‘New York mosque’ shines a light into the dark side of American scapegoating

Travis Quezon

The decision to build a community center at Park51 in Manhattan has national media and politicians in election-year form asking, “Should Muslims be allowed to build a mosque at Ground Zero?” Everyone from Newt Gingrich to Sarah Palin to President Barack Obama have chimed in on the seemingly local issue and made it a national one.

In a Time Magazine story titled, “Does America Have a Muslim Problem?,”  Bobby Ghosh explores the rise of Islamophobia in the United States:

“Islamophobia in the U.S. doesn’t approach levels seen in other countries where Muslims are in a minority. But to be a Muslim in America now is to endure slings and arrows against your faith—not just in the schoolyard and the office but also outside your place of worship and in the public square, where some of the country’s most powerful mainstream religious and political leaders unthinkingly (or worse, deliberately) conflate Islam with terrorism and savagery. In France and Britain, politicians from fringe parties say appalling things about Muslims, but there’s no one in Europe of the stature of a former House Speaker who would, as Newt Gingrich did, equate Islam with Nazism.”

The debate that continues to ring through over the airwaves and social media echoes a backlash against Islam that occurred last year in Hawaii when MidWeek’s Jerry Coffee condemned Hawaii State Rep. Lyla Berg and Rep. Faye Hanohano for sponsoring a resolution declaring September 24 as “Islam Day”:

“In Saudi Arabia, considered one of the more ‘modern’ Islamic countries, without the permission of a man, women cannot travel, study, work, see a doctor, get healthcare or even call an ambulance. When leaving their home, they must be accompanied by husband or male relative, their bodies must remain covered and they are not allowed to drive a car. Oh! And marital rape is allowed, and non-domestic rape victims are punished. ... As for our 3,000 or so Muslim neighbors here in our Hawaii community to whom this resolution is ostensibly dedicated, they may or may not live strictly by Islamic law. But the fact they have chosen to live in America is a pretty good clue.”

A month later, Midweek posted a rebuttal by Hakim Ouansafi, president and chairman of the Muslim Association of Hawaii, that’s worth taking another close look at:

“The American people have given our president a mandate for a new direction after eight disastrous years. Passing the Islam Day resolution proves that Hawaii is leading by example and our lawmakers are strong, not acquiescing or yielding to the pressure of the vocal minority who are motivated by personal agendas, intolerance or ignorance. Our local leaders should be applauded for being courageous and keeping the aloha spirit alive and well.”