American Tolerance vs. Sept. 11 terrorism — a victory of pluralism over prejudice

GETTY IMAGES Germano Riviera walks with the “Flag of Honor,” which displays the names of all of the victims of … Continued

GETTY IMAGES

Germano Riviera walks with the “Flag of Honor,” which displays the names of all of the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, across from Ground Zero on the eve of the 11th anniversary of September 11 on Sept. 10, 2012 in New York City.

“You don’t have to do this! You shouldn’t have to. It’s a disgrace.”

At the height of the 2010 Park 51 “Ground Zero Mosque” controversies, I, along with thousands of Muslim American youth nationwide, was engrossed in a massive “Muslims for Peace” flyer distribution. Days before the ninth anniversary of Sept. 11, I met my match at a Wisconsin State Fair.

The young mother of two looked me in the eye and said, “I am a Christian. The day I see Christians passing out millions of ‘Christians for Peace’ flyers to condemn abortion clinic bombings, let’s talk. You’re my fellow American. You don’t need to prove your Americanness to me.”

Our discussion was short-lived as her children pulled her to the next great fair adventure. She left with a smile. I was left grateful, and wondering. Grateful that people like her exist. Wondering what it would take for all Americans to embrace tolerance and pluralism over prejudice?

In the 11 years since Sept. 11, 2001, we have learned that Osama bin Laden is dead, Afghanistan is on its last leg, and that Muslim Americans have raised over 20,000 blood donations in the past 13 months alone specifically to honor Sept. 11 victims. Yet, Pew reports that Muslim Americans had a higher approval rating right after Sept. 11 than they do now. Despite all the progress we have made as a nation, is our net movement in the red?

Take the Park 51 Mosque for example. Legitimate reasons of sensitivity and timing certainly existed in its construction—but anti-Islam elements instead chose to fabricate fears of alleged Islamic supremacy to express their opposition. It worked. Two dozen states have tried or passed some sort of “anti-shariah” legislation. The Justice Department reports that of the 28 anti-Mosque campaigns that have emerged since Sept. 11, 2001, 18 have emerged since the Park 51 showdown.

The years since the attacks have also forged specific media language to delineate “Islamic terrorism” from literally every other violent act. For example, Fort Hood culprit Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan was a terrorist, but Sikh gurdwara culprit Wade Michael Page was a gunman. The Sept. 11 plane bombers were terrorists but Joseph Stack’s plane bombing in 2010 was unfortunate. Failed Times Square bomb convict Faisal Shahzad was a terrorist, while former Ariz. Rep. Gabrielle Gifford’s would-be assassin Jared Lee Loughner and Aurora, Colo., shooting suspect James Holmes were both simply disturbed.

And the trend forward is not exactly promising.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, anti-Muslim hate groups have nearly tripled since Sept. 11, 2001 to over 30. In a throwback to 1940s Japanese American civil rights violations, the New York Police Department admitted it illegally spied on Muslim Americans in New York for six years—without a single arrest. How ironic that in claiming to prevent Muslim Americans from violating the Constitution, the NYPD themselves trampled several fundamental constitutional principles, like due process and privacy? Likewise, federal enforcement agencies have promoted vitriolic anti-Islam training modules, teaching that “the more devout a Muslim, the bigger a threat s/he is to America.”

Even “looking” Muslim warrants a backlash. Since Sept. 11, Sikh Americans have suffered over 700 hate crimes; a fact the Justice Department admits is a consequence of rising Islamophobia. After the act of terrorism on the Oak Creek Sikh temple in August, media spent more time explaining the difference between Islam and Sikhism than reporting on the incident or condemning the act.

In the days, weeks, and years after the Sept. 11 attacks, then-President George W. Bush repeatedly praised Islam as a peaceful faith, clarifying that the 19 who committed the horrific act did not represent the 1.5 billion who condemned it. Yet, something tells me amnesia is not the culprit when, 11 years later, numerous politicians perpetuate the fabrication that Muslim Americans threaten American sovereignty. No amount of flyer distributions would convince such individuals otherwise.

