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AUGUST 17, 2010 9:53AM

Ground Zero Mosque: Are We Becoming More Like 'Them'?

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I just read an excellent article at The Moderate Voice  titled “Burning The Qur’an, Literally and Figuratively.”

The article made me reflect quite a bit on the disturbing increase in anti-Muslim, anti-Islam sentiments and rhetoric in our country, but it also reminded me of a very innocent act of 30 years ago. An act that—along with other “Saudi memories”—seems to be very relevant to what our nation is going through today.

When I first moved to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in the early 80s—after having lived in the port city of Jeddah for a couple of years—my company put me up in the brand new Marriott hotel for a few months until housing was available for my family.

Each room was provided with a huge, 2,000-page, beautifully green-and-gold-bound Qur’an.

The Qur’an was written both in English and Arabic.

I periodically browsed through the Qur’an, but never spent much time on it.

When my wife joined me in Riyadh, we thought that it would be a nice memento to have a Qur’an and to take it back home. It didn’t take much sweet-talking by my wife to convince the manager to let us have the Qur’an.

Setting the Qur’an aside for a moment, of course we witnessed and were affected by the religious restrictions—yes, intolerances—practiced by the Saudi government.

We are all too familiar with them by now. The practice of any religion except Islam is strictly prohibited. The building of a church or a synagogue anywhere near the Holy Cities of Mecca and Medina would never be allowed. As a matter of fact, it is not allowed anywhere in the Kingdom.

Even the import and use of religious Christmas decorations for use in the home was a risky matter in those days.

If the Mutawa(Saudi religious police) were to discover a Bible or a Torah, it would definitely be taken away. I don’t know what happened to the confiscated holy books. Perhaps they were just stored somewhere, perhaps they were somehow destroyed. However, I don’t think the Saudis burnt them.

As I said, this was in the early 80s. Perhaps conditions have changed. Perhaps the Saudi authorities are a little more tolerant today. I don’t know.

Today, here in America, there is fierce, almost fanatical opposition to the building of a mosque and an Islamic community center so close to what many consider to be “hallowed Ground Zero.”

Today, here in America, as related by Kathy Gill, there is even an organized movement to hold an “International Burn A Koran Day.”

Today, here in America, there are many signs of what some call “Islamophobia.”

This brings me back to the Qur’an

After returning home from our extended assignment in Saudi Arabia, I always displayed that beautifully-bound Qur’an prominently in our living room, along with my many other books.

A few days after 9/11, I somehow felt it necessary to place the Qur’an in a less conspicuous place in my office—a room in our house generally used only by me.

After reading and hearing about Qur’an burning initiatives and other anti-Islamic rhetoric, the thought has occurred to me that perhaps I should hide or even get rid of the Qur’an.

Is it embarrassment, or is it perhaps some foreboding, more sinister conern? 

Some may call my apprehensions and concerns paranoid and totally unwarranted. I hope so.

Nevertheless, a couple of questions keep nagging at me.

Have I changed since 9/11?

More importantly, have we, Americans, who have always been so proud of those sacred words, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” changed?

Are we becoming more like “them”?

I don’t think so. I believe and hope that we are going through an exceptionally difficult, emotional and complex social-political-economic period and that it, too, shall pass.

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I sincerely hope the last line here, is the truth! For I truly fear that we are becoming WORSE THAN THEM!
The protection of the secular state, regardless of popular sentiment, is really important. That's the best bet for everyone's freedom. Theocracies and their facsimiles are what result - places where people experience what you did and much, much worse.
Personally, I've always felt there is a certain level of intolerance in most religions towards other beliefs, even when they claim it to be otherwise. Part of the problem is that people believe so much in the superiority of their own beliefs that they're incapable of seeing that difference is a good thing and that being a good person is superior to being superior to other people. We in the US try really hard to be overly tolerant to the point of ridiculousness sometimes (pretty much to counter the intolerance of others in the US who aren't as welcoming to outside ideas), but that sometimes pulls the wool over our own eyes in forgetting that there are still some pretty bad people out there who don't feel the same way and have no qualms about killing people who disagree with them.
Kenny and Chris, thank you for your comments. But Kenny, I really don't think we are "worse"...yet.


