Friday, August 6, 2010

On August 6th, We Should Take One Small Step to Abolish Nuclear Weapons

On August 6th, We Should Take One Small Step to Abolish Nuclear Weapons

August 6th often passes through our lives without a ripple. Unless it is a birthday or some sort of celebration, most of us never associate this date with anything of great significance.

But August 6th is a day that lives with me in a very different way. This year, the date marks the 65th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan, and the incineration of 100,000 lives in the flash of the first nuclear weapon ever detonated in wartime.

Five years ago, on an impossibly hot morning in Hiroshima, Japan, I sat with thousands of other Japanese and international guests in the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Japan. at 8:15 that morning-the time on August 6th, 1945 that the A-bomb detonated in an instant of mass annihilation- a flight of doves were released into the Hiroshima sky, and a bell solemnly tolled in memory of those who were killed in the attack. It was, for me, a moment of deep sadness and reflection on my own life as an advocate of the abolition of all nuclear weapons from the face of the earth.

This past May, I was invited to speak at a number of events during the Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference at the United Nations in New York. At one of the interfaith events, I met several of the Hibakusha, a Japanese word designating survivors of the nuclear attack in Hiroshima, and the one three days later that destroyed the Japanese city of Nagasaki and effectively resulted in Japan's surrender in World War II. These survivors are very old, and many of them have suffered for decades from the horrible effects of the radiation they were exposed to some 65 years ago. But they been the most powerful and unwavering advocates for international peace and the abolition of all nuclear weapons from the face of the earth.

Yet nuclear weapons, and the dangers of unchecked proliferation and nuclear holocaust, remain at the forefront of clear and present dangers to the survival of humankind.

So I will do more than just reflect and mourn the tragedy of the Hiroshima bombing. This year, i will ask my friends and colleagues to join me in supporting a concrete effort to call on the American government to play a necessary political and moral role in ending the nuclear terror that confronts us all.

My colleague and friend Joseph Gerson of the American Friends Service Committee has introduced a new campaign, called Waging Peace, that encourages citizens to let our senators and representatives know that the United States can make a significant contribution to the global abolition of these weapons of mass destruction. We can demand an end to the perpetual funding of our nation's nuclear weapons complex, and the billions of dollars being spent on research and development of new nuclear weapons. And we can promote a verifiable strategic arms reduction treaty between the United States and Russia, with the goal of eventually reducing the atomic arsenals of both nations to zero.

We must all pray for peace, and for the total abolition of the most terrible weapons that threaten not only peace but our mutual survival. But those of us who are citizens or residents of America have important work to do as well, because America, aside from being the world's greatest nuclear weapons power, is also the only nation to have used these weapons against civilian populations in time of war.

I ask you, in the name of the nuclear victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the untold victims of nuclear testing, to take five minutes and join the Waging Peace campaign. The link to the campaign appears below.

Thank you, and may we all live in a world without nuclear weapons.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

A New Victory in a Long Struggle: Lower Manhattan Mosque Gets Green Light for Construction!

Despite the furious objections of Islamophobes and an assortment of opponents of Muslim constitutional rights, the New York Landmark Preservation Commission voted unanimously to deny landmark status to a building in lower Manhattan, New York that would be the proposed site of a new community center and religious worship site. The project, proposed by the Cordoba Initiative, is planned as a place not only for religious Muslims, but a locus for interfaith dialogue and the promotion of better relationships between Muslims and the "Western" world.

But this planned institution was vilified, slandered, and utterly condemned by a legion of Muslim-haters who mis-characterized the project as a "Muslim supremacist" mosque that would be a blasphemous insult to the memories of the September 11, 2001 attack victims.

Yet, despite the incendiary tactics of the opponents, the Cordoba Initiative plans are on track to proceed. And beyond the obvious good news for the Muslim community of New York, there are important lessons to be learned from this victory.

First, Muslims should know that we were not in this struggle alone. Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City, City Council President Christine Quinn, some 31 rabbis from various Jewish communities in New York and nationally, and scores of religious and human rights leaders, all affirmed the importance of religious freedom for Muslims. Music mogul and humanitarian Russell Simmons also made a passionate defense of the right of the Muslim community to establish this place of worship.

The "haters" were strident and relentless in their propaganda barrage directed against Muslims-and Islam itself-but in the end, they could not sway the decision of the one decision-making body in the New York City government structure that had the power to vote the Cordoba Institute project up or down.

But the greater win was a victory of tolerance and reason over the forces of political reaction and fear-mongering. Simply put, people are free to say all sorts of scandalous and slanderous things about a religious community. But in the end, the false idea of the collective guilt of all Muslims for the 9-11 tragedy did not triumph. Faith, in short, did win over fear. And that is a victory that all good people can celebrate.

The Cordoba Initiative still must raise a considerable amount of money for the proposed project, and the anti-Muslim forces are sharpening their rhetorical axes for more assaults on Islam in America.

But the Lord of the Universe, and not Newt Gingrich or Pamela Geller, does, indeed, have power over all things. And that power will continue to sustain American Muslims who seek the equal protection of our religious freedoms and civil rights.