Opinion

The Great Debate

America’s trouble with Islam

By Bernd Debusmann
August 27, 2010

Of the many posters held aloft in angry demonstrations about plans for an Islamic cultural centre and mosque in New York, one in particular is worth noting: “All I ever need to know about Islam, I learned on 9/11.”

As an example of wilful ignorance, it’s in a class by itself. It passes judgment, in just 12 words, about a sprawling universe of 1.3 billion adherents of Islam (in 57 countries around the world) who come from different cultures, speak a wide variety of languages, follow different customs, hold different nationalities and believe in different interpretations of their faith, just like Christians or Jews. Suicidal murderers are a destructive but tiny minority.

But for the people waving all-I-ever-need-to-know posters in front of national television cameras two blocks from “ground zero,” site of the biggest mass murder in American history, Islam equals terrorism. No need for nuance, no need for learning, no need for building bridges between the faiths. The mindset epitomized by the slogan mirrors the radical fringe of Islamic thought, equally doubt-free and self-righteous.

Both sides have data to back up their assertions. The Islam-equals-terrorism school of thought can point to 3,000 victims of the attacks on New York’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Those who preach that the U.S. is waging war on Islam itself, and terror acts are therefore a form of self-defence, can argue that Christian soldiers have been killing Muslims through history, from the Crusades to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The “ground zero mosque” affair began with a dispute over the center’s proximity to the hole where the Twin Towers once stood. Too close to hallowed ground, argue opponents, including family members of people who died in the attack. The question of location morphed into a national debate on religious tolerance and prompted demonstrations against planned mosques more than a thousand miles from New York.

Does all this add up to a rising wave of anti-Muslim bigotry? Or is it more of the same, with the volume turned higher in advance of mid-term elections? There are no hard data to answer that question and it is worth looking back a few years at polls on American attitudes towards Muslims. In 2006, a Gallup survey found that 39 percent favoured rules requiring Muslims, including U.S. citizens, to carry special identification to better spot potential terrorists.

Callers to a Washington radio show host who followed up on the ID issue suggested identifying Muslims with a crescent-shaped tattoo on their foreheads, stamps on their driving licenses, passports and birth certificates, or special armbands.

THE ISLAMOPHOBIA MACHINE
Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic relations, thinks the noise level of anti-Muslim statements has risen because the Tea Party movement has attracted Americans “more ready to speak out” than traditional political outlets. But at the core of the often ugly debate is what he calls “the Islamophobia machine – right-wing bloggers on the Internet, talk radio, and opinion columns in conservative newspapers.”

Like President George W. Bush before him, President Barack Obama has had little success in convincing his fellow Americans that al Qaeda and the Taliban do not represent Islam. In Obama’s case there is an added complication: 57 percent of Republicans, according to a poll in spring, think he is a Muslim. (He is not.)

Nationally and across party lines, 24 percent believe their president is a Muslim, according to a TIME poll taken after Obama stepped into the New York Islamic center debate by saying that Muslims had the same right as anyone else to practice their religion, including in a place of worship in Lower Manhattan. A day later he watered down his remark. It had been about the right to build the center, not the wisdom of doing so, he explained.

No such vacillation from Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York and virtually the only leader who has spoken about the mosque without making politics look like a game reserved for panderers and demagogues. Newt Gingrich, a possible Republican presidential candidate for the 2012 elections likened backers of the New York mosque to Nazis and observed that “Nazis don’t have the right to put up a sign next to the holocaust museum in Washington.”

Bloomberg, who is Jewish and not affiliated to any party, said this week that dropping plans to build the center or moving it elsewhere would undercut American values and principles and “feed the false impressions that some Americans have about Muslims. We would send a signal around the world that Muslim Americans may be equal in the eyes of the law, but separate in the eyes of their countrymen.

“And we would hand a valuable propaganda tool to terrorist recruiters, who spread the fallacy that America is at war with Islam. Islam did not attack the World Trade Center – al Qaeda did.”

