This isn't about Ground Zero – It's About America
by Arshad Hasan (Editor's Note: The editor met Arshad Hasan in Cedar Rapids a few years ago. Hasan was conducting Democracy for America (DFA) Training at Kirkwood Community College for a group of progressive political activists. Blog for Iowa has its roots in the DFA movement and Arshad's comments on the flap over the building of a Muslim Community Center near ground zero in New York are timely and appropriate). Over the last week we've heard a lot from Democracy for America (DFA) members around the country asking for action to protect the rights of religious freedom for all Americans and I couldn't agree more.
I don't get upset much. I mean, I get ticked off at Republicans and Democrats (and at really bad customer service!), but that's why I work at DFA. Because when we get upset, we don't stew in it and hope it goes away. We do something about it.
The controversy around the building of a Muslim Community Center at 51 Park in New York City should upset all of us. It definitely upsets me. Shortly after the tragedy of the 9/11 attacks, much of this country came together. But there were a number of other, smaller tragedies occurring all over the country as a result of the attacks. People who “looked like terrorists” were victims of harassment, intimidation, and outright violence.
That includes me, and every member of my immediate family in different instances. My response was to protest the coming wars. My family did something different, though. They started going to Mosque. It did more than renew their faith — it provided a sense of community and safety during a very dark time for us. But for the last nine years, at least, people have been trying to block the construction of mosques all over the country.
Now, let's be clear, the subject of the highest profile Muslim structure, 51 Park in New York City, will have a basketball court and a culinary school. Two floors will have a prayer room. The other eleven will host movie nights, performances, group dinners, etc — it's basically a Muslim YMCA, open to everyone. These moderate Muslims are doing everything we could ask of them. They're trying to build a bridge in the communities they live in, trying to show the world that Muslims are cool and interesting and diverse, and proving that being a Muslim does not equal being a terrorist.
But they're being thrown under the bus by our elected leaders, egged on by some of the ugliest elements of the right-wing. Well-intentioned leaders of the Democratic Party are getting caught up in the fray as well, some of them seeking to find common ground with an implacable opposition. It's not helping.
This isn't just a Manhattan problem. Right now, there is opposition to mosques in Staten Island, Brooklyn, Southern California, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Illinois, and dozens of other locations across our nation. Where would they move? If public pressure can be brought to bear to take down the most high-profile Muslim community center in liberal NYC, then these other places don't even have a chance, Ground Zero connection or not.
Frankly, this isn't about Ground Zero. This is about America. This is about freedom. This is about people and there seems to be no place that Muslim people can go without being harassed.
The harassment has to stop, and that starts with you and me.
I think most people agree that Muslims have the right to worship. But these efforts to harass Muslims are based in fear, prejudice, and ignorance. Removing a community center doesn't solve these problems. But talking about religious freedom — really engaging people — can open people's minds, and blunt the prejudice.
I pledge to do it myself.
I pledge today to stand up for religious freedom right now. We cannot wait another day to defend the rights of all Americans to worship if they want, where they want, and when they want. I will not wait for the conversation to come to me; I will start the conversation now. Please join me in making the pledge to fight for our universal American values of acceptance and respect for religious freedom.
I need you, in your community, to have those challenging conversations with people you know.
Take the pledge right now.
It's time to be pro-active in support of the values that define what we stand for and who we are as Americans. After you take the pledge, please follow up and share the conversations you've had. I think we'll all find them inspiring to share.
Arshad Hasan, Executive Director
Democracy for America
Click here to stand up for religious freedom.