I agree I agree with the first part of your comments, especially with the part that in the past we have always been (overly) tolerant (emphasis, "in the past"), but having some "bad people" out there who may want to hurt us, should not make us paint them all with the same broad brush.

Thank you all
hope you're right about this being a difficult period; we've had them before. But we certainly seemed to have misplaced our "all-American" traditions of tolerance, optimism, open-mindedness and hope
Honestly, I think a certain number of us have always been much more like them than any of has cared to notice. But it's only lately that this bunch has, as the saying goes, found its voice. Unfortunately, now that these people have begun saying what they've been aching to say, without lightning striking them, we can count on them to repeat it louder and louder.
Very thoughtful post. Definitely provoking in all the right pensive ways. I also don't think we are becoming worse about that kind of intolerance, but I agree that we're in a rough patch. Certainly those that are intolerant are more easily heard these days.

I think it's so much a matter these days of a number of people actually being forced to deal with their fears and prejudices. We just can't see everything in black and white anymore; and in order to grow as a society, we have to recognize all the shades in between. To get to that point can be difficult for a country. Difficult but necessary.
Niki, Max and Wade, thank you for your thoughtful comments.

Max, while "lightning may not strike 'them'", I hope that the voice of the more moderates will eventually get through to 'them."
I have no sympathy for Islam, it was spread at sword-point and the same practices it was founded on are what we see today. Fear, intimidation and subjugation to resisters. I think that Mohammed was a thug with a messiah complex.
That being said, ideas while repugnant are guaranteed voice under our constitution but if the mosque builders are stupid enough to think that the vast majority of Americans won't see it as rubbing our noses in 911 they are crazy. Oh that's right they are religious crazies!

If history is any indicator, then this too shall "not" pass. Look to the east and look at India. Like any country or civilization India has its faults - caste system, poverty, corruption - but on the other hand, India has been the cradle for scores of peaceful religions rooted in Hinduism. Despite this and the fact that India has had 1000+ years of muslim co-existence, a very large percentage of Muslims in India find it difficult to subscribe to secularism, progressive education for women, and still seek moral guidance from Saudi Arabia. In the past decade India has seen increasing violence between Muslims and Hindus on issues that were never big issues. Many are fueled by politicians, it is likely however the violence is rooted in a collective majority (Hindus) feeling unwelcome in their own land without any urging from Islam to reform Islam. You had Islamic terrorists walk into India, mow down people and children in hotels, kill an innocent rabbi, his pregnant wife, and literally hold a city hostage for few days - and how many Islamic thinkers around the world condemned this openly ? Few. Retaliation in India against Muslims after this horrible tragedy? None.

The world should not continue to keep introspecting on what bearing their actions may have led to a religion (Islam) turning to violence again and again, or why rational individuals feel disenfranchised to keep their qurans away.

The fault cannot lie with everybody else if Islam cannot reform itself. Christianity did, Judaism did too, Hindus too, Buddhists, Sikhs...so in the realm of religious philosophy - reform is possible.

The answers will likely not come till Islam finds the courage to reform and free itself from beliefs of violence and segregation to one of harmony with the other religions.

I am sure you would willingly get your Quran back if you felt there was a sincere effort by the vast majority of Islamic world-community to harmonize with the world.
An excellent post. One of the worst things about 9/11 to my mind is how the fear and anger engendered in Americans by that attack has brought our worst, most intolerant fears and behavior into the forefront. I hope things will become better rather than worse in the long term. And I hope that we will continue to protect freedom of religion in this country with all the fervor we can muster. It's far too precious a freedom to lose.
Excellent post, Dorian.
There are dirty elements of our society that are being encouraged by the right wing to become more obnoxious and belligerent in their twisted and negative ideologies and behavior. They are obsessed and have been greatly enabled by the media in forcing their bad attitudes on others.

The rest of us need to never allow ourselves to use the collective "we", when referring to such behavior. We need to place those people in a category that is not part of us.