It’s an admirably clear message. Whether it can get through to the people with the “All I need to know about Islam” signs is another question.

Comments
118 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

Deltadog is exactly right. From an historical perspective, those who do not procreate are in effect saying that their own culture is not worth preserving.

Posted by jrcarly | Report as abusive
 

Religions, like Christianity or Islam are not the problem. The problem is groups of people using religion as an excuse to impose their will on other groups of people. People have been imposing their will on others since the dawn of history and in all likelihood will continue to do so with or without organized religions. The objective should be to identify those individuals and groups who are committing or advocating the commission of unlawful behavior and go after them as directly as possible. The behavior is the problem not whatever cause or religion they use to mask it’s true purpose. If any organization is advocating or committing unlawful behavior it should be outlawed whether it is secular or religious. Islam is not an organization but a category of people who share a common set of beliefs.

Posted by jrcarly | Report as abusive
 

Inergration – it’s as simple as that.
Where cultures don’t integrate, schism, mistrust and hatred prosper – always has done, always will do.
It’s a human condition, and history proves this – seen any Neanderthals lately?

Posted by raftspider | Report as abusive
 

Not that it is likely to change the minds of any of the anti-Islam commenters, but here is a quick guide to myths about mosques which just might, a little.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/con tent/article/2010/08/26/AR2010082605510. html

Myth #2:

Mosques try to spread sharia law in the United States.

In Islam, sharia (“the Way” to God) theoretically governs every human act. But Muslims do not agree on what sharia says; there is no one sharia book of laws. Most mosques in America do not teach Islamic law for a simple reason: It’s too complicated for the average believer and even for some imams.
Islamic law includes not only the Koran and the Sunna (the traditions of the prophet Muhammad) but also great bodies of arcane legal rulings and pedantic scholarly interpretations. If mosques forced Islamic law upon their congregants, most Muslims would probably leave — just as most Christians might walk out of the pews if preachers gave sermons exclusively on Saint Augustine, canon law and Greek grammar. Instead, mosques study the Koran and the Sunna and how the principles and stories in those sacred texts apply to their everyday lives.

Posted by Komment | Report as abusive
 

Not that it is likely to change the minds of any of the anti-Islam commenters, but here is a quick guide to myths about mosques which just might, a little.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/con tent/article/2010/08/26/AR2010082605510. html

Myth #2:

Mosques try to spread sharia law in the United States.

In Islam, sharia (“the Way” to God) theoretically governs every human act. But Muslims do not agree on what sharia says; there is no one sharia book of laws. Most mosques in America do not teach Islamic law for a simple reason: It’s too complicated for the average believer and even for some imams.
Islamic law includes not only the Koran and the Sunna (the traditions of the prophet Muhammad) but also great bodies of arcane legal rulings and pedantic scholarly interpretations. If mosques forced Islamic law upon their congregants, most Muslims would probably leave — just as most Christians might walk out of the pews if preachers gave sermons exclusively on Saint Augustine, canon law and Greek grammar. Instead, mosques study the Koran and the Sunna and how the principles and stories in those sacred texts apply to their everyday lives.

Posted by Komment | Report as abusive
 

The main issue that people don’t understand about Islam and Islamic Sharia (and Sharia means islamic rules, not the way to god), it’s that it doesn’t apply in a country where it is not applied! As a muslim, i am not forced to implemend the sharia rule in a non muslim country applying diffrent set of rules, regardless of what these sets of rules are. What does this mean? it means with the absence of a muslim ruler and Sharia, a muslim is only asked to implemend the 5 main rules of islam. Namely, beleiving that there is only one god and that Mohamed PBUH is his messinger, praying, paying Zakat (basically, it’s your average tax), fasting on the month of Ramadan and Attending the holy trip of Hajj to Mecca (which is only mandatory if you can afford the trip).
And mosques are like churches. they have sacret areas and have rules to attend them. And everybody is welcomed to enter, no religion, no race, no social standing. that’s the beauty of Islam. Nothing that i have listed indicates a terror factory. the possibility of producing a terrorist doesn’t come from religion, all of the major religeons of the world advocate for peace and harmony. However, it’s the extemist of the world and their unwillingness to listen to the other that is the main creator of terrorism around the world. and it’s our job to keep the communication channels open.

