Bergen Record Op-Ed
Online comments regarding the plans o build an Islamic center in Rockaway seethe with much ignorance and anger. Whether many hate mongers like or not, Muslims are in Morris County, NJ) here and they are praying and congregating. They are also your friends, teachers, hospital doctors, and quite possibly, your neighbors. What is being asked is not whether they can do all these things because they like you are Americans citizens and their rights and obligations are enshrined in the Bill of Rights and our Constitution. What is being asked of the Rockaway Borough is rather an adjustment and relief on some parking matter.
It is convenient to lump a large and very diverse group into one single category. But it is neither useful nor smart to do so. America’s history is replete with sad episodes where ethnic and religious groups were rejected, disenfranchised, and maltreated. The good thing about our country is its ability to readjust its moral compass. Undoubtedly Muslims all over are undergoing tremendous political and cultural upheavals and we in the West have a lot to do with their plight. We have wanted stability (continued flow of oil) at the expense of modernization and development. The result was sheer dictatorial regimes friendly to us but abusive to their citizens. For long it was easy to control the minds and feelings of young Muslims. But with the advent of the Internet and satellite television, what they could and should have is no longer hidden from them.
Remember that Muslim thugs have killed more Muslim civilians than Christians and Jews combined. How can we describe this a religious war when both victims and victimizers worship the same God- unless of course, you bring in the Christian history of the Crusaders, the Inquisition, and Northern Ireland? Just read the daily papers about the savagery that is Iraq.
What we need to learn is that terrorism is a deadly means to realizing political ends. We in the West call it just war and when others attempt, we call it terrorism. Terrorism however disguised is both immoral and rejected by all three monotheistic religions.
In the end, despite all the ignorance displayed by some on this forum, the center will be approved because the applicants are American taxpaying citizens and many of whom live in the Borough. What they are asking for is both reasonable and legal. The Borough has exemplified its tolerance for religious diversity and special needs when many years ago agreed to close a sizeable portion of Main Street to traffic so that parishioners at a local church can be accommodated. This gesture speaks volumes about the goodness of our local government and while our request is minuscule compared to regular closings of the main thoroughfare, we were described as unfit and undeserving of rights guaranteed to us even if bigots wish it isn’t so.
On the issue of interviewing Muslims to prove their patriotism, I first reject the notion that Muslims are fewer Americans than say Timothy McVeigh and the Catholics with whom he associated. Since 2001, and in rash response to the disaster of 911(BTW over 150 Muslims civilians were also killed in that horrific disaster), immigration law has increasingly been used to target our community. In 2002, the government instituted the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), which required non-citizen males from mostly Muslim and Arab countries that were designated as threats to national security to formally register with the government. Strikingly but not unexpectedly not one of the 93,000 men “specially registered” was charged with a terrorism-related offense.
What more can be said? You cannot blame American Muslims for actions or event that take place thousands of miles away just as you should not blame Christians or Jews!
Aref Assaf is President of the American Arab Forum