The fact is that such prejudice does not protect America, but awards victory to the cowards who concocted and executed the attacks. Americans did not defeat Nazism and Japan because we stripped Japanese and German Americans of their constitutionally protected rights. No intelligent person recognizes Japanese internment camps as a source of pride or protection for American citizens. Likewise, government, media, and individual hate mongers who today obscure constitutional freedoms to Americans who choose Islam as their faith, do not protect America. Rather, they do exactly what the Sept. 11 terrorists hoped—tear our country apart.

The young mother of two was right. No citizen should have to “prove” their Americanness any more than any other citizen. So let’s get back into the black. On the 11-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, it is time to give victory to tolerance and pluralism over prejudice.

Our future depends on it.

Qasim Rashid is a leader in the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA. Follow him on Twitter @MuslimIQ or email at [email protected]

Qasim Rashid
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  • BookofDaniel

    As a priest, I would offer another thought we could lay alongside this. While few of us have actually ever read the Koran, we might do better to look at the Bible before we do.

    Such language of violence against the “other” permeates much of the Psalms (the hymn book of the early church) and is part of Judeo-Christian history too. Christians look at that and say, “Well, it is a record of a people’s journey with God as they understood God in their own time. Times were violent then. Since then, we have come to understand more about the nature of God.” If we talk to regular everyday Muslims in our communities, you will hear much the same language. It is when we listen only to the extreme voices of any religion that our vision of it’s followers becomes completely distorted. Of course, demonizing those perceived as “other” is still a sad pastime in which many who call themselves Christian engage — we all fall into this at times.

    While Christians disagree about many fine points of doctrine, few would dispute two main principles that should guide us: We look to our own failings first (the beam in our own eye), and we love our neighbor as ourselves. This includes our Muslim brothers and sisters — I’m unaware of any exceptions Jesus made to this.

  • larrypoke

    Actually, reading the Koran is forbidden to infidels and like everything else in the Islamic culture, subject to execution.

  • Kingofkings1

    The comments in this blog hopefully represent the worst the society has to offer. Otherwise, we are doomed

  • FactFinder

    No, these are facts. Can you dispute any of them?

  • Rongoklunk

    Islam arrived with a bang eleven years ago today – just when religion in my world had as good as disappeared. After WW2 churches were turned into Bingo halls in the UK, because most Brits had given up on the God-hypothesis. Not only because no God ever showed up during the horrors of war – but because we saw no need to tell our children lies about somebody ‘up there watching over us’ when our life-experiences taught us that there’s nobody up there. And these days we are being educated beyond superstition and magic. Truth is more important than wishful thinking.

  • Rongoklunk

    We will be doomed when the first religious wacko gets his hands on a portable nuclear bomb. It’s almost inevitable. The only thing that could save us is if everybody realized that death is death, and that there’s no afterlife. But it will never happen. Folks won’t face that reality.
    For instance, I know the 9/11 terrorists are dead. They expected to live forever with Allah and lots of girls. That’s why they killed themselves in such a horrifying way. But as far as we know death is death. The atheist in me tells me they’re dead. I am certain because it makes good sense. An afterlife makes absolutely no sense at all; unless your religious. That’s why atheists are so vocal against religious thinking. It’s going to get us killed.

  • SimonTemplar

    Since September 11, 2001, we ALL have to prove we are law abiding citizens every time we pass through a TSA checkpoint. How much privacy have we ALL given up since that infamous day?

  • Secular1

    “Well, it is a record of a people’s journey with God as they understood God in their own time. Times were violent then. Since then, we have come to understand more about the nature of God.” Please enlighten us how our understanding has changed. Also, what new knowledge have we gained over this period about fod to revise our understanding? Besides how is it that the earliest people who had been given the so called scripture were wrong in their understanding of the nature of god, where as we the ones far removed claim to know its nature better. Sir you are full of horse manure. The so called better understanding its nature is what we would otherwise call it human zeitgeist. But teh fact of teh matter is the more extreme among you judeuo-christians still hold teh same views and their understanding of the nature of it hasn’t changed much at all.

