of press regarding the plans of a Muslim group to build a mosque and recreation center in New York in a building that was damaged by the explosions set by Islamic extremists on September 11. The mosque would be two blocks from Ground Zero itself. There are, from what I've read in print and online and heard on TV, a whole lot of strong feelings across America both pro and con regarding this issue. Perhaps it is impossible to be completely dispassionate on the issue: the words Ground Zero and Muslim put together in the same sentence does push buttons for quite a few as the anniversary of the great tragedy approaches.

No rational person can argue that the attack on September 11 by a foreign Islamic terrorist group on American soil that killed thousands of innocent civilian people was a right action. It was entirely unprovoked by a single person murdered on that terrible day. The attack was immoral. The attack was unjustified. The attack was an atrocity. The attack was evil. It cannot be justified by any human being who wishes to be respected. I have heard that AL Quaida claimed that the attack was in return for Western and especially American interference and injustices throughout the Muslim world in the last half century. Indeed, Muslim hard core extremists still blame Christians for the Crusades thousand years ago. They blame America as well for supporting the establishment of the state of Israel after WWII. They use these as excuses for the un-excusable. It doesn't wash.

Okay, so a group of Muslims don't like us Americans and they harbor grudges. I get that. But not liking us does not in any way justify their actions.

I admit to currently having some negative feelings about Islam (if not individual Muslim people). As a religion Islam advocates the elimination or domination of non Muslims either by religious conversion or killing. Yes, this is in the Koran. I've read it. "If thine eye offends thee, pluck it out." (from the Christian Old testament) Our eye offended the writer (s) of the Koran and the devout Muslim was ordered to pluck it out.

Of course, most Muslims today are likely moderate and most likely don't follow their holy book to the letter any more than most Christians do. But it bothers me that I don't read or hear many Muslims condemn what happened at Ground Zero in any way that could be considered more than lukewarm at best. Sometimes by not taking a stand against something a person appears to approve it.

I am reminded here of the average German in the Weimar republic as Hilter's goons took over and began their unbelievably horrible and inexcusable treatment of the Jewish people. The country was failing and the economy was in tatters and 'Joseph the plumber' was having really hard times. The Germans wanted change. They needed change. Unfortunately, they had the bad fortune of getting a Hitler. Joseph and the other average folks probably did not support the crazy Nazi agenda. What would have happened to the German who stood in the way of the SS? I don't think I have to answer that question. Courage and convictions are easy in books and movies but far harder in real life when it means torture or death.

But that was in Germany, not America. I can understand being quiet when a bully is in charge and you are powerless, but in Peoria or Pennsylvania or Portland you can say what you like. Why then don't more Muslims here strongly denounce Al Qaida, their actions and agenda? I don't have an answer.

Overseas, they perhaps do not speak up since in some Muslim dominated countries there is little if any separation between church and state and their personal freedoms are more limited than ours, thus essentially forcing those who might not agree with the more extreme and fanatical persons in control into being silent for fear of reprisals and harm to themselves and family. Or is it possible that they do not care? Do they agree with the fanatics? Do they really hate us? I do not know.

Some people argue that freedom of religion is the right of any American and that the building of a Muslim religious center anywhere they want to is their right and prerogative. This is true. The law of our land supports it. If they can get the proper permits from the city and have the funds, they can build it. I am going to echo a statement of our President regarding change, out of context and with a different reference, "Yes We Can!" But, should we? Should they?

I do not agree with the conservative talk show hosts and politicians on most points but I did find myself nodding my head when I heard Rush Limbaugh say something to the effect (Or maybe it was Glenn Beck who said it; they blur in my mind before I hit the channel changer) that building a mosque near a site that is in many ways a sacred memorial to an atrocity committed in the name of the religion that the mosque stands for would be like Nazis putting their flags outside the gates of a concentration camp where thousands of innocent Jews were brutally tortured and murdered for the sake of the Nazi agenda.

Of course the mosque can be built near Ground Zero. This is America, after all. She is flawed. Love her or hate her and maybe there are reasons to do both for some people, but she guarantees you the freedom of speech and religion.

But should the mosque be built there? Is it somehow disrespectful to the dead and their living still grieving families? Does its placement there stand for religious tolerance or a slap in the face? Could a compromise be reached and the mosque be built elsewhere in the city? Some argue that we must be more tolerant of Muslim feelings concerning their religion and the life style it demands. Some might argue that Muslims become more tolerant of those who have different ideas and customs themselves. I don't know but I do believe in balance in all things. Give and take. Live and let live.

Tolerance and understanding are always to be desired. Learning to know people who are not like us can be a really positive experience when both sides are open minded and willing to compromise and grow and, yes, change some customs and moderate some beliefs that may no longer apply to life in a world changed since they were formed. Should there be mosques in new York and churches in Bagdad? Sure, why not? We can all change. Yes, we can. We can learn. We can evolve. We can become better. It often takes time and starts in little ways. I know, though, change can't be forced down the throats of those who are not ready for it.

Remember the old saying about not knowing a man until you have walked in his shoes? It makes sense. As a non Muslim, I frankly have a really hard time even wanting to walk in those shoes, especially if walking in them was overseas, but if I had to I sure would rather it be a man's shoes than a woman's. Maybe as a Muslim man I'd have to give up eating and drinking some things that I wouldn't miss anyway and I wouldn't mind not drawing a picture of the prophet since I can't draw anything. I could still go to school, run a business, drive a car, be an athlete if I wanted. Even in Arabia. I could remember to pray a few times a day. But as a woman, ah, forget it. Here's where the impossible disconnect comes. Here's where the instinctive unease of Islam comes for me personally thanks to what I've read about the life of many Muslim women around the world.

My impression is that being a Muslim woman in many Muslim dominated countries would mean I could not go to school unless the religious leaders agreed and then I might not be permitted to study certain things. I could only marry who I was told to. I could be killed for resisting an unwanted marriage. In some places I could be killed for riding in a car with a male not a relative. I could be beaten for offending a man with my words or appearance. I would be wrapped up in clothes that hid my identity whenever in public. I could not go freely where I chose. As a 21st century, 12th generation American woman such things are unthinkable and unimaginable. If Muslim women in other parts of the world choose freely to accept such conditions it is not my business. If my sisters do not like the lack of personal freedom but endure because they cannot choose, my heart aches for them.

I would welcome dialog with Muslim women to get a better sense of what they really think and feel about their role in Muslim society both abroad and in America. I have not had the experience or the opportunity to date to do so.

I am not defending a conservative political or religious point of view. I am not happy with some facets of American culture, although I love my country and would defend her agains all aggressors. Am I offended on some level at the idea of a mosque being built near Ground Zero? I think I wish I wasn't. But, honestly yes I am to some degree offended, on an emotional level if not a logical one. I shrug my shoulders and move on to thinking about something else. For now, for today, that's all I can do.

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