To say we would not be here without Islam is a bit of an understatement. While Europe suffered through the Dark Ages, Islamic scholars were continuing the work of ancient Greek, Indian, and Egyptian scientists and philosophers, working on elements of physics, chemistry, astronomy, geometry, and mathematics. They were responsible for bringing the concept of 'zero' as a number into the numeric systems of the time, from India. The English language is filled reminders of this time: alchemy, algebra, cipher, mecca, and the like. The knowledge harbored and expounded upon made its way into Europe, and thus planted the seeds of enlightenment that led to the Renaissance.
Islam is a distinct offshoot of Christianity, wherein the prophet Muhammad was considered to have taken God's word from the archangel Gabriel. It makes reference to Abraham, Moses, even Jesus, sharing lineage with both the Talmud and the Bible. It, too, demands a strong obedience to God, and lays down the ways to commune better with him. Everything a Muslim does is to be for Allah, nothing less. Their ways may be different than the path taken in Judeo-Christian theology, but all three religions strive for the same thing: to do good works on Earth to please God.
That there are those in the Islamic faith who would pick and choose from the Qur'an, the holy book of Islam, and use it toward their own ends, is no different than those who do so in any religion. There are those who pervert the Torah or the Bible, all in the name of "proving" their faith is the "true" faith, their belief the one-and-only to be followed. Sometimes it comes to nothing harmful; many times -- as in the case Jim Jones' Guyana Cult or the Branch Davidians or al Qaeda -- the fervency of belief leads to death and destruction, the taking of lives, and incomprehensible horror.
That Muslims should be tarred with a brush dipped in the blood spilled by Osama bin Laden is a travesty. His zealotry and self-aggrandizement are affronts to the religion he supposedly holds dear, and that he would make war on innocents, condemns him for the coward he is. He will not reap the golden dreams of his beliefs, instead tasting the bitter fruit of condemnation, when his God will show him the error of his ways. We, however, cannot concern ourselves with this, for his actions have brought forth another travesty, against the United States, and not just in the senseless loss of life on 9/11, but how eagerly Americans have been willing to sell out their principles due to fear and obfuscation and outright lies.
The Founding Fathers made it clear, through the auspices of the Bill of Rights and the First Amendment, that they believed religious freedom and tolerance were paramount for a nation to be successful. Enjoining the Federal government against establishing any religion as the state religion assured all Americans that their beliefs would be protected, if not always respected. It was important for the country to have people of faith, they thought, because they were more likely to act morally, and protectively, toward their fellow countrymen. This would be needed, if the fledgling country were to survive past its inception, as revolution and constitution did not guarantee that another nation would not seek to enslave the young country.
So it has been for over two hundred years, that individuals have had the right to worship as they chose, and establish houses of worship. There has always been a sense that rather than dividing us along the lines of belief, this would make us strong through our diversity. Now, that strength is being threatened, by fear-mongers, ideologues, and sycophants, who seek to confuse, alarm, and terrify the citizenry with Muslim cabals and the threat of terrorist training centers in their midst. They have latched onto a project a few blocks from Ground Zero, wherein a 13-story Muslim cultural center will be built, as their proof that Muslims are going to begin their takeover of our nation, tearing down the Constitution, and implementing their law, subjugating us all.
It would be laughable, if their cries were not in earnest. Some of the biggest names in politics have spoken out against it: Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, etc. Families of 9/11 victims have called it a "slap in the face." The Mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, has been supportive, as has President Obama, citing the principle of religious freedom in the Constitution. The whole issue has taken on a dynamic that is akin to a tornado of conflicting emotions and religious prejudice. Battle lines are being drawn. Chaos is sweeping over downtown Manhattan.
As someone who was in New York City on September 11th, I have to say that I have a certain amount of sympathy for those who view the area as hallowed ground. Every visit there evokes strong emotions in me, and I am often brought to tears, recalling the events of the day which I watched from a distance, though was close enough to see with my own eyes. It speaks to me of innocence, misery, suffering, bravery, and hope. I am more appalled by the thought of a new tower being built there, instead of a park with two black marble walls outlining the spaces where the Towers stood, inscribed with the names of the fallen. Commerce has its way; hallowed ground is about to become an office building. Why that is not more of an affront to the families, I cannot say, but it is definitely an affront to me, almost like putting a riverboat casino on the site of the USS Arizona in Pearl Harbor.
I do not wish to insult those who suffered the greatest losses that day, the loss of a loved one, but to claim this cultural center somehow denigrates the memory of 9/11 is rank hypocrisy. A mosque already exists near the site, which was operating before the Twin Towers were even open; no one has complained about it. This is only a cultural center, a couple of blocks from Ground Zero, that will not even been seen from it, blocked as it will be by two city blocks full of taller buildings. It may, in fact, revitalize a dying part of town, as the area around there still suffers the scars, with abandoned buildings and empty shop fronts, a job that was supposed to be done by business interests and/or the government.
This cultural center is only an issue because powerful forces, aligned against Islam since that day (and even before), have determined to make it their mission to bring the religion down in America, violating the principles of freedom we hold dear. In raising this fuss over an innocuous and potentially useful building, they play right into the hands of the extremists they so want to keep out, who can use this news as a recruiting tool in their war against America. Rather than dealing terrorism a blow, they are instead handing them ammunition, as Muslims who see this will gladly donate to, or join, the cause. We have shouted for years about our democratic principles and their superiority, and now we show how hollow those words are, for we are ready to toss them aside, to the delight of our foes, who can then point to our hypocrisy.
If anything, we need this cultural center. We need it to create greater understanding of Islam and what it stands for. We need it to be a place of peace, in a community that is still reeling from a vicious and unprovoked attacked. We need it to show that we, as Americans, will not be cowed by our adversaries into abandoning that which makes us fundamentally Americans. We need it, to build a bridge toward greater harmony. We need it, to prove once and for all, that we are worthy of the sacrifice made by so many to forge this nation. We need this cultural center, because until we can see past our hate, until we can let go of our desire for revenge, until we can stand up and prove that we are better than our enemies, who are so completely intolerant of those things that do not conform to their zealotry, we stand to be dragged down into an infernal abyss. America must show our enemies, as we have so many times in the past, that they are wrong about us, and that their error in judgment will cost them everything, in the end.