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Muslims are not the enemy

Posted: September 24, 2010 11:19 a.m.
Updated: September 27, 2010 5:00 a.m.

For weeks -- no, let's be fair -- months, perhaps as long as a year and a half, there has been a growing anti-Islamic sentiment in America. Despite being raised a Jew in my youth, I was fairly protected from anti-Semitism ... but not completely. I know something of what it's like to be derided for my heritage.

But anti-Semitism in America has never been what it was in parts of Europe and, of course, the Middle East. Now, Americans seem to be on a wave of anti-Islamicism that is almost impossible to believe.

In some ways, I believe this new movement has formed around the erroneous belief that our president, Barack Obama, is Muslim. In August, the Pew Research Center released the results of a survey showing nearly one-fifth of all Americans believe he is Muslim. Sixty percent of that one-fifth cite the media as the cause for their belief, with television mentioned most frequently. I'd be curious as to which television channel those people were watching.

President Obama is not a Muslim. His father was born in Kenya. His mother's from Kansas. After their divorce, his mother married a man from Indonesia who was a Muslim. The president lived in Jakarta from ages 6 to 10, attending a Christian-run school. The president lists his religion as Christianity, not Islam.

But even if he were a Muslim, and despite 9/11, what would that really have to do with anything? This is 2010 when a man or woman's religion, skin color and sexual orientation should have no bearing on whether someone can do any job. A president (or candidate) should be judged on how well they will make decisions affecting the country's domestic and foreign well-being despite their backgrounds.

According to findings recently published in the American Psychological Association's "Journal of Experimental Psychology," race has a lot to do with the belief Obama is Muslim. The simple fact that he is African-American has some people, mostly whites, tend to believe he is, therefore, Muslim. In addition, wrote Benjamin Radford on DiscoveryNews.com, "...the lower the public's approval of the economy or Obama's presidency, the more likely they are to seek out reasons why Obama is different -- including thinking he is Muslim, when he's not."

Whatever the reasons, I am so incredibly tired of hearing and reading questions over our president's religion. He happens to be Christian, folks, but it does not matter.

However, since there are a significant number of people who believe Obama is Muslim, it stands to reason a similarly significant number of people will believe that a mosque should not be built at Ground Zero. Or that it's OK to burn up equipment that was going to be used to construct a mosque in a Nashville suburb.

If you haven't heard of the Murfreesboro, Tenn., incident, the site is to be the future home of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro. According to CBS News, investigators with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said gasoline was poured on the equipment. A large earth hauler was set aflame and destroyed; three other pieces of equipment were damaged.

This act of arson affected a lot of people. The Islamic Center is meant to become a place of worship for some 250 Muslim families in the area. A local professor who serves on the center's planning committee said their community has seen nothing worse than minor vandalism against their community for 30 years. Now, neighbors think it's going to become an Islamic terrorist training center. A 76-year-old man protesting against the center's construction was even quoted as saying "They are not a religion." He obviously hasn't read his history.

Islam is a younger religion than Christianity, much less Judaism, but it's been around for a long time. Most Muslims are not only as devout in their worship as any Bible-thumping Christian, but are studious, productive and peaceful members of their communities. Yet, because of the acts of -- in comparison with the millions of Muslims living around the globe -- a few nutball terrorists, we condemn anyone of the same religion?

And so, despite the fact that Muslims died in the attacks on the World Trade Center (WTC) nine years ago, there are those who would deny the construction of a mosque at what has become holy ground in the American psyche. Known officially as Park 51 or Cordoba House, the proposed mosque would actually be a 15-story community center to include the mosque, performance art center, gym and swimming pool.

The land it is to be built on is already owned by the American Society for Muslim Advancement and the Cordoba Initiative (a joint partnership), who voluntarily came forward to discuss their plans with the Community Board of Lower Manhattan in May. Society Executive Director Daisy Khan said she hoped the center would serve the entire community, not just Muslims.

"The time for a center like this has come because Islam is an American religion," Khan was quoted by CNN. "We need to take the 9/11 tragedy and turn it into something positive."

Even the widow of a man killed in the 9/11 attack on the WTC said "of course it should be built there" when contacted about the proposed mosque. Alissa Torres acknowledged in a Salon.com column that 9/11 survivors are divided on the issue. Some are for it like herself, others are against it. More importantly, however, she pointed out that they are victims, not national leaders.

"And I can't shake the feeling that the media has duped us," she wrote. "In trying to create a controversy where there is none, in raking over wounds that -- nine years later -- still hurt."

Indeed, the media -- at least certain parts of it -- should be ashamed of themselves, along with those whose ugly prejudices to whom they've given face time.

9/11 was a horrible tragedy, perpetrated by, as I've already called them, nutball terrorists. Muslims are not the enemy; neither is the religion of Islam.

America is a melting pot and the most tolerant nation on Earth. Or, at least, it's supposed to be. For some reason, though -- sour grapes over the 2008 election, simple ignorance and fear or something darker -- America's becoming something different.

I hope it comes to its senses soon and that Americans can remember to treat their fellow Americans like the good neighbors they actually are.

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