The video speaks for itself, though I did especially appreciate the woman who called out, “One nation under God, not Allah.“
This is Hatred – Shameful, Disgraceful, Unnerving, Frightening, Racist, Xenophobic, Islamophobic Hatred
Tablet and Pen: Literary Landscapes from the Modern Middle East, published by Norton, is a new anthology of (obviously) Middle Eastern literature. Here, the anthology’s editor, Reza Aslan, is interviewed on The Colbert Report. My favorite line is when Aslan says: “In all the secret Muslim gatherings that we have where we discuss how to bring down democracy, we’ve decided that it’s going to be through art.”
|The Colbert Report||Mon — Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c|
In the first post of this title, which I had not intended to make a series, I wrote about the parallels between the rhetoric used to protest the building of the Muslim community center in downtown Manhattan – I am not sure anymore whether the project goes by Park51 or Cordoba House – and the rhetoric used to protest the building of synagogues in the 18th and 19th centuries after Jews were finally granted the right to worship in public. Then, as I was having breakfast this morning, I read an article in The New York Times called “In Fierce Opposition to a Muslim Center, Echoes of an Old Fight.” I expected to read another version of the first article I linked to – which, by the way, is from the Jewish Daily Forward’s website – but I was wrong. The article is instead about the parallels between opposition to the Muslim community center and the opposition that existed 225 years ago to the building of St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church, which is about as far from Ground Zero as the building in which the community center will be housed. Some excerpts from the article:
City officials in 18th-century New York urged project organizers to change the church’s initial location, on Broad Street, in what was then the heart of the city, to a site outside the city limits, at Barclay and Church. Unlike the organizers of Park51, who have resisted suggestions they move the project to avoid having a mosque so close to the killing field of ground zero, the Catholics complied.…
Then there were fears about nefarious foreign backers. Just as some opponents of Park51 have said that the $100 million-plus project will be financed by the same Saudi sheiks who bankroll terrorists, many early Protestants in the United States saw the pope as the enemy of democracy, and feared that the little church would be the bridgehead of a papal assault on the new American government.
The Park51 organizers say they will not accept any foreign backing. But with about only 200 Catholics in New York in the late 1700s, most of them poor, St. Peter’s Church would not have been built without a handsome gift from a foreigner — and a papist at that — $1,000 from King Charles III of Spain.
On Christmas Eve 1806, two decades after the church was built, the building was surrounded by Protestants incensed at a celebration going on inside — a religious observance then viewed by some in the United States as an exercise in “popish superstition,” more commonly referred to as Christmas. Protesters tried to disrupt the service. In the mêlée that ensued, dozens were injured, and a policeman was killed.
I am glad that the Muslim community center is no longer in the news every single day – though since I almost never watch Fox, I have no idea whether or not they are still beating the daily drum of their opposition to the project – and I was initially hesitant to post this because I am not interested in reigniting debate about whether or not the community center should be built or any other issue surrounding it. I do think, though, that it is crucially important to be aware of how similar the rhetorics of apparently different hatreds can be, because I do agree with what Reverend Kevin V. Madigan, pastor of St. Peters, is quoted as saying at the end of the article:
But he said Catholic New Yorkers had a special obligation. The discrimination suffered by their forebears, he said, “ought to be an incentive for us to ensure that similar indignities not be inflicted on more recent arrivals.”
According to an article by Steven Greenhouse in The New York Times, that’s around 25% of the 3,386 religious discrimination claims filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in the year ending September 30, 2009 – an awful lot considering that Muslims make up less than 2% of the population in the United States. It’s also 20% more complaints than were filed by Muslims in 2008 and 60% more than in 2005.
The complaints allege harassment and other forms of discrimination that range from name-calling to the disruption of prayer breaks. The EEOC has filed some pretty high profile lawsuits in response to some of the complaints. In August, for example, the EEOC brought a suit against JBS Swift on behalf of 160 Somali immigrants, claiming that “supervisors and workers had cursed them for being Muslim; thrown blood, meat and bones at them; and interrupted their prayer breaks.” Other companies against which the EEOC has filed include Abercrombie & Fitch and a Four Points by Sheraton Hotel.
