Wednesday, August 25, 2010

More Listening, Less Shouting: Islamophobia, a Muslim American Perspective Part 2

As part of our series on Islamophobia in America and as the controversy over the Ground Zero Mosque Islamic Cultural Center continues, I asked American Muslims, living in New York City their thoughts on the "mosque" controversy, the treatment of American Muslims since 9/11, and whether projects like the Islamic Cultural Center can begin to bridge the gap between the false perceptions of Islam and the reality.  Below is my second interview.  The first interview can be read here.  I have not changed the content of the responses because I think they should remain unfiltered.

Q: As an Muslim American how have you been treated since 9/11? Did you have any personal experiences with xenophobia in the aftermath of the attacks?

A: Since I don't wear Hijab, I am not easily identifiable as a Muslim woman. I often wish that wasn't the case, as I know for individuals like my Mom who do wear the Hijab, these folks are often harassed and told to "Go back to where they came from."  I have experienced this rage and xenophpbia personally in New York City only when attending either Anti-War (Iraq and Afghanistan) demonstrations or in standing up for the rights of oppressed Palestinians.  In aggregate, I believe the xenophobia I have experienced (along with my friends) has become worse gradually since 9/11.  It seems that with every attack that is labeled as Islamic in nature - i.e. Islamic Terrorism - the xenophobia increases.  I have a friend who wears the Hijab who had someone spit in their face and also tell them to "go back to your country".  As a native Manhattanite, this is my home.

Q: What are your feelings generally with regards to the building of Cordoba House? Opponents to the Cordoba House have conceded that there is a legal right to build the center, however they claim that it is not a matter of legality but rather a matter of offensiveness to the families of the 9/11 victims.  How do you respond to that?

A: I was in Manhattan on 9/11 and I have many friends who lost friends on that day.  I was in fact married by Imam Faisel Abdul Rauf, in May of 2006.  I am confident that the Park51 project will bring tremendous value to the New York City Interfaith Community.  I don't believe that the project's developers should be pressured into moving to another location, as i believe that is a "bullying" tactic being implemented by elected officials who are using this to gain political points.  "Rosa Parks did not move to the back of the bus, I don't believe that Park51 project should be forced to move either."

Q: Some opponents to the Cordoba House state that it should be built, but they argue that given the tension between some Americans and Islam that 2010 is still too close to 9/11 and thus the Center should be postponed until those tensions subside. How do you respond to that?

A: Martin Luther King, Jr. once said , "You can't put your timeline on someone else's freedom."  When will it be okay to lift the "non-Muslim Zone restriction" in the area of Ground Zero?  How far is far enough?  As long as local zoning laws are met, this mosque should be built in accordance.  To try to somehow also state that since popular sentiment is against this mosque, that we should adhere to their wishes as a democratic nation is absurd.  Our founding fathers built this as a democratic country for the purpose of electing leaders and the 1st amendment and 'religious freedom" is guaranteed in the bill of rights as inalienable to all citizens and not subject to popular votes.

Q: From your experience and the experience of other Muslims that you know, have Muslim/Non-Muslim relations progressed in America since 9/11 and how you see Cordoba House fitting into this dynamic?

A: Muslims have become acutely aware of their need to reach out to others to foster interfaith understanding.  I believe that Muslims have progressed significantly in these areas since 9/11.  Unfortunately the amount of work that needs to be done is enormous.  It still seems that 2/3rds of Americans don't know a Muslim yet.  There is still significant work to be done.  Given the amount of publicity that the Islamic Cultural Center (Cordoba House) has received I believe that it could be at the forefront of fostering this understanding.  Certainly the developers have the interfaith relationships in place which are required to make this a successful center of understanding.

Q: Did you hear President Obama’s speech about the mosque at the White House dinner celebrating the beginning of Ramadan? Do you feel he went far enough in his support for religious freedom and reconciliation between the Muslim community and those who still harbor ill will?

A: I was very impressed with President Obama's conviction, courage, and leadership in his speech.  I do wish that he had gone a bit further in imploring folks to consider that this Islamophobia is occurring across the country. He should have emphasized that what happens in New York City with the Islamic Cultural Center (Cordoba House) will set a precedent for the rest of the country.

Q: What should we as Americans take away from this controversy?

A: American's need to realize that there is a very vocal minority that is interested in fear mongering and 'bullying Muslim Americans' to believing that they 'don't belong' in this country.  America is better than that!  Muslim Americans like those before us will fight to gain our civil rights like other minority groups that have come before us.

Photo copyright owned by ILLUME Magazine.
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