Posted by Sanioura | Report as abusive
 

Bernd, your point of view is always interesting.. than you for your fresh toughts!!

Posted by Bundesagent | Report as abusive
 

Prior to this statement “All I ever need to know about Islam, I learned on 9/11”, there was a similar statement “All I ever need to know about Christianity, I learned in 1838-1839”, or some sentiments like that, bellowed by some Cherokee Indians.

Obviously those Cherokee Indians, as much as they were saddened and outraged, and rightly so, by the wrongs they endured in 1838-1839, hadn’t learnt the whole Christianity, or in larger sense, the western civilization. Likely neither have the shouters today regarding Islam.

Posted by Philo33 | Report as abusive
 

Thanks for a very balanced article!

Posted by Diz | Report as abusive
 

I think it is not a right behaviour to discuss people’s belief.In the america i see that people are afraid of people who are not american,no matter whoever they are.
Islam is not a danger for america.Islam does not rule to change people’s mind by using hidden methods which american people indict mosques for.Please before you comment on something try to learn about it deeply.The religion of islam never needs people who do not believe deeply or believe by other’s directions.Islam says:
Tell them about islam,leave them to think about it,if they believe hug them as brother,if no leave them do whatever they want.This is that simple.
thanks.

Posted by professionalist | Report as abusive
 

This is not the time for muslims to make more mosques in USA, which is bedevilled. The country is now a permanent residece for the evil. George W left the white house but the evil is still living in there. May God have mercy on this Nation, which is certainly going down the route of once great ROME. Let us hope that the USA leaves other spots in the world including Japan, Korea and not to forget Iraq and Afghanistan. Let us then hope that more houses of God would be built in the vacated territories.
Rex Minor

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive
 

Bernd, thoughtful post? Except I see significant cherry picking in facts used to support your article. Seeing the comments of our friends and former colleagues patting you on the back behind the curtain of impartiality on Facebook really made me chuckle. Not least, you conveniently fail to remind your audience that Mr Bloomberg has been Democrat, Republican and only now is impailed on the fence of political convenience.

Isn’t this really a discussion about real estate, its all about location location location!
How about we transpose the Ground Zero Mosque discussion to Buenos Aires and envision a Mosque rising within two blocks of the ruins of the Amia building? Wouldn’t that have been equally provocative? Actually an Islamic cultural center, “El Centro Cultural Islámico Custodio de las Dos Sagradas Mezquitas Rey Fahd” was built soon after that 1994 atrocity, and the earlier 1992 Embassy bombing. At least that mosque was located next to a predominately Catholic Jumbo supermarket, at a considerable and sufficiently conciliatory 6.8km from the AMIA bombing site (checked the distance on Google Maps). Strikes me then that the Ground Zero Mosque could reasonably be built further away, that’s what most New Yorkers and Americans appear to be asking. Is that really so intolerant?

Posted by srbarrell | Report as abusive
 

Any Muslim that takes the Koran or the Sunna at face value can easily justify intolerance, disrespect, and violence upon non-muslims. The religion was spread by the sword for a thousand years 634 – 1453 AD and would have taken over Western Europe had it not been for some push back by the Crusades. Islam’s recent turn to militancy is not new, not extreme and it’s not going to go away by ignoring it’s past and insisting that this is all caused by non-muslims who just need to be more ‘respectful’, ‘tolerant’ and ‘understanding’.

