A recent effort meant to heal the trauma many New Yorkers continue to feel from the tragic events of 9/11 by building a mosque near Ground Zero named Cordoba House has garnered a great deal of angst. Tensions reached a new low recently when Michael Berry, a Texas radio show host, on air, urged his listeners to bomb the area if it is built. This, along with other charged allegations have been harnessed by Stop the Islamization of America and Tea Party Express Chairman Mark Williams, as an opportunity to express their extreme, arguably Islamophobic, views.
9/11 has left physical and emotional scars on survivors, those who lost loved ones, the psyche of the city and the nation as a whole. Inflammatory remarks are not productive or conducive to a civil public debate. Discussions have lost sight of the motivations behind the proposal, and why, as Americans, we should take this opportunity to reflect on the events of 9/11 and develop a strategy for how to move forward our nation the only way possible, together.
9/11 has made us look internally, to ask ourselves what it means to be American. Its impact was felt across many communities, which affected Americans of all religious faiths, including Christians, Jews and Muslims, and foreigners alike. Nothing can compensate for the lives that were lost and the pain that has endured. We, as American Muslims, come from a community where fellow congregants, family and friends were victims of the attacks. We want to separate ourselves from the violent actions of a few, with whom we do not share any common ground, whilst doing right by our faith and remaining loyal to America and New York.
Polling data continues to show that nearly 40% of American society holds a negative view of Islam by associating it with violence. However, many who were surveyed admitted that they hardly knew anything about the religion or its followers. This is a clear indication that something significant and far reaching needs to be done to develop mutual understanding and respect.
Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, founder and Chairman of the Cordoba Initiative, has a long history of opposing violence, reaching out across religious lines and through developing mutually progressive programs committed to bringing Americans, Muslims and non, together. Criticism of the project is working to undo this significant work and alternatively seeks to create a climate which divides American Muslims from their fellow citizens.
This culture needs to be counteracted so that the future of a diverse and cohesive New York City can be realized; where people of all faiths live in accordance with mutual respect and where diversity is celebrated. Cordoba House, as a community driven centre, seeks to contribute to the cultural development of Lower Manhattan. Through its premise of promoting tolerance and education, it is an opportunity for American Muslims to show their fellow Americans the real Islam and improve the perception of their religion, taking the spite out of anti-Muslim propagandist arguments and doing right by the City. As Speaker Christine C. Quinn has recently argued, we should “not let the ignorance of a few undermine the reality that the great majority of Americans – and most certainly New Yorkers – believe in diversity, inclusion and acceptance.”
American Muslims in collaboration with their neighbors want to play a role in “steering the world back to the course of mutual recognition and respect and away from heightened tensions”. This is the time where we can show the international community how America exemplifies the highest global standard of religious freedom for the world to follow.
Mohamed Elibiary is a Texan Muslim community leader and National Security Policy Analyst in the USA, advising several Intelligence and Law Enforcement entities on various Counter-Terrorism issues. Amad Shaikh has spent his career in the oil and gas industry, and is the founder of MuslimMatters.org.