Greenhouse ends his piece with a story about Imane Boudlal, who is from Casablanca, Morocco. My own sense is that Ms. Boudlal is being unreasonable, but I am curious what others think – and let me also say here that anyone who tries in discussing this post to use Boudlal’s story to undercut the overall point of this post or of Greenhouse’s article will be banned from this thread. Here are the last three paragraph’s of the article:
Imane Boudlal, a 26-year-old from Casablanca, Morocco, had worked for two years as a hostess at the Storytellers Café at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., when she decided she would begin wearing her hijab at work during Ramadan last month. Ms. Boudlal said her supervisors told her that if she insisted on wearing the scarf, she could work either in back or at a telephone job. She refused and has not worked while the dispute continues.
Disney officials said her head scarf clashed with the restaurant’s early-1900s theme, and they proposed a period hat with some scarf that would fall over her ears. Ms. Boudlal rejected that as un-Muslim. “They wanted to hide the fact that I looked Muslim,” she said.
Michael Griffin, a Disney spokesman, said the company’s “cast members” agree to comply with its appearance guidelines. “When cast members request exceptions to our policies for religious reasons, we strive to make accommodations,” he said, adding that Disney has accommodated more than 200 such requests since 2007.
We owe thanks to Justin Elliott of Salon for the single most revealing account of this controversy’s evolution. He reports that there was zero reaction to the “ground zero mosque” from the front-line right or anyone else except marginal bloggers when The Times first reported on the Park51 plans in a lengthy front-page article on Dec. 9, 2009. The sole exception came some two weeks later at Fox News, where Laura Ingraham, filling in on “The O’Reilly Factor,” interviewed Daisy Khan, the wife of the project’s organizer, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf. Ingraham gave the plans her blessing. “I can’t find many people who really have a problem with it,” she said. “I like what you’re trying to do.”
As well Ingraham might. Rauf is no terrorist. He has been repeatedly sent on speaking tours by the Bush and Obama State Departments alike to promote tolerance in Arab and Muslim nations. As Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic reported last week, Rauf gave a moving eulogy at a memorial service for Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter murdered by Islamist terrorists in Pakistan, at the Manhattan synagogue B’nai Jeshurun. Pearl’s father was in attendance. The Park51 board is chock-full of Christians and Jews. Perhaps the most threatening thing about this fledgling multi-use community center, an unabashed imitator of the venerable (and Jewish) 92nd Street Y uptown, is its potential to spawn yet another coveted, impossible-to-get-into Manhattan private preschool.
In the five months after The Times’s initial account there were no newspaper articles on the project at all. It was only in May of this year that the Rupert Murdoch axis of demagoguery revved up, jettisoning Ingraham’s benign take for a New York Post jihad. The paper’s inspiration was a rabidly anti-Islam blogger best known for claiming that Obama was Malcolm X’s illegitimate son. Soon the rest of the Murdoch empire and its political allies piled on, promoting the incendiary libel that the “radical Islamists” behind the “ground zero mosque” were tantamount either to neo-Nazis in Skokie (according to a Wall Street Journal columnist) or actual Nazis (per Newt Gingrich).
I haven’t yet had a chance to read Elliot’s piece, but I will.
Church in Florida to Host “International Burn the Quran Day” to Commemorate the September 11 Attacks
The poet Kazim Ali posted this to his Facebook page, saying that he thought it “had to be a myth,” and that is what it sounds like at first, but the Dove World Outreach Center is indeed inviting people to burn a Quran on September 11, 2010. It’s easy to dismiss this as quackery, as not worth giving the attention that it got through CNN’s coverage, but the truth is that if we don’t pay attention to it, if we don’t call it out for what it is – and it’s gratifying to see that the Facebook page protesting the event has close to twice as many fans as the Facebook page announcing the event – it will spread. More than that, though, it will become – it already has become, actually, and this is kind of frightening – part of the way perceptions of Islam are framed by our national rhetoric. Here’s the video:
Rick Sanchez, I think, proves himself to be a particularly inept interviewer here – I don’t watch him, so I don’t know if he’s usually better than this – but one of the things that disturbs me about the way he tries to respond to Terry Jones, Dove World Outreach’s pastor, is his but-there–are–moderate-muslims-out-there tone, as if those “moderate Muslims” – and more about that phrase in a moment – are somehow the exception to the rule. Or as if they are, you know, out there, but really well hidden, and so you have to know the secret code or something to get them to reveal themselves. Equally troubling to me, though, is the way the phrase “moderate Muslims” has taken on the same descriptive weight and authority as, say, Orthodox Jew or Evangelical Christian, as if “moderate” were somehow actually a sect of Islam. Well-meaning as it may be, the phrase actually contributes to rather than deconstructs the way in which Islam is being defined as a profoundly hostile theologically-informed, we-want-to-rule-the-world political stance towards the West, broadly speaking, and the United States in particular, rather than as a religion. This is to me – and I’d be interested to hear what other people think of this – very similar to the way in which the antisemitic rhetoric of Europe framed Judaism from the 18th century, and certainly the 19th century on, and it is certainly one of the underlying assumptions – i.e., that the Jews want to rule the world – of the “World Zionist Conspiracy” theories.
