by M. Salahuddin Khan

Weeks of wrangling and public media controversy have seen every manner of argument tried and discarded in favor of the next, in order to secure a legal blockage of the proposed Cordoba Initiative mosque project in lower Manhattan, just 2 blocks from Ground Zero.

So far these efforts have met with little success in legal terms and the debate, if we were to grace it with such a name, has finally converged on the moral judgment as to the wisdom or otherwise of putting a mosque so close to the genesis of the Global War on Terror. To be sure, the political right has not lost the opportunity to weigh in, smelling liberal blood and hoping to score points in November. But as Muslims see it, the question it is raising in the American psyche is the following:

Is al-Qaeda an extreme and fanatical rendition of Islam or is Islam just a mild form of al-Qaeda?

The first part is easy. Al-Qaeda’s fanatically murderous campaign is abhorrent to the overwhelming majority of human beings, Muslim or otherwise, and no one could rationally defend the placement anywhere of a monument to al-Qaeda. But the second half of the question is where, as they say, lies the rub.

In peeling apart the onion on the Ground Zero mosque issue, it seems that for a substantial body of American public opinion, we are indeed confronted with the perception that Islam is simply—al-Qaeda Lite.

For such people, terrorism or violent proselytizing is somehow in the DNA of Islam and those indisposed to research or to reaching out, find an ironic comfort in this easy-to-grasp “explanation.”

Yet others, with beguiling erudition, and claims of having “studied” the Qur’an and Islam, quote its verses out of context hoping for only the simplest of minds to be listening. “The Devil has duped over a billion and a half people in the world today and maybe about double that number since Islam’s emergence from Mecca 1400 years ago,” they argue. Coupled with the events of 9/11 and other terrorist attacks, their comments find fertile ground among the paranoid.

Given the propensity to oppose the mosque in poll after poll, Americans nonetheless generally seem to hold that they can understand that Islam is not synonymous with terrorism. However, this perspective cannot honestly be held if Islam’s symbols continue to equate to terrorism. And if they don’t, then we cannot rationally consider such symbols as a source of offense of any nature or scale to anyone. In taking that view, we at least can hold that a mosque near Ground Zero should not disturb the sensibilities it is claimed to have disturbed for many (though not all) 9/11 victims’ families. All we’re left with is the facile argument: “…but it does.”

That those families have borne a tragic loss, must never be forgotten nor belittled. But however hard that loss was, it cannot excuse the conflating of al-Qaeda and Islam. Such a view is particularly insensitive to the Muslim families of the victims (assuming they matter) of al-Qaeda everywhere, which number vastly more than the entire death-toll of 9/11 itself.

If bridging this yawning gap of understanding is in our agenda, then those building such bridges should be welcomed. This is the stated aim of the Cordoba Initiative and unless someone (as the opposition is tirelessly laboring to do) can dig up the dirt  on this initiative or those involved, it’s time to dig up the dirt under 45-47 Park Place and get going.

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3 Responses to “Reconciling 9/11 sensitivities with Islam”

  1. Imran on August 18th, 2010 3:00 pm

    Most Americans these days are guite confused about Islam as their media has for political convenience portrayed Islam in a very negative manner. This portrayal finds resonance also because of what they are taught in schools about Crusades etc. which paints Islam in a negative way. Majority of Americans equate Islam with Arabs and their culture.
    American Muslims have also not done a good job in engaging US society historically.
    I have posted multiple posts here that shed light on the Message of God in the Quran. I would like to draw attention to one particular one
    I think Muslim Americans need to start educating America as I have found informed Americans to make the right choices.

  2. Mario Moreira on August 19th, 2010 12:37 pm

    If the opposition to the center is based on bigoted and uninformed name calling vs actually intellectual debate. Add to this that most of those against the center cannot seem to tell the difference between the variety of Muslims around the world where they would clearly tell you that Christians and Jews are different. Plus the rights of religion are the foundation of what makes American great. There is nothing but a politican scam by some of the bigoted right in America and should not be accepted in any way.

  3. Izaz Haque on August 19th, 2010 1:33 pm

    Today’s letters in the NY Times have a number of perspectives on this, including mine (which are generally in the same vein as Mario’s).