Contrived Controversy – Islamic Center in New York

Almost everyone except a miniscule minority is born to their religion and adheres to the social traditions of their culture. Religions may preach unity to their flock but give-in to sectarianism. The sects roughly fall into two cerebral groups.

At the upper end a thoughtful and introspective minority that considers humility and service to humanity as the essence of their being and the calling of their religion. At the other end the narrow-minded who consider their creed to have been chosen by God for domination and use selected passages from their scripture in zealous pursuit of political power.

In the middle lives a large majority of usually kind and decent people too busy in the chores of living to think critically the morality of their social setting. They follow religious rituals and usually admire the first group, but succumb to the propaganda of the second in traumatic times.

In dictatorial or feudal regimes the first group is persecuted and the second latches on to power and thrives. In democracies, the first group may draw people to a higher vision, but suffers the onslaught of unethical propaganda by the second, especially during elections in stressful times.

After eight long years of mismanagement, two wars of hubris and a complete economic collapse, the US electorate in the elections of 2006 and 08 threw the Republicans out of power. In the last year and a half the economy has been stabilized, but the jobless rate is still very high, the electorate is not happy. With this backdrop and the trauma of 9/11, the drummed up controversy and misinformation about the Islamic community center two blocks from ground zero in New York follows this pattern.

In the last two months opposition politicians with the help of pundits on the anything, but “fair and balanced” FOX news and talk radio have kept up the drum beat of misinformation and half truths about the Islamic Center. Unsurprisingly, there has been a gradual rise in anti Islamic Center opinion along with anti Muslim feeling in the ephemeral public opinion polls. Many local right wing groups have latched on in opposing Islamic centers many smaller communities as well.

The fear mongers have found a more potent propaganda, better than the perennial illegal immigration that simmers on the back burner to be resurrected in elections. Even better than the invented new twist of a few months ago, “the Anchor Babies”, implying that people come to US to deliver babies to cash in years later, the eventual right of citizenship under the US constitution.

Muslims should not be disheartened at this turn of events. Immigrants in the past have been subjected to much worse. It is part of the endemic struggle between the idea of the great democracy that the founding fathers envisioned and the drag of the baser human tendencies.

The United States of America came into being as a democracy drawing on the high ideals of enlightenment. Yet the full implementation of the ideals in the constitution took another two centuries to unfold. The genius of the US constitution is that it guides and allows progress, evolving with the needs of times.

The drag of the baser part of our history is well known, the massacre of Natives, the horrible legacy of slavery, the ethno-religious persecution of Jewish, Catholic – Irish and Italian immigrants, and the indigenous Mormon. The exploitation and persecution of imported Chinese and Japanese laborers in the 19th century is also a part of the same exploitative fabric.

The nation gradually evolved to reject these, once accepted practices. In hard economic times and in times of war it often regresses, but eventually it re-discovers its moorings. It takes time, often a long time. Blacks were forced to immigrate in chains and were kept in political chains up to the 1960s, until the passage of the Civil Rights legislations. During the hysterical fear of the “new age religions” of 1970s and 80s, charlatan “deprogrammers” made a lot of money preying on the fears of the parents whose children opted to experiment with new trends in thoughts. The current anti Muslim propaganda too shall pass.

So the present anti Muslim propaganda is not surprising. What should be celebrated is that in the wake of 9/11 the administration arrested about 1,200 innocent Muslims; justice prevailed and none of them were found guilty. However in the last three years some Muslims have indulged in reprehensible acts and are legitimately being brought to justice. There have been many attacks on Islamic centers and Mosques by the cowardly religious miscreants, but the law has brought them to justice.

Though right wing propagandists have succeeded in corrupting the public mind to gain about sixty percent support, it is a great tribute to the US democracy that about thirty to forty percent have not succumbed to the knee jerk reaction. Many Pastors, Rabbis and most editorials in the newspapers and commentary sections have decried this assault on the first amendment. It is a very high index of sanity in difficult times in any country. The founding fathers took special care to check the tyranny of the insidious emotional gullible majority by requiring two thirds majority and ratification by three-fourths of the states to change the constitution.

It is important to realize that bigots on all sides are equally reprehensible. Each side considers the nameless, faceless bigots on the other side to be despicable propaganda figures. While the bigots on their side to be human beings who love their children and are good neighbors, therefore are more easily swayed by their rhetoric. In wars of supremacy each side succumbs to those who misuse religion and yields leadership to the most despicable charlatans among them.

The soul of the US resides in its strong and just constitution. Those with baser attitudes are a blight that infects all societies. Unlike many other countries, the US democracy has weathered them for more than two centuries, and has consistently been on an upward humane trajectory, respecting and celebrating the diversity and aspirations of all its citizens. Muslims in the United States know it and they have a lot to learn and contribute to this great nation of immigrants. When things are going well it is easy to be good, the real test of character is to be just and balanced when one’s own ox is being gored.