we didn’t start the fire

“… we are seeing forces that cannot ultimately be stopped by anyone – until they have wrought the hideous consequences so many zealots on all sides desire.”

Andrew Sullivan discussing the current political and emotional climate.

My heart aches… I seriously pray he is wrong.

As I have grown and sought my education and broadened my global awareness I have watched fundamentalism, literalism, dogmatism, and xenophobia grow globally.

How do we move beyond difference, toward peace?

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Phobic

Here is a fabulous article by Sally Steenland of the Center for American Progress about the Islamophobia present in the debate about the Cordoba House, and the ensuing debate.

She makes important arguments about the risks of anti-Muslim rhetoric,  and reveals hypocrisy:

“It’s time to look at this problem another way. In order to truly see how distorted, offensive, and dangerously wrong anti-Muslim rhetoric is, it is useful to switch religions for a moment and substitute Christianity for Islam. This might seem hard to do at first because Christianity is so embedded in our culture and such a familiar part of our nation’s founding and heritage. But what if we knew nothing of Christianity except what we learned from extremist groups and critics of the religion? What if we viewed Christianity through the same distorted lens that is too often used to view Islam?”

a must read.

Bloomberg speech

“Whatever you may think of the proposed mosque and community center, lost in the heat of the debate has been a basic question: Should government attempt to deny private citizens the right to build a house of worship on private property based on their particular religion?” Bloomberg asked. “That may happen in other countries, but we should never allow it to happen here. This nation was founded on the principle that the government must never choose between religions, or favor one over another.” Mayor Bloomberg

Decision Time

The uproar over the prospective building of the Cordoba House (aka “the Ground Zero Mosque”) has unfortunately done a fabulous job of showcasing the double-standards, stereotypes, and unfair generalizations that result in prejudice against Muslim-Americans every day.

The condemning of the sight by the ADL is the cherry on top.

“Let’s be clear. This is not about the proposed Islamic Center. There is already a masjid in the neighborhood, and it’s been there for decades. This is about giving political cover to right-wing politicians using anti-Muslim bigotry as a political weapon and a fundraising tool…I learned a very important lesson in Hebrew School that I have retained my entire life. If they can deny freedom to a single individual because of who they are, they can do it to anyone. Someone at the ADL needs to go back to Hebrew School.”Adam Serwer

“Those who sincerely believe that Cordoba House is offensive need to tell a Muslim serving in the U.S. military precisely how far from Ground Zero he may acceptably practice his religion.To the ADL: you’re breaking my heart here. Are you prepared to tell Jews not to build synagogues in Hebron because of the crimes of Baruch Goldstein? Do we Jews bear the guilt for the murders he committed?” Spencer Ackerman

I agree with the Goldblog:  !?!

“I have explained my support for the Lower Manhattan mosque project before, but let me restate two points: 1) The organization behind the project, the Cordoba Initiative, is a moderate group interested in advancing cross-cultural understanding. It is very far from being a Wahhabist organization; 2) This is a strange war we’re fighting against Islamist terrorism. We must fight the terrorists with alacrity, but at the same time we must understand that what the terrorists seek is a clash of civilizations. We must do everything possible to avoid giving them propaganda victories in their attempt to create a cosmic war between Judeo-Christian civilization and Muslim civilization. The fight is not between the West and Islam; it is between modernists of all monotheist faiths, on the one hand, and the advocates of a specific strain of medievalist Islam, on the other. If we as a society punish Muslims of good faith, Muslims of good faith will join the other side. It’s not that hard to understand. I’m disappointed that the ADL doesn’t understand this.”

All these quotes and articles come from Jewish writers. Peter Beinart hit the nail on the head earlier this summer with the publication of The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment .His latest thoughts :

Peter Beinart“For a long time now, the ADL seems to have assumed that it could exempt Israel from the principles in its charter and yet remain just as faithful to that charter inside the United States. But now the chickens are coming back home to America to roost. The ADL’s rationale for opposing the Ground Zero mosque is that “building an Islamic Center in the shadow of the World Trade Center will cause some victims more pain—unnecessarily—and that is not right.” Huh? What if white victims of African-American crime protested the building of a black church in their neighborhood? Or gentile victims of Bernie Madoff protested the building of a synagogue? Would the ADL for one second suggest that sensitivity toward people victimized by members of a certain religion or race justifies discriminating against other, completely innocent, members of that religion or race? Of course not. But when it comes to Muslims, the standards are different. They are different in Israel, and now, it is clear, they are different in the United States, too. Indifference to the rights and dignity of Palestinians is a cancer eating away at the moral pretensions of the American Jewish establishment. Last Friday, in the case of the ADL, we learned just how far that cancer has spread.”