I haven’t heard any calls for tolerance, respect and understanding by Muslim leaders in Muslim countries towards Jews or Christians. Try entering Saudi Arabia with a Bible in your possession if you want a taste of “Muslim understanding”. If New Yorkers can deny a building permit for “Walmart” they certainly have a right to deny a “Islamic cultural center’ two blocks from Ground Zero.

All I ever needed to Know about Islam I learned from 634 AD through 2001 AD.

Posted by NilsPils | Report as abusive
 

I’ve observed the behaviour and words of both Muslim, Christian (and Jewish) religious groups and individuals over the past couple of decades. Most of what I’ve seen is a common thread of conflict and violence. All sides think they are right; to own this land or that land, to preach this or that, or suppress others who do not believe in what they do. Acts of suppression take many forms. From the subtle to the horrific. History proves that all religions above (and their various sub-sects) have committed atrocities. Their fanatical adherents are ruining this world and the rights of all people who believe in peace and/or secularism.

Posted by trvl | Report as abusive
 

Muslims throughout the world who take quran and sunnah as their guide actually teach tolerance and egalitarian values.There has been a popular notion worldwide that islam was spread by sword which is absolutely antithesis to the established facts.These and many more claims are been made repeatedly by many people across the world,i think this is a very dangerous predicament that they are setting for themselves and to the world.If we read the historical facts we come to know that because islam upholds the idea of liberty,equality and fratenity so vehementally that my people seeing these values were so much influenced by it that they accepted islam.So the crux of the matter is that even today islam is the fastest growing religion of the world and some people are leaving no stone unturned in maligning islam so that it may be perceived to be religion of dogma.

Posted by fzk | Report as abusive
 

If one were simply to read the ancient history then one would conclude that the clash of civilisation is bound to recur. The crusaders tried it before and they are preparing the ground work fo the repeat of a holy war against Islam. In Islam there are no holy wars, nor any justification to kill other humans. It was the crusaders who went to Jerusalem at the behest of the christian church to eliminate the barbarian muslims. The so called christians are once again on the same path, any criminal act by a muslim is associateed with Islam and any criminal act of a state to invade another muslim country is considered an innocent undertaking to free the people or to introduce democracy or protect the women? Unless we witness George W, Tony Blair and their associates being tried for war crimes, I shall hang on to my opinion of coming clash of civilisation.
Rex Minor

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive
 

I wish people could really understand why God give us religion. God gave us religion so we could all live with each other through peace and equality and not to despise each other, also to live with each other through truth and JUSTICE. During George Bush Jr. he passed a lot of laws and regulations that would not be excepted by the Torah, Bible, and Quran. Capitalism that we practice today is not accepted by GOD. That is a FACT. Religion is being used for propaganda. Religion is the number 1 tool to scare people and keep people divided, and filled with hatred towards each other. As an black American shia muslim I want everyone to know I love my country and religion, but my fellow Americans we are lost in ignorance. Let me first start off by saying this Islam at one point in its early years my Prophet and his follwers were kicked out of there homeland, and were living in the open dessert for 3 years. Then one day a group of people from the city of Medina who were Jews and Christians openly invited him and his companions to live with them and to govern over them. This Is a historical fact. All three relgions lived together as One. The problem we have which we don’t understand is we are very misinformed and we are badly ignorant.During George Bush Jr. term he passed a lot of regulation and laws no Prophet or Jesus Christ would except nor Prophet Musa. For one example the interest rate that were allowed on home mortgages would not be accepted by God law in any religion. Second of all as far as the Taliban and Al-Qedia anyone who Murder any individual will never
make it to paradise and destined to go to Hellfire. Quran 5:32. What i’m really trying to say is that we are being used and abused. America we as a nation have to really start Knowing and Reading for ourselves. As Americans we are not told the entire Truth.

Posted by Al-Muminun | Report as abusive
 

I wonder why it is that as soon as the threat of the cold war ended Islam steped up to fill the vaccum of peace?

Posted by DrReal | Report as abusive
 

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