Who's more fun, a swashbuckling actor in some pirate fantasy, or a droning history teacher? Well, that's a no-brainer. Unfortunately, though, when it comes to conducting our national affairs, too many of my fellow Americans seem to think it's still about playing pirates. This is true a lot of the time, but when an issue like the "Ground Zero Mosque" comes up, you see it with precision eyeglasses.
It's like going to a horror movie — in real life Boris Karloff was a quiet, bookish, gentle man who liked children, but reality be hanged, it's more fun believing in Frankenstein.
Even liberals are saying it's "insensitive" to build a religious center a few blocks away from Ground Zero. (At least a few people have looked at a map, and noticed that it wouldn’t be “at” Ground Zero.) So we're supposed to feed some sort of national hysteria about Muslims, in order to make us feel good about believing a fantasy instead of the truth? And a fantasy is supposed to make us safer?
Yeah, fantasy. We've had nine years to learn the facts about Muslims. In that time we could have earned a Bachelor's Degree, a Master's and a PhD, yet there are still people who think all Muslims hate us, and that the Sufis who want to build the Park 51 Community Center (not a Mosque) are the same as the fanatical Wahhabis who manned the planes on 9/11.
That's about as sensible as saying that Martin Luther was the same as the Pope. Both Christians, ho-hum, so why bother with the fine distinctions? I don't need to tell you that line wouldn't get you an A from your Sunday School teacher.
So who are these Sufis who want their Community Center? The Sufis have been called the Hippies of Islam, a combination of New Age Mysticism, Johnny Appleseed and the Beatles. They preach love and tolerance. The poet Rumi, who's been in vogue lately, and who wrote about love, humanity and God, was a Sufi. The Sufis go in for music and dancing (which the Taliban outlawed).
When I was in England I saw a performance on the BBC by some Sufi pop musicians who had catchy lyrics like, "Anyone who thinks religion is about hate and killing doesn't know God." Well, maybe not quite as catchy as the Beatles, but still, isn't that the sort of Muslim we want to encourage?
I should add that the Taliban hate the Sufis. The Sufis are way too tolerant, too full of brotherhood and good will, too peaceful for the Taliban. Recently, the Taliban have bombed Sufi Mosques and targeted Sufi leaders in Pakistan. If we deny the Sufis an honorable place in our country, we're as good as helping the Taliban.
Not only do most Americans not recognize the difference between Sufis and extremists, we can't seem to accept the fact that many Muslims WANT to fight terrorism.
Are you ready for a something counter-intuitive but true? According to a study which came out in Jan. 2010, Muslim youth who are affiliated with Mosques are LESS likely to turn towards terrorism.
There are a number of reasons for that, but the biggest ones are that Mosques provide a sense of community to young Muslims, and that local Muslim leaders have been speaking out against violence for a long time. Far from "breeding terrorism," American mosques (I'm not talking about mosques in Pakistan) have been trying to stave off extremism. It would be nice if they got a bit of credit for it.
The Muslims who do become extremists are more likely to feel alienated and be influenced by the sort of "teachers" who conduct classes in backstairs rooms, and/or by the Internet. What a shocker, the Internet is more of a breeding ground for terrorists than your average Mosque is?!? Down with the Internâ€”! Er, wait a minute…
Actually, Muslim leaders around the world have been quietly combating extremism for years. There's a genuine throwdown going on between the moderates and the firebrands, but you wouldn't know it from the U.S. media. Face it, swashbuckling-firebrand-type Mullahs look HEAPS better on TV, so those are the ones we get to see.
I was amazed when King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia fired some ultra-conservative leaders, including the chief of the Religious Police. This is unheard-of in Saudi, where the religious leaders have been pulling the Royals' strings since the founding of the country. It was big, big, BIG news in the Arab world. And our media? Oh, it's more fun hyperventilating over Lindsay Lohan.
And, yes, it actually takes a few ounces of mental effort to tell the moderate Muslims from the jihadists. But you know, when it comes to building a nation where folk of all religions feel equal, and equally valued, AND equally patriotic, we may want to take our brains out for a little brisk, invigorating walk.
When the Park 51 Community Center was approved, it was pointed out that it would go a long way towards healing wounds and building bridges between Muslim, Christian and Jewish communities. Are we now saying that Muslims aren't ALLOWED to try to prevent terrorism, heal wounds and build bridges?
The State Department doesn't agree. They've already sent Imam Feisal Rauf, the leader of the proposed Park 51 Community Center, to the Middle East twice, to build bridges and promote good will towards America. George Bush sent him the first time, in his "hearts and minds" campaign, and the Imam has been scheduled to go again on August 19. (This was arranged months before the "Obama Mosque" controversy.) He's going to Bahrain, Qatar and Abu Dhabi — three countries that are American allies, where the leaders are hard at work combating extremism.
The Imam is going to be sending the message that the USA respects Islam. Do we really want the fun of shooting ourselves in the foot by undermining that message? OK, load… aim…
The Imam wants a safer America, but what makes us safer? Hatred of another religious group (who also lost people in the World Trade Center)? Or reconciliation with a group that also wants to stave off extremists?
I think Isaiah knew. The lion cannot lie down with the lamb unless they approach each other with love and peace in their hearts.
We have it within our power to make friends with Muslim Americans, and with Muslims in other countries. If we're willing to give up our lives for our country, why aren't we willing to give up the horror-movie fun of ignorance and hatred?