Democracy Now!’s Islamic center roundtable

My former professor John Esposito, Muslim Congressman Keith Ellison-D, Rabbi Irwin Kula, and Talat Hamdani, mother of a 9/11 victim, discuss the Park 51 project, the plan to build an Islamic center in Manhattan.

Their voices and views have been–I believe–intentionally ignored in the mainstream media’s coverage of this issue. This is what Democracy Now! does best: it gives Americans views and coverage that we often miss in the mainstream.

A bit disappointed; Jon’s brilliance; and our Sufi allies

A bit disappointed with Brian, Harry, and Barack

A segment on tonight’s NBC Nightly News urked me a little bit.  The segment was about Obama’s statements regarding the construction of the Cordoba House in Lower Manhattan, and how Muslims have the same religious rights as anyone else.  When introducing the story, Brian Williams describes the situation as a “fight” into which Obama waded.  Why use this word?  True, combativeness does hike up ratings, butit does not help us to better understand the nuances and details of the situation.  It further perpetuates the simplified “us vs. them” mentality that infects important and complicated political, societal, and cultural debates happening within our country.

As the piece continues, the “mosque” in question is not referred to correctly.  It is not simply a mosque–and even if it was a mosque, big deal!  The Cordoba House (it is hardly referred to by its proper name) is a cultural and community center, dedicated to bringing people of all faiths together, as well as providing swimming pool, workout facilities, and a place of worship.  Basically, it is a beefed up YMCA or JCC open to anyone.

Major news outlets must begin referring to this place as the Cordoba House.  Generalizing the Corboda House as a “mosque” or “Islamic center” only mystifies it and allows people to place their own views or ideas onto it.

I am also sad to see that Harry Reid is against the Cordoba House.  Many Democrats look up to him for guidance about their political and social views, and his denouncement of the Cordoba House encourages more Americans to do the same.

I was initially thrilled with Obama’s remarks at the White House Iftaar this past weekend.  (An iftaar is the meal with which Muslims break their fast during the holy month of Ramadan.)  But since he expressed his support for the Cordoba House and received backlash from some politicians and pundits about it, he has moved backward on that statement of support.  Obama has tried before to distance himself from the Muslim community when conservatives claimed he was Muslim during the 2008 election.  That was an opportunity to have an important national discussion about Muslims in America, and he failed to take it.  Again, Obama is missing an opportunity to play a key part in a dialogue that must happen in our country.  I am disappointed by his choice to back-off his support of the Cordoba House, and I hope he chooses to reverse that position soon.  If he truly wants to see Americans’ religious rights protected, he must step in.

Jon’s brilliance

The Daily Show recently did an awesome segment about the opposition to mosque construction in the U.S.  I’ll let the video speak for itself.

Our Sufi allies

This op-ed contribution discusses how as Americans we must work with those within Islam, particularly those in the Sufi tradition, to fight extremism.  One of these Sufis is Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the Muslim whose initiative is building the Cordoba House. Sufism is a version of Islamic mysticism, not a separate religion.

16th-Century Miniature Painting Depicting Dancing Dervishes, Image by © Archivo Iconografico, S.A./CORBIS

This line of poetry, written by the famous Sufi saint, Rumi, is crucial for us to remember and implement during this time.

Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.

In today’s America, those barriers are fear and misunderstanding.  Only when we recognize them can we begin understanding, befriending, and loving our neighbors.

“Mayor Bloomberg stands up for mosque”

Today, the New York Landmark Preservation Committee voted unanimously to not grant landmark status to a Manhattan building, the site at which an Islamic and interfaith community center is to be built.  If landmark status had been given to the obscure building, the plans to build the Cordoba House would have been put to a halt (because the new center will demolish the older building to erect its new one).  The request to get this older building landmark status was an attempt by the organization Stop the Islamization of America and others to prevent the center from being built.  It was a futile effort because that building, once a Burlington Coat Factory, had no reason to be considered a landmark. Thankfully, the status was not granted and the building of Cordoba House can continue.

Still, there are many who oppose the creation of the Cordoba House, a center which takes its name from the Spanish city where Jews, Christians, and Muslims lived in peace for hundreds of years.  Despite the fact that the center hopes to foster dialogue, tolerance, and understanding between these groups, many Americans are still fighting it.  Overcome with a fear of Islam perpetuated by cable T.V., organizations like Stop the Islamization of America, and Europe’s recent actions toward Muslims, many people mistakenly believe that this center is a symbol of Muslim conquest.  Some have even claimed that those supporting the center have the same motives as the terrorists who destroyed New York on 9/11.

New York City Mayor Bloomberg today gave a fantastic speech defending the Cordoba House.  He choked up a bit while giving it, and I did while reading.

You should also check out Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf’s op-ed in the Washington Post’s On Faith section.

http://nymag.com/daily/intel/2010/08/mayor_bloomberg_ground_zero_mo.html?f=most-commented-24h-5

Illustrations of Islamophobia

I’m sure most of you are familiar with the proposed bans on the niqab and other Islamic religious clothing in many European countries.  The case I’ve been following most closely is in France, where the law is expected to pass soon.  It would ban the few thousand women who wear the niqab (face veil) in public from doing so, and if women refuse to comply, they will be fined or be required to attend a “citizenship” class.

http://ekramibrahim.files.wordpress.com/2009/06/niqab-2.jpg

These European cases, along with the campaign to halt the building of an Islamic center in downtown Manhattan near Ground Zero, are, to me, illustrations of the ever-growing and irrational Islamophobia in the Western world.  Here is an example of the irrationality that surrounds this issue: In an interview with Al Jazeera English, a French parliamentarian claimed that he was made a “victim” by women who choose to wear the niqab because he cannot see their faces.

I recognize, of course, that many Westerners cannot be blamed for their phobic behavior when confronted with the people and symbols of Islam.  The portrayal of Muslims in mainstream T.V. news, especially on cable news channels, leaves Americans with an uninformed and fear-based view of Islam—a view that is hard to shake if a person has no access to other information about the religion and its people.  Only when the media changes its ways in its coverage of Islam will people realize that these campaigns in Europe and in the U.S. are misguided and are driven by fear, as opposed to true concern.

Al Jazeera English has done some good reports about the proposed niqab ban in France, and here’s the most recent report.

Also, guests on the Diane Rehm Show yesterday discussed this issue. I haven’t listened to the whole piece yet but I will post it here, too.

Please respond with comments if you have any!

Islamic Center near Ground Zero

I recently became aware of building plans for a new Islamic center near Ground Zero in downtown Manhattan.  The project is being headed up by Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, a prominant Islam leader in New York who authored the book, What ‘s Right with Islam is What’s Right with America.

Not surprisingly, much resistance has met the Cordoba House, an Islamic historical and cultural center and prayer space.  On June 6, Stop the Islamization of America organized a protest against the building of this center.

Here are links to a few videos, articles, and sites related to the project and the backlash against it:

-Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion, “New York Mosque Protest“: A blog post quoting proponents and detractors of the Cordoba House that sets the tone of the situation.

-New York Times, “Muslim Prayers and Renewal New Ground Zero“: A summary article about the project.

No Mosques at Ground Zero blog: See speeches from the protest

Youtube video: See a CNN interview with the Stop the Islamization of American director and a Muslim scholar on the day of the protest

Cordoba Initiative website: Learn about the project and the mission behind it