US White House
On September 11, 2001, when Al-Qaeda attacked the United States, Osama bin Laden did not immediately achieve his main objective.
True, by murdering thousands of civilians in a horrible terror attack he achieved global infamy and dealt a serious blow to America’s security. However, the attack also produced a universal outpouring of sympathy and support for the American people throughout the world. In fact, an overwhelming majority of the Muslim world saw it for what it was – an act of murder and a perversion of Islam’s teaching. This is why Azerbaijan offered its support to the United States in the fight against terrorism within hours of 9/11. During that tragic week of September 2001, president George W. Bush visited the Islamic Center in Washington, DC to express his support for the Muslim community, show his respect to Islam and, most importantly, to re-assure his Muslim compatriots in the wake of this tragedy for all Americans. Separating terrorists from the Muslims in general has since been a fundamental tenet of U.S. policy, both domestically and internationally.
Considering the diversity of American society and its founding principles, this had sounded believable and helped to significantly reduce the anti-American backlash in spite of invading two Muslim nations and causing tens of thousands of civilian deaths.
Even the extrajudicial horrors of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo were accepted as exceptions rather than a rule. Of course, the United States has squandered most of the goodwill, which was there immediately after 9/11. Still,
America’s militaristic rampage has mostly been seen as an arrogant imperial over-reach rather than an anti-Islamic crusade.
This might be changing now to the enormous delight of one Osama bin Laden, whose greatest and, yet unachieved, goal is to unite All Muslims against the United States and the West in general. If bin Laden failed to achieve this through their radicalism and violence, the American politicians and media are doing that today delivering their nation’s long-term future and security to him on a plate as his last wish (if one is to believe reports of the world’s #1 terrorist being perpetually at the deathbed).
The anti-Muslim hysteria around the Lower Manhattan Islamic Center (which, by the way, is not located at the Ground Zero but rather two blocks away on a private property) is simple and pure racism, a nauseating display of bigotry and ignorance, both un-American and very primitive in nature. If there are any doubts, simply consider whether such a heated rhetoric could be directed on such a massive scale against any other group - Jews, African-Americans, Latino, etc. And all of this is happening during the Holy Ramadan.
In all honesty, perhaps, the project developers and the Imam, Faisal Abdul Rauf, could have been a bit more considerate and select a different site initially. To do it now under pressure is, as New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said, would be a defeat for everything America claims to stand. Incidentally, Mr. Bloomberg seems to be the only visible American politician with both principles and leadership abilities at the moment. Perhaps, the letter “I”, which designates his political affiliation, does really mean independent?
In an election year, American politicians are ready to use all means to sway the political pendulum. Therefore, for many, this is just a political issue, which they know nothing about but are all too happy to exploit. For instance, the ramblings of the linguistically-challenged but still-good-looking former Republican VP candidate Sarah Palin, whose incomprehensible lexicon would put a seventh-grader learning English as a second language to shame, demonstrates her unrestrained passion and a very deep lack of knowledge. For another Republican Newt Gingrich, who is one of America’s most intelligent politicians and yet compares Muslims to Fascists, this is not a matter of ignorance but rather a cold-blooded, calculated sacrifice of the national interest for his own political gain. On the other side of political spectrum, the Democrat Harry Reid of Nevada, whose Mormon background should have made him sensitive to religious persecution and reluctant to build his career on money from sinful gambling and prostitution in his state, also joined the opponents of the project in a desperate move to save his own slow-going campaign. There is nothing new about American politicians putting self-interest above all else, except this time the degree of bigotry is rather astounding. For politicians this may be a game of rhetoric; for real victims like the Muslim cab driver in New York, who was attacked in New York because of his religion, this is tragedy and disillusionment about the United States.
Americahas gone through its outbursts of insanity in history, when it detained Japanese-Americans, institutionalized slavery and racism and looked favorably at the anti-Semites. In all those cases, America itself acknowledged that it was wrong and it will do so in this case as well. Strangely, the Americans seem unable to learn either from their own or anybody else’s experience. Those, who easily compare others to the fascists, shouldn’t forget that by persecuting the Jewish minority, the Nazi Germany doomed itself, just as the Roman Empire did by throwing the Christians to lions for entertainment of the masses. Of course, burning scriptures is not un-paralleled in history either. These methods are employed by America’s enemies and becoming like the one you oppose defeats the whole purpose of the struggle. By upping the anti-Muslim rhetoric, the American politicians undermine the strenuous efforts of those trying to ensure the nation’s security, including the one time darling of the right-wing General David Petraeus, whose every success is built on convincing Muslims that Americans don’t see them as enemies. With globalized news coverage available instantly, America’s new outburst of bigotry makes his job much harder, if not impossible. One puzzling footnote is that, even on personal level, Sarah Palin, whose son risked his life in Iraq, doesn’t connect the dots.
As mentioned earlier, this is partly due to the sorry state of education in the United States, which has lowered the level of discussion to a rather primitive level, often unacceptable for the 21st century. Confusion and ignorance producefear, which results in bigotry and searching for easy escape goats.