    The problem with islam is that te mindshare of the muslims in muslim majority countries or dar-ul-islams is monopolized by the extreme rightwing. It does not allow any dissent of any kind. While in the west the zeitgeist has one the day, except in te US, where we constantly struggle and the extreme right may be loud but is loosing ground. That makes islam far more dangerous than other religions.

  • DRJJJ

    Mayflower compact:

    In the name of God, Amen. We, whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, King, defender of the Faith, etc.
    Having undertaken, for the Glory of God, and advancements of the Christian faith and honor of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the Northern parts of Virginia, do by these presents, solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God, and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic; for our better ordering, and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.
    In witness whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names at Cape Cod the 11th of November, in the year of the reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of England, France, and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth, 1620.[13]

  • DRJJJ

    Time Magazine with Einstein in his 50s:
    To what extent are you influenced by Christianity? “As a child I received
    instruction both in the Bible and in the Talmud. I am a Jew, but I am enthralled
    by the luminous figure of the Nazarene.”
    Do you accept the historical existence of Jesus? “Unquestionably! No one can
    read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality
    pulsates in every word. No myth is filled with such life!”

    There’s room for one more!

  • DRJJJ

    Well said-the truth will set them free!

  • DRJJJ

    Loving God and loving others-what a horrible world view huh?

  • RickWatcher

    A nation that was founded on Judeo-Christian principles turns its back on that God and his principles. Then God allows a great disaster such as 911 to fall upon that nation as a warning to show what could happen to them without his protection and to wake the people up to the truth. Yet rather than heeding the warning the nation turns its back even further and gives themselves up to lies, injustices, and sin. The nation becomes more and more idolitrust and sinful and other warnings are allowed in natural disasters, financial hardships, droughts, floods, pestilence and on, yet warnings continue to be ignored. Therefore minds are turned over to reprobation and truth cannot be seen making way for the great lie that’s coming and a great antichrist leader will be given control of all lives. Until the great God must intervene but until He does billions will die and billions will descend into hell because they chose to belive a lie rather than the truth. Islam is the rider on the pale (green) horse of Revelation and is not a religion of peace. Wake up before it’s too late.

  • tony55398

    Allah is Love, there is no pride in Allah because pride is from the devil. God is Love, there is no pride in God because pride springs from the devil. All violence for any reason springs from the evil one, even violence that claims to do the will of God, or Allah.

  • jkhan2

    great article, thanks to Qasim for highlighting such important points. we should all get involve ourselves in understanding others, rather than stereotyping others. LOVE FOR ALL HATRED FOR NONE is the way to go. Beside all these prejudices, sanity prevails in American Public. I have personally met several people during muslims for life campaigns and talked to city officials, common people, reporters and professionals, all of them were very appreciative of our efforts. In the end I thought myself blessed and lucky to be here in United states of America. Hope the whole world can become as free as US is and then we can say United Countries for freedom of religion, speech and conscience. Also we can say to our next generations to come to take care of this freedom and respect for each other.

  • VAVoter33

    Clearly you are not familiar with history of the founding of our country and the emphasis on “separation of church and state.” I hope God intervenes to let you know that you’re insane.

  • VAVoter33

    Great piece, Qasim! The crazy you read in this comments section is not reflective of the hundreds of people reading your article and being inspired to work for real peace and to correct this kind of ignorant bigotry. I look forward to reading more from you soon.

  • Aneesa Mumtaz

    It is very easy to be biased even while preaching tolerance; this is specially true of the Islamo phobia band wagon on which the American public seems to be riding.

  • s stokes

    Two words: STEALTH JIHAD