John Smart

Working against intolerance

By - Sep 17th, 2010 04:00 am
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Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons, by david_shankbone

Former President George W. Bush, after launching wars against Iraq and Afghanistan, famously said, “This is not a war against Islam.” But despite assurances from the former and current president, things are looking pretty dicey on that score. Whether it’s the ruckus raised over a planned Islamic community center several blocks away from Ground Zero, or the actions of a previously obscure fundamentalist minister in Florida threatening to burn copies of the the Qu’ran, anti-Muslim sentiments are making a lot of unwelcome news.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg courageously and unambiguously endorsed the Islamic center that is planned for lower Manhattan, and the real, genuine citizens of The Big Apple seem to be mostly of the same mind about this issue. But some non-New Yorkers, anxious to make an issue of this, are noisily up-in-arms about having a well-planned community center in relatively close proximity to Ground Zero.

Apparently other “businesses” even closer to the former site of the World Trade Center (like strip clubs and porn shops) don’t bother them.

Newt Gingrich, the disgraced former Speaker of the House, has been out in front on this issue (or behind it), denouncing Muslims in general.

“There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia,”  he said.

How’s that for an intelligent comment? Is Newt saying that we, the United States of America, should institute the same kind of narrow-minded restrictions as in the most repressive Islamic nation on Earth? Didn’t he study civics in high school? I did and I know better.

Photo courtesy Flickr Creative Commons, by david_shankbone

Everyone from President Obama to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and even the Pope himself appealed to Pastor Terry Jones to call off the proposed bonfire, but he hung tough, and seemed to thoroughly enjoy his new-found notoriety. This pastor’s church, ironically called “Dove World” (as though the “dove of peace” would find a home there!), has a history in anti-Muslim rhetoric by posting a sign on their lawn saying “Islam is of the Devil” and claiming that God Almighty told them to put it there. The members of the church sent their kids to school wearing t-shirts plastered with the same phrase.

Can you imagine doing something like that with your kids? While Pastor Jones called off his book-burning, he’s already done possible irreparable damage to our relations with the Islamic world.

I’ve gotten into some heated discussions, in person and by email with the anti-Islam forces, and I always ask whether they actually know any Muslims. Are they familiar with what the Qu’ran actually has to say?

I served for three years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Uzbekistan, an Islamic country in Central Asia, and for much of that time, lived with a wonderful Muslim family. I was also a friend of the regional Mufti, the head cleric in the ancient city of Bukhara, whose daughter was one of my students. We had many long discussions over their dinner table with the daughter translating, and I got an education in some of the complexities of the Islamic faith. He was very clear that the terrorists were not, to his mind certainly, representative of his faith.

To illustrate, he asked me whether the Irish — not too long ago — were representative of the Christian faith, with Catholics bombing Protestant churches and Protestants throwing stones at Catholic children on their way to Mass.

Another interesting point is that the Moorish government in Spain and Portugal from the 8th through 15th centuries was a historic model of coexistence, with Muslims, Jews and Christians all living peacefully together. It was also a time of unprecedented learning and an outpouring of the arts, generally considered the kick-start of the Renaissance. It is interesting to note that following the Moors came the Spanish Inquisition, most certainly not an age of enlightenment.

One more example of peace-seeking Muslims — when Keith Ellison from Minneapolis, the first and only Muslim in the U.S. Congress, took his oath of office he did so on a copy of the Qu’ran — Thomas Jefferson’s copy, in fact, from the Library of Congress.

There is enough hatred and discrimination to go around in the world without “The Land of the Free” participating in such nastiness.

John Smart is retired in Park Falls, is vice chairman of the Price County Democratic Party and a member of the Wisconsin Governor’s Commission on the United Nations. In addition to TCD, Smart writes for the website “Fighting Bob” and regional newspapers in Northern Wisconsin.

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