It’s also worth noting that Jones and his group also declared August 2 “No Homo Mayor” day, a day to protest Gainesville’s openly gay mayor. Both groups – Muslims and homosexuals – are godless according to Jones, a logic similar to the one that created the association between being Jewish and homosexuality, to mention being communist, Jewish and homosexual, that was an important point of antisemitic rhetoric in this country during 50s, 60s and even 70s.
It’s easy to dismiss Terry Jones and his church as a bunch of nuts, especially when his arguments for why Islam is a devil’s religion, as quoted in the text accompanying the Rick Sanchez video, include doozies like this:
“I mean ask yourself, have you ever really seen a really happy Muslim? As they’re on the way to Mecca? As they gather together in the mosque on the floor? Does it look like a real religion of joy?” Jones asks in one of his YouTube posts.
“No, to me it looks like a religion of the devil.”
The problem is that Jones and company are only giving expression to the logical conclusion of what an awful lot of people in the United State., consciously or not, already believe. The term Islamophobia may be relatively new, but the (often racialized and racializing) hatred of Muslims has a long history in this country – and that is something I will perhaps write about in another post – a history that predates the September 11th attacks not by decades, but by centuries, and its assumptions, its images, its rhetoric is/has been as much a part of our culture as the assumptions, images, rhetoric of, say, racism.
I am not an alarmist, though I do think there is a comparison to be made between the way in which antisemitic rhetoric was deployed so as to make the Nazi’s campaign against the Jews and the way Islamophobic rhetoric has been more and more making its way into our public discourse. Indeed, I think this comparison would probably work with the rhetoric of any genocidal campaign, though I do not think and I am not implying that this is the beginning of some kind of anti-Muslim government action. Rather, I think, plain and simple, that those comparisons should make clear to us how imperative it is not to let the actions and the rhetoric of people like Terry Jones go unanswered.
From an August 11th article by Jonathan D. Sarna published on The Jewish Daily Forward’s website:
When New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg stood on Governors Island, in sight of the Statue of Liberty, and forcefully defended the right of Muslims to build a community center and mosque two blocks from Ground Zero, he expressly made a point of distancing himself from an earlier leader of the city: Peter Stuyvesant, who understood the relationship between religion and state altogether differently than Bloomberg does.
As governor of what was then called New Amsterdam, from 1647 – 1664, Stuyvesant worked to enforce Calvinist orthodoxy. He objected to public worship for Lutherans, fought Catholicism and threatened those who harbored Quakers with fines and imprisonment. One might easily imagine how he would have treated Muslims.
When Jewish refugees arrived in his city, in 1654, Stuyvesant was determined to bar them completely. Jews, he complained, were “deceitful,” “very repugnant” and “hateful enemies and blasphemers of the name of Christ.” He wanted them sent elsewhere.
Stuyvesant’s superiors in Holland overruled him, citing economic and political considerations. He continued, however, to restrict Jews to the practice of their religion “in all quietness” and “within their houses.” Being as suspicious of all Jews as some today are of all Muslims, he never allowed them to build a synagogue of their own.
It was not until the early 1700s that Jews won the right to worship in public in New York City. In Connecticut that right was not granted until 1843, and the reaction of The New Haven Register, which “viewed the synagogue as a public defeat for Christendom,” is instructive:
“The Jews…,” the paper thundered, “have outflanked us here, and effected a footing in the very centre of our own fortress. Strange as it may sound, it is nevertheless true that a Jewish synagogue has been established in this city — and their place of worship (in Grand Street, over the store of Heller and Mandelbaum) was dedicated on Friday afternoon. Yale College divinity deserves a Court-martial for bad generalship.”
It took an act of Congress, signed by President Franklin Pierce, for Jews to be able to worship in public in Washington, DC, where some contended that the Religious Corporation Act granted the right to purchase real estate only to Christian churches; and just in case you think that Jews no longer run into such problems in the United States, Sarna cites a case from 1999 in which “opponents of a new Orthodox synagogue seeking to build in New Rochelle, N.Y. [used] warnings [about] ‘rats,’ ‘traffic’ and ‘creeping commercialization’ [to hide their] real fear, [which was] that ‘the identity of the neighborhood would change.’”