The ADL’s charter states :“Its ultimate purpose is to secure justice and fair treatment to all citizens alike and to put an end forever to unjust and unfair discrimination against and ridicule of any sect or body of citizens.”

“All citizens” has been asterisked in the case of Israel, and now with regard to American Muslims.

Perhaps the most passionate call to action American Jews can hear is from the incredible Elie Wiesel, in his address at the White House entitled “The Perils of Indifference”

“Of course, indifference can be tempting — more than that, seductive. It is so much easier to look away from victims. It is so much easier to avoid such rude interruptions to our work, our dreams, our hopes. It is, after all, awkward, troublesome, to be involved in another person’s pain and despair. Yet, for the person who is indifferent, his or her neighbor are of no consequence. And, therefore, their lives are meaningless. Their hidden or even visible anguish is of no interest. Indifference reduces the Other to an abstraction…. The political prisoner in his cell, the hungry children, the homeless refugees — not to respond to their plight, not to relieve their solitude by offering them a spark of hope is to exile them from human memory. And in denying their humanity, we betray our own.”

I conclude by echoing the question asked by Issac Luria, VP of Communications and New Media for J Street in a recent email to supporters:

“This is a moment of truth for the American Jewish community and our friends. Will we line up on the side of freedom of religion and respect for all – or give in to the fear and prejudice that have led to the denial of our own rights in the past?”

Burqa Ban

One day at my high school a group of boys came to school wearing skirts, tight sweaters and excessive makeup. They were following through on a creative assignment from their English class, inspired by the novel Black Like Me: live a day in the life of someone unlike yourself, and experience the world from their perspective. Not a bad assignment, though it played out rather comically, and without much genuine effort (Although I did hear one boy remark on how uncomfortable the bra he had borrowed from his sister was).

As a Christian Arab-American, I have often wondered how my life is different from my Muslim brothers and sisters. In our post 9-11 world, my sensitivity to ethnic profiling and sweeping generalizations has heightened significantly. I sometimes imagine going “under (head)cover” for a day to see if I’d notice a change in others behavior/attitude toward me. I am especially curious in light of the recent legislative actions taken by the French government.

Why is the #the burqa ban# being proposed by the French government, and what would it actually achieve?

Fans urge that the measure will promote women’s equality and help maintain French values and secularism. Unfortunately (even as  a genuine aim) I observe the ban as yet another expression of legislating citizens’ Islamophobic and xenophobic concerns as Europe adapts to an ever-diversifying immigrant community (#banning minarets# anyone?)

So among the issues this controversy brings to the fore, a major point of contention for me stems from the issue of personal choice. We can’t determine whether the estimated 1,900 veiled women in France are being coerced to don the burqa or niqab, or whether their actions come from personal belief/religious motive/cultural choice. If the choice is being made based on religious or cultural conviction/ identification (like this young #American girl# ) then the ideal of secularism is stripping individual liberty in the process.

Furthermore, regardless of their reason for covering, the ban will effectively disenfranchise and further alienate these women. If it is the case that their husbands are requiring them to cover, legislating a removal of the burqa won’t liberate the woman, but further enslave her (her husband/family member potentially refusing to allow her to leave home since she cannot be covered). I suppose that is my biggest fear and concern about the ban: it will not liberalize the attitudes of this minority, but further ostracize them.

“There needs to be substantive change in Muslim men’s attitudes towards Muslim women rather than superficial change mandated by a government that seeks to erase those parts of immigrant populations they find distasteful. ” #tasha fierce#

more analysis here and here

Martha Nussbaum presents a much more thorough argument than mine here.

The NY Times has a comprehensive topic  page on Muslim veiling here .