As far as muslim ideologies, there are subsets of people who are equally and horribly hateful toward all others and hideously oppressive toward women. We also have to make sure that such travesties as Sharia law do not interfere in our nation.

These are the people who enslaved my ancestors and who still enslave many throughout the world, so they are not a monolothic bloc of innocent people anywhere.

For those who are peaceful, kind and good, they deserve to have a mosque and to worship as they see fit.

Evil is something that is pervasive. More people from all walks of life, all ideologies, all societies and all religions are sucumbing to the charisma of evil every day.

We have to make sure that the evil ones, no matter what their religion and values, do not prevail and that they do not get away with tearing our country apart.
Great post and good food for thought!

Kenny, do you see vice cops beating women for showing their feet or hair? Do WE stone women to death? Do We hang homosexuals? Do WE allow or encourage Honor Killings? Do WE sell our daughters or encourage our sons to strap on a bomb and die for the "holy cause" of Jihad? Granted these things are limited to the tribal extremism but they hide behind the Koran to justify it.

Sure, we have our own set of problems here, no one would deny that, (this country has its own share of wing nuts who would love nothing more than to go back 500 years, but you don't see the general populace taking them seriously) but to say that WE are WORSE than the fanatics who want US dead for being "infidels" is a huge leap.
The constitution was written by the people and for the people of America. And if the people do not want a Muslim Community Center built to support in ANY manner any ANY affiliation of ANY who were responsible for 9/11 then by God and America there should be no mosque built in that vicinity. Any more, and I quote pundits, then there should be a Hitler Museum built near Auschwitz, a Lenin/Stalin Memorial on the bloodied grounds of Russia, a Mao Tse Tung Memorial and so on and so on. I wish someone much smarter than I would look deeper into the connections behind the mosque. This mosque is a deliberate slap, a deliberate insult and A TEST of the true moral character of the common American citizen. Obviously the President and elected official's are so busy entertaining themselves that they forgot that we already know our votes don't matter. Our opinions don't count. The pissing contest between the liberals and republicans who are so concerned about seeming "intolerant" in the public eye is so laughable. They will keep John and Jane Q public so busy watching the ball bounce back and forth that the mosque will be built before any one knows what happened. Once America was proud and mighty. There was a glory to her name. . Now we cringe at the thought of defending the memories of the innocently slain. MY GOD WOULD NEVER MURDER INNOCENT PEOPLE. MY GOD WOULD NEVER CONDONE SAWING OFF THE HEADS OF HOSTAGES such as happened a short ten years ago in the Middle East. Has the world forgotten the Kenneth Bigleys???? The slaughterous torture of countless innocent civilians who went to a third world ISLAMIC country to save and succor?

American is obviously nothing more than a nation of cowards . Otherwise, we wouldn't be in the mess we are in and THERE WOULD BE NO QUESTION THAT NO.. THERE WILL BE NO MOSQUE ANYWHERE NEAR GROUND ZERO.

Someone is laughing in infinitely delightful and horrible glee...
Imagine if the energy people are using to condemn the "ground zero mosque" was instead used to do something constructive, like feed a hungry person, teach an unemployed person a new trade, or maybe just smile at someone for no reason.

Or, imagine if this energy was used to help pass the recently all-but-defeated Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which was going to help pay medical expenses for those who actually did noble and great things on that terrible day.

That'd be cool, huh.
I support the ground 0 islamic church.
along with a museum that should describe how 911 evidence/debris was never analyzed for damage as is required by law in fire investigations.
along with an exhibit on nanothermite.
Thanks for all the constructive comments.

Others have been noted and filed, but thanks for writing.
9/11 opened up naive Americans eyes to the intolerance of Islam and the goal of world domination that they make no apologies for. We were all happy, happy in our religious freedom the day they flew airplanes into our building killing 3,000 hardworking human beings.

We have nothing to apologize for. We didn't realize their intolerance with religious freedom and non-theocracies would extend to killing people in NYC and Washington D.C. Those killed on 911 would love to have the luxury of moving their koran. Alas, they are dead. Thanks for sharing once again the hideous lack of religious freedom in Saudi Arabia. And no, nothing has changed. [Imagine being a woman there?]