Muslims have been worshiping in public near Ground Zero for three decades. The Cordoba House community center will not, in other words, be bringing something entirely new to the area. Rather, it will provide much needed space for a community that already exists there – not to mention the much needed space it will provide for Muslims and people of other faiths to interact. The similarities between much of the rhetoric being employed to argue against the building of Cordoba House and The New Haven Register’s The Jews have outflanked us ought to disturb us all.
I first read about the ADL’s statement supporting those who would stop the building of Cordoba House, a Muslim community center modeled on the YM/YWHA’s and CA’s you can find all over New York City over at The Debate Link. In reading the statement, I was struck by these two paragraphs:
However, there are understandably strong passions and keen sensitivities surrounding the World Trade Center site. We are ever mindful of the tragedy which befell our nation there, the pain we all still feel – and especially the anguish of the families and friends of those who were killed on September 11, 2001.
The controversy which has emerged regarding the building of an Islamic Center at this location is counterproductive to the healing process. Therefore, under these unique circumstances, we believe the City of New York would be better served if an alternative location could be found.
These words raise, of course, the obvious question: Suppose the building at stake were a Jewish community center and suppose the people opposed it were doing so out of “strong passions and keen sensitivities” that were analogous to what the people who oppose the Cordoba House feel, would the ADL argue that such a building in a such a place was “counterproductive to the healing process” and urge that the center be built elsewhere? More than that, though, I found myself wondering about whose feelings the ADL is being so considerate of here. As Michael Barbaro wrote on July 30th in an article on The New York Times website–the article was on the front page of the July 31st edition of the paper – attributing the point to Oz Sultan, Cordoba House’s programming director, “He said that Muslims had also died on Sept. 11, either because they worked in the twin towers, or responded to the scene.”
Sultan was responding to a statement made by Abraham Foxman, ADL’s national director, to the effect that the people whose feelings his organization feels ought not to be hurt by the building of center at its current location are the families of those who died in the September 11th attacks. Mr. Sultan’s response, of course, is precisely to the point, and I don’t think there isn’t much else to add to that. I do find Foxman’s reasoning, at least as it is quoted in Barbaro’s article, profoundly troubling, though:
Asked why the opposition of the [September 11th victims’] families was so pivotal in the decision, Mr. Foxman, a Holocaust survivor, said they were entitled to their emotions.
“Survivors of the Holocaust are entitled to feelings that are irrational,” he said. Referring to the loved ones of Sept. 11 victims, he said, “Their anguish entitles them to positions that others would categorize as irrational or bigoted.”
It’s hard for me to know where to begin taking this apart. First, though, let me say that I do think Foxman is right about this: people who have been through trauma are entitled to their feelings about things that may force them to return to or relive that trauma, and even when those feelings are irrational, the validity of the feelings themselves should not be questioned, even when those feelings can reasonably be categorized as “bigoted.” The rest of us, however, should not be held hostage to the legitimacy of those feelings. More, precisely because those feelings can be reasonably categorized as bigoted, deferring to them in matters of public policy and discourse can end up perpetuating that bigotry in concrete ways. Witness the ADL’s statement which, even granting the most generous possible reading – and I am not sure what that would be – marginalizes Muslims simply for being Muslim.
Even more than that, though, I think it is cynical beyond belief for Foxman to enlist the moral authority that inevitably attaches to mention of Holocaust survivors, especially because he is himself a survivor, to justify the ADL’s position. It is insulting of my intelligence; trivializing of the Holocaust; it renders Muslims invisible on all kinds of levels by equating the September 11th victims’ families with the Jews; and it is, fundamentally, more about guilt-tripping the people who want to build the Cordoba House and their supporters than it is about a search for healing and that can be nothing but, to use Foxman’s own word, counterproductive.
I have not been following the Cordoba House issue very closely and so I have not read much about the questions that have been raised about some of the sources for its funding, but I would like to say this: even if it turned out that Cordoba House were being funded with money that could be tied back to the same people who perpetrated the September 11th attacks, or some similarly objectionable group, [ETA: the fact of that funding would be the reason to prevent the building of the Cordoba House anywhere in the United States; the fact of that funding] would still not justify the ADL’s position that would not justify the ADL’s position. I hope that those questions about funding, if they have been legitimately raised, are resolved positively and that the Cordoba House gets built. The controversy surrounding it convinces me that we really, really need it.