Thursday, July 15, 2010

Is True Religious Freedom in America in Danger?

Is True Religious Freedom in America In Danger?

When American Muslims seek to establish houses of worship, many people outside the Muslim community respond with skepticism, and even disdain. In recent months, for example, numerous mosques in America have been vandalized, and there is even one Christian pastor in Florida who places a sign in front of his church proclaiming that “Islam will take you to Hell”.

All of these things are an ongoing part of the American social mosaic, and the vehement opposition to Islam, particularly from some Christian fundamentalist and pro-Israel proponents is not cause for concern. But what we are witnessing in the current moment of history is an orchestrated attempt, by anti-Muslim organizations, to actually deny Muslims the constitutional right to establish houses of worship, citing every pretext imaginable to cast Islam itself in an un-American, and even sinister, light.

In numerous locations in America-from Murfreesboro, Tennessee to Los Angeles to New York City- anti-Muslim activists are forming coalitions to drum up fear and revulsion for Muslims who attempt to establish new mosques and community centers, or expand existing facilities to better serve growing communities. Blatant fear-mongering is whipped up into a frenzy by forces that insist that Muslims seek to impose “Sharia” on Christians and Jews. Neighborhoods are mobilized by the suspicion that any Muslim organization seeking to build a mosque in league with foreign “extremist” or “terrorist” formations is seeking the ultimate destruction of the American way of life. This is not at all unlike the racist hysteria that pervaded many pre-integration white Southern communities, who trembled at the thought of “race mixing” and the contamination of the morals of upstanding white youth by ‘Negro” music.

This is certainly more than the free expression, by some, of their contempt for Islam as an “anti-Christian” religion. It indicates that there are some who will openly organize to prevent the “Islamization” of America (as they put it), and use both legal and extra-legal tactics to ensure that Muslim communities cannot expand.

There may be a tendency to see such groups as being extreme or politically marginal. But such an evaluation would be false. Already, “respectable” political and community leaders are coming out in increasing numbers to say, quite openly, that Muslims must be challenged and controlled. They have money, political will. and in some cases, the tacit support of mass media as allies in a new Crusade against Islam.

We may well insist that freedom of religion is a cherished civil right in the United States, and that assertion would be correct. But as history painfully teaches us, civil rights mean nothing without the organized commitment to defend them, and to build expanding alliances with other groups that are equally committed to this idea.

In the final analysis, the money that Muslims raise to build ornate mosques and community centers will mean nothing if we lack the legal, financial, and organizational means to defend our legitimate collective interests. MAS Freedom believes in the idea of “faith over fear, and justice for all.”

The great experiment in American democracy also teaches another lesson: there is a great cost for any community that challenges prevailing ideas that under gird racism, bigotry, and the demonization of the group by elements of the larger society.

Freedom is precious, indeed. But we must now collectively understand that freedom isn’t free.

Ibrahim Ramey

No comments: