With the anniversary of 9/11 and a recent plan for an Islamic Community Center in Manhattan, Muslims are being stabbed and mosques are being shot at. Yet the anti-Islamic atmosphere hanging in this country is nothing new. It existed before 9/11, albeit more quietly, and has recently been reignited; but it’s old news. Or at least, I thought it was. Walking through the grocery store the other day I saw a huge Time headline reading “Does America Have a Muslim Problem?” I had to stop and ask myself if that was a serious question.
If it’s even possible for “America” to be simplified that way, as if one value could apply to everyone, then judging by the selective enforcement of airport security and recent spate of vehement Christian propaganda, I’d say yes. Honestly though, I don’t think asking if America is anti-Islamic is the right question. It seems that the answer to that could be a quick yes, but that would be leaving out a whole population of people who truly believe in religious freedom and equality.
Although America in general does seem to have a fear of the unknown, it is only as anti-Islamic as it is divided. Is America anti-abortion? Is America anti-feminist? Is America anti-gay? This question of Islam is only one more thing that the country seems to be divided on. Even though “divided we fall,” our differences are what make us individual. Right?
Most of us are raised to believe that “individuality” is a good trait to develop; in the reality of grown-up life, however, individuality is often frowned upon. We spend our paychecks because we’re convinced that our cars or our clothing make us unique, that having a Mac or a P.C. makes us different or that having designer handbags make us better. When it comes to religious differences or gender differences, America isn’t going to remember an individual in American Eagle jeans as much as a individual in a hijab.
Often people consider their religious choices to be a big part of their identities. Someone’s interpretation of their chosen religion may — or may not — define a hard separation between themselves and whoever does not share their beliefs. The extreme interpretations, in which only one way is seen as correct, have caused many wars historically and are not stopping now. Whether our own battles are against other countries or against each other, there is no doubt that religious differences are at the root of many problems.
All over the world there are national struggles about which country should be ruled by which religion. In America, the reigning religion appears to be Christianity, where if Christians were outnumbered by others, it’s still fair to say that their money wouldn’t be. As with all generalizations, it is unfair to say that “Christians” pay for our moral agenda, because many don’t. There are, of course, extremists who want to make sure no “differences” get in the way of their plans, in this case, Muslims having the right to a mosque.
In a twisted sort of memorial, Evangelical pastor Terry Jones has decided that it’s in his hands to hold a Quran-burning event Sept. 11 this year. Thousands of his critics and thousands of his fans illustrate the divide in this country. For many it is a lack of education on the subject and a following of the Bible (one that could be considered blind, with identities at stake) which keeps them as passionately hateful as Jones, who admitted to having “no experience whatsoever” with the Quran. “I only know what the Bible says.”
Another Evangelical crowd put up posters all over Manhattan inviting people to the opening of the “9/11 Christian Center,” with a touching note at the bottom: “The answer to the Ground Zero Mosque is to know the life transforming love of Jesus Christ!” Yeah, I’m sure that’s what the Islamic community is looking for.
In fact, I don’t think that’s what any of us are looking for. What this country needs is a little more compassion and acceptance for difference, not more religious propaganda. I am all for Christians having churches or Muslims having mosques, but it shouldn’t go any farther than that. It’s really not that complicated — if you want to spend your time doing X, go ahead, but don’t try take away my Y.