In all of the back and forth within the Pagan community over if we should or shouldn’t support the proposed Islamic Center, one of the more compelling things I’ve read was a comment from NorseAlchemist on the Wild Hunt, “I find myself in an unenviable position which seems I must either stand for freedom of religion (a thing near and dear to my heart) and permit a religion that would see my ways wiped from human existence or stand for something that appears to be against freedom of religion and prevent said ideology from gaining more power.”
I’m going to leave aside the legal and constitutional red herrings that have been thrown out there because this isn’t, as of yet, a constitutional or legal issue. No governmental agency is blocking the center from being built. Instead this is a public discussion of preference. Do you prefer the center to be built in that spot, somewhere else, or should Islamic Centers not be built anywhere in the USA? The group behind the center is free to follow or ignore these opinions on preference.
Within the Pagan community, this has been put forward as an issue of showing solidarity with another minority religion. That we must stand with them, as we would expect them to stand with us. Mostly I agree with this. It makes sense to me and appeals to the concepts of honor that are so much a part of Hellenismos. But I can’t do it. No, that’s not true. I choose not to do it. I would lead the charge to assist the Muslim community if the government were infringing on their rights, but I will not assist them in getting the center built.
The main reason for this is exactly because I, too, have thought long and hard about the very dilemma that NorseAlchemist outlines. In a very real and personal way.
Coming out as a Pagan in the USA is not a totally risk-free enterprise. You could lose your job. Your family could cast you out. People could vandalize your property or physically harm you. We fear these things primarily from the Christian majority. I have been lucky. My Christian family did not cast me out. I haven’t lost my job. I have received some threats and other unpleasantness, but overall things are fine. If I came out to my extended family and lived where they do, in the Middle East, I wouldn’t have to worry about my family casting me out. I wouldn’t worry about losing my job. I wouldn’t even have to worry about being physically harmed. I would have none of these worries because I would most probably be dead. Likely by my own family’s hands. They would not go to jail for killing me and their spiritual leaders would not condemn them.
The rule of law and religion, called Sharia, are one in the same in much of the Middle East. People can talk about radicalism or fundamentalism, but killing a Pagan family member – especially a female one – is not a radical or fundamentalist act in most Muslim controlled countries. Nor is killing an adulteress. Or any female who gets out of line. Justice seems to fall heavier on the women under Islamic law. It is an act acceptable to the mainstream of the religion and is promoted and protected by custom, by sacred writings, and by law.
This isn’t just in Islamic-controlled theocracies. The religion and ethics of Islam that offer the choice of compliance with their theological laws or death or other harsh punishments are practiced in Europe, North America, and other regions of the world. I absolutely agree that many Muslims move to the USA (and elsewhere) to escape the draconian religious laws of the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. They are not looking to convert by force and are content with the rest of us living our lives how we see fit. Yet many also still enforce those same draconian laws within their family. Wives cannot refuse their husband’s sexual advances. Religious seeking, outside Islam, is severely punished. Forms of dress are to be observed or, again, the punishment can be severe. Enough of that. Suffice it to say I believe every person is free to voluntarily comply with religious tenants that apply only to themselves, but I oppose those who would force compliance on others.
Does this happen in other religions? Yes. And we rightfully criticize them. Especially in our community, you can’t hardly mention Christianity without a litany of negative comments, most involving words like homophobic and misogyny, being recited. Pagans navel gaze and we aren’t shy about voicing concerns and criticisms of our own, each others’, traditions.
In some Minneapolis public schools, there are rooms set aside so that Muslim students can go and pray during school-time. We have a public school that the ACLU contents is actually a religious Muslim school. If you are carrying alcohol or want to go to a bar, Muslim taxi drivers are allowed to refuse you service. Muslim women are allowed to veil when posing for a photo ID.
I don’t put the blame, for lack of a better word, on Muslims for this. They can only ask for these allowances and what’s the harm in asking? No, it’s a strange brand of hypocrisy, a type of squeamishness that those who label themselves “tolerant” in the USA seem to have regarding Islam that they do not have towards any other religious group. They are the ones who support using taxpayer money to create prayer rooms, footbaths, and halal lunches for Muslim students in public schools while refusing even a hint of accommodation to other religions. It also drives lifelong committed feminists to defend or ignore many of Islam’s human rights violations against women. Our citizenry also doesn’t have much of a problem with taxpayer funds paying for the Islamic Center’s Imam to tour the Mid-East on a bridge building tour which he is also using to raise funds and gain publicity for building the center. I don’t ask for people to castigate the Islamic faith, but is it asking too much for people to treat it with the same critical or neutral eye they cast on other religions? Our government and our citizens show themselves unwilling to place the same restraints on Islam as they place on every other religion in our country when it looks to cross the line. That is what raises my level of concern. Not some pathological fear of Islam or ingrained bigotry, but I’m losing my trust in all of you to not allow sharia to gain ground because of some misguided attempt to show how tolerant you are. Where sharia gains, Pagans lose.
This isn’t to say Islam and those who practice it are evil. Far from it. Or that Islam isn’t a spiritually fulfilling religious path for those who are devoted to it. I haven’t found a religion yet that doesn’t have much to recommend it and Islam is no different in that regard. I will not stand quietly while any religion in the USA is discriminated against by our government. I will not condone violence against any religion. But I’m not rooting for Islam to spread throughout the USA as I, like NorseAlchemist feel that “Christians, while unhappy with our existance, at least is not that big a threat. Islam certainly is, from my studies.”
Right now, Islam, as a religion, is in an internal struggling with issues of violence, oppression and human rights violations, and imperialism. I’m hopeful that American moderate Muslims (whom I know to be decent, wonderful people) win this struggle against sharia. They are the ones most concerned by how Western nations seem unwilling to push back against sharia and are the ones targeted for violence by their coreligionists for their non-compliance.
So while I support and will defend anyone’s right to use private funds to build on private property, I will not add my voice to the chorus urging the Islamic Center near Ground Zero be built. Nor will I add my voice to those opposed to it.