Feature

The mosque: What motivates the opponents?

Opposition to a proposed mosque near Ground Zero has reached 70 percent in the polls.

Is it bigotry? said Nicholas Kristof in The New York Times. Opposition to a proposed mosque near Ground Zero has reached 70 percent in polls, and throughout the country, anti-Islamic sentiment is rising, with acts of vandalism against other mosques and some conservative Christians questioning whether Islam is compatible with democracy. It’s hardly a new phenomenon. Throughout American history, there have been similar waves of suspicion and fear toward Catholics, Mormons, Chinese, Jews, Japanese, and other newcomers. In the 19th century, the Know-Nothing movement warned of the “Catholic menace,” and accused the pope of conspiring to overthrow the government. In the 1930s, Father Charles Coughlin drew a huge national following by broadcasting “ferociously anti-Semitic” rants. During World War II, 110,000 Japanese-Americans were locked in interment camps. Now, nine years after 9/11, it’s Muslims who are the targets of our reflexive fear of newcomers and outsiders.

What nonsense, said Abdur-Rahman Muhammad in the New York Daily News. Just look around: “Muslims are everywhere in this country, doing practically everything”—practicing law and medicine, even working for the CIA. What’s more, there are some “2,000 mosques across America,” serving hundreds of thousands of worshippers. How is America “Islamaphobic”? Most Americans aren’t bigots, said Froma Harrop in The Providence Journal-Bulletin. But they “have been told for years to tiptoe around Islamic sensitivities,” to worry about how policies will play on “the Arab street.” Well, on the American street, “many good people” are offended by the prospect of a mosque two blocks from an “outrage done in the name of Islam, albeit a twisted brand.” Why not move it somewhere else?

It’s not just one mosque that’s at stake here, said Michael Gerson in The Washington Post. It’s America’s tradition of religious freedom itself. Yes, many good people—including many conservative Christians—are now displaying deep suspicion of all mosques and all Muslims, cherry-picking the Koran and sharia law to emphasize “the worst elements of a complex religious tradition.” But may I remind my fellow Christians that’s precisely how secular liberals routinely caricature fundamentalists and evangelicals—as dangerous, backward fanatics, plotting to impose their beliefs on everyone. Today, it’s Muslims who are being asked to take their religious beliefs where they don’t offend others. But in the game of “intolerance roulette,” it could be Christians or Jews tomorrow. Be careful: “That First Amendment might come in handy someday.”

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