This has always been the recipe imperial decline in history. Unfortunately, America seems to embrace this pattern. Screaming about the Muslims aiming to kill the Jews and Christians as ‘infidels’ has become a standard fare in the media along with condemnation of the “Sharia taking over America.” Amazingly, those peddling anti-Muslim rhetoric use the most radical, Al-Qaeda type definition of ‘infidels” and Sharia. They are either unwilling or too ignorant to learn that ‘infidel” never referred to the Jews and Christians in the mainstream Islam and the Muslims are commanded to respect both as followers of fraternal monotheistic teachings. As for Sharia, it’s application are as diverse as are the people, who apply it, because it is nothing more than a human interpretation of the rules prescribed by God. In interpreting scriptures in various, often conflicting ways, the Jews and Christians have a much longer history than the Muslims, so they should recognize the concept. In addition, there aren’t that many Muslim nations, where Sharia is practiced. This shows once again that, while A mericans fight wars in Muslim lands, they have failed to learn much about their culture – another frequent symptom of imperial climax.
Ironically, those, who argue that an Islamic Center cannot be built in Lower Manhattan until “there is a synagogue in Mecca,” or initiate the “Koran burning” event also propagate bin Laden’s black and white view of the world. Besides the obvious silliness of this argument, - a counter point would be “why is there no mosque in St.Peter’s square in Vatican, for instance? – since when is America taking Saudi kingdom’s rules as a standard? Americans, who compare the United States civil liberties to the guidelines of one of the world’s most restrictive religious societies, summarily reject their own Constitution in pursuit of a twisted political debate. By the same logic, why not to adopt all of the Saudi rules then, including restriction of women drivers and other guidelines? This, of course, would be much closer to a radical interpretation of Sharia than building an Islamic Center, right? Well, bin Laden would have been delighted.
Perhaps, there is also a psychological aspect to the anti-Muslim hysteria run amok. Facing so many pressures to be politically correct, many Americans, hiding behind outward politeness, may have to suppress their racist, anti-Semitic, anti-gay and other urges. In the Muslims, they found an easy object for channeling frustration. Two years into the Obama presidency, the latent racism, which sometimes comes across in questions about Barack Obama’s place of birth and other similar veiled references, has finally found a politically and socially acceptable target. The history has shown what happens to the societies, which don’t control their primitive urges.
There is another lesson in this story. Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf, of whom many know only that he is closely cooperating with the US Government and is traveling to the Muslim nations on the State Department grant praising the virtues of American liberty and tolerance (this is not a joke!), is often accused of not being sensitive to the social perceptions related to the tragedy of 9/11.
Although, this, actually, may be a valid criticism, his Cordoba Initiative has all the rights to be insensitive under the US law and has passed all the legal zoning regulations in New York. In so doing, Imam Faisal, unwillingly, introduced the Americans to what the US representatives are often known abroad for. When imposing for their own interpretation of democracy, law etc on others, the Americans frequently dismiss calls for caution and sensitivity as nonsense and irrelevant. Perhaps, sensitivities matter outside lower Manhattan and rural Tennessee as well? For now, overly sensitive politicians, such as the Republican gubernatorial candidate in New York, are calling for investigating Imam Faisal. On the other side of the coin, the anti-American radicals would be happy to punish the Imam for his close ties to the US Government agencies. As always, the extremes come very close to each other. In any case, this makes a mockery of America’s grand-standing and mentoring to other nations on freedom of religion, tolerance and anti-discrimination.
All in all, these are sad and shameful days for America. Not just because, there are some bigoted politicians and hateful, radical bloggers hiding from real life behind their computers and using the same freedoms they enjoy to call for denying them to the others. The shameful thing is that there isn’t more outcry among Americans in defense of their proclaimed values and against discrimination. No less shameful is the lack of leadership among the American politicians, including president Obama, who endorsed the Islamic Center at an Iftar dinner just to deny that the next day. The polarization of the society is illustrated by full 18% of Americans, according to one poll, believing that Obama is a Muslim. These seem to be the same people, who kept blaming Obama for attending the church, where a fiery, emotionally unstable, yet Christian, minister Jeremiah Wright kept yelling insults at America. Just as the results of the poll are not about Obama but rather about the extent of confusion among the Americans, so the hysteria about the Islamic Center and book burning is not about Islam but about America. Unfortunately, denying that Obama is a Muslim, the White House no longer even bothers to remind the public that even if he was, this would be fine because, America shouldn’t discriminate based on faith.
There are some ironic twists in this story. For example, the Fox News TV, which is engaged in a nonstop promotion of anti-Muslim sentiments, belongs to the New Corporation, which in turn is partly owned by a Saudi prince. Another irony is that the pastor calling for burning Koran says that he does this in order to protect freedom of speech and liberty. Such creativity would stun even authors of the convoluted fascist propaganda.
For a Muslim friend of America, watching this debate has been a nauseating experience and a great disappointment. Muslims, overwhelmingly reject the radicalism of Osama bin Laden and resent his violent ideology. Strangely, some American politicians seem to enjoy playing by his rules.
Soltan Ismaylov is a free-lance writer based in Baku, Azerbaijan.