As with any other phobia, the first key step to overcoming it is acceptance. America, we must own up to the fact that we have a real problem with the idea that Muslims live in America. Let's not kid ourselves. The other day my mother, who resides deep in the Red State Midwest, sent me an e-mail forward showing pictures of Muslims praying at the corner of 42nd and Madison in New York City. Contained in the body of the e-mail was the following pure, unedited, uncensored message from one American to his fellow Americans:
This is in New York City on Madison Avenue, not in France or the Middle East or Yemen or Kenya. Is there a message here???? Yes, there is, and they are claiming America for allah. If we don't wake up soon, we are going to "politically correct" ourselves right out of our own country! A Christian Nation cannot put up a Christmas scene of the baby Jesus in a public place, but the Muslims can stop normal traffic every Friday afternoon by worshiping in the streets... Something is happening in America that is reminiscent of what is happening in Europe . This is Political Correctness gone crazy...Notice the language and how it instinctively draws a division between "our country" and anybody who practices Islam - as if it is a given that Muslims are not Americans. The author's understanding of who does NOT constitute an American is clear - anybody who worships "allah." And if there was any doubt about who DOES constitute an American, the author makes this point crystal clear in referring to America as "A Christian Nation." Notwithstanding the fact that the 1st Amendment to the United States Constitution expressly prohibits America from declaring ANY one religion as the national religion, the larger point to this e-mail is that it is symptomatic of the fact that, as a nation, we have a problem with Islam. Sure, you could also argue that, aside from the problem with Islam, we have a 200 year-old problem admitting that America is anything but the exclusive province of Christianity in general. Nevertheless, discussions like these take that general proposition a step further by specifically declaring that Muslims are not Americans.
Once we are willing to admit that we have a problem, we should next seek to understand WHY we have a problem with Islam. Although the reasons may be multiple in number, one of the main reasons why we have a problem with Islam was articulated by one of the callers this past Friday who called into SIRIUS Radio's "Make It Plain" with Mark Thompson. During the show in which members of The Urban Politico discussed this topic with the show's host, one self-identified conservative Christian called in from Pennsylvania and stated that Islam is a violent religion. As support for this proposition, he offered one passage from the Bible discussing love for thy neighbor, and one passage from the Qur'an discussing violence against thine enemies. The problem with that type of an argument, as we quickly pointed out to the caller, is that there are several passages from the Bible such as Genesis 22:2-13 that discuss violence not only against thine enemies but against our loved ones (Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac), Leviticus 24:16 (anyone who blasphemes the name of the lord shall be stoned to death), and Exodus 21:15 (a child who hits their parents "shall surely be put to death"); likewise, there are plenty of passages from the Qur'an that discuss love and peace towards our fellow man, such as:
"Be quick in the race for forgiveness from your Lord, and for a Garden (paradise) whose width is that of the heavens and of the earth, prepared for the righteous - Those who spend (freely), whether in prosperity or in adversity, who restrain (their) anger and pardon (all) men - for God loves those who do good." Chapter 3, Verses 133-134The point is, we can pick and choose passages ALL DAY LONG that conveniently (and mistakenly) make Christianity or Islam (or Judaism or Hinduism or....etc.) look like whatever type of religion we want them to look like, but the fact of the matter is, Islam is not a violent religion. So let's not play that game. (Moreover, the specific teachings of Islam are irrelevant to a group's First Amendment right to establish an Islamic place of worship within a mile radius of the World Trade Center, but I digress.)
Once we educate ourselves as to what Islam is, and more importantly, as to what it is not, we then need to take steps to overcome this fear of all things Islam. One of the best ways to do that is to acknowledge the fact (not an opinion but a FACT) that the SCGZM is not a threat to our way of life. Nor is it a political symbol of achievement by "our enemies." What enemies? There are 1.5 Billion Muslims in the world - surely we don't mean to suggest that all 1.5 Billion are our enemy. To his credit, on the day after 9/11, President Bush 43 warned us against confusing all Muslims with the people who actually attacked us: a group of 20 or so misguided psychopaths who were backed up by a few Al Qaeda terrorists cells. At most, these cowards comprise a few percentage points of the 1.5 Billion Muslims around the globe, including the millions of Muslims who are proud United States citizens, the thousands of Muslims who fight for us in the military overseas as we speak, and the dozens of innocent Muslims who lost their lives on 9/11.
Lastly, we must come to terms with and accept the concept that Muslims ARE Americans. Before we make another statement using the words "Americans" and "Muslims" separately as if the terms are mutually exclusive, let that fact sink in for a moment. The reason why America is the greatest country on the face of the planet is because we are a melting pot of diversity. One of the rules that comes along with being a diverse nation of freedom is that, just like back in kindergarten, we all have to learn how to get along. Moving the SCGZM (or the Mosque that's already been near Ground Zero since the 1970's) will not solve America's Islamophobia problem. It will, at most, put a proverbial band-aid over a wide gaping wound that shows no signs of healing itself anytime soon. Make no mistakes, America, we have a problem and the time for dealing with that problem, the time for justice, and the time for living up to our ideals is always right now.