I tend to stay away from commenting on domestic American politics on this site as the issues in America tend to have little actual effect on the country’s policies in the Middle East (what exactly has Obama done differently than Bush?), but I find myself compelled to say at least something that the conflagration of racism and Islamophobia in the States at the moment. The United States was built on the backs of immigrants and has, throughout history, repeated and built upon the characterization of America as an open and accepting society; a model for other multi-ethnic societies. Modern America, unfortunately, has wandered away from its original motto of acceptance (itself, perhaps, a dubious claim).
In addition to the Arizona immigration law that allows police to legally profile and harass ‘foreign-looking people,’ the United States has a (hopefully small) group pushing for maddening measures of discrimination against Muslims. The first example is the proposed Mosque cum cross religion cultural center that is meant to be built near Ground Zero in New York City. There has been significant opposition to the project, exemplified by the recent decision of the Anti-Defamation League to stand against the buildings construction.
While the plot of land in downtown Manhattan left empty after to terrorist attacks of 9/11 continue to be an emotional issue for Americans, the construction of an Islamic cultural center (near, not on the site) is exactly the type of symbolism that highlights the cultural strength of the United States. By opposing such a project, detractors (such as Abe Foxman of the ADL) are only displaying a sense of cultural rejectionism and racism. Fortunately, there have been many – including New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and a plurality of New Yorkers – who have supported the construction of the cultural center and blasted the racist rants of those seeking to undermine the very strength of American culture.
[tweetmeme] In addition to the Ground Zero construction controversy, there is a church in Florida that is sponsoring a despicable event to commemorate the 2001 attacks. The Dove World Outreach Center in Gainsville, Florida has been pushing an official “Burn the Quran Day” on the 11th of September “in remembrance of the fallen victims of 9/11 and to stand against the evil of Islam.” The insensitivity and complete lack of cultural and religious understanding of this event are clear demonstrations of a religious institution that is built upon hate and not the belief in the love and power of God.
Fortunately, again, there are many that are pushing against what is an obvious example of bigotry. Christian Organizations across America have spoken out against the actions of the Florida church.
While the United States is busy teetering on the edge of racism and Islamophobia, it is sending a grotesque message to the people of the Middle East. With wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and a serious feud intensifying with Iran (in which some Americans have unwisely called for war) America cannot be seen as taking a stand against Islam. Already, seen by many Muslims as biased due to its unrelenting support for Israel as well as to the unconscionable number of Muslim deaths in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere (not to mention Bush’s ‘Crusader’ moments), the United States must renew its faith in multiculturalism. It must be seen once again as the beacon of cultural freedom, not as a bigoted society based on hatred.
Living in the region for a while now, I have encountered many people – Muslim or otherwise – mention their love for the people and the culture of the United States (with the normal and expected: “but the government…”). People like those spouting racism, bigotry and hate in New York, Florida, Arizona and elsewhere in the states risk the loss of the American cultural prestige throughout the Middle East and, indeed, throughout the rest of the world.