Friday, September 10, 2010

7960: Burning Bigotry.

From The Chicago Tribune…

Saving America from bigotry

By Eboo Patel and Samantha Kirby

We’re mostly disgusted with Terry Jones, pastor of the 50-member Dove World Church Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla. But a small part of each of us thinks we ought to thank him for the announcement of his International Burn a Quran Day. He has given us a face and an event that crystallizes the anti-Muslim bigotry brewing for far too long and going largely unchecked in America.

Anybody following religion statistics knows that anti-Muslim bigotry has existed for a long time, and the numbers are scary. In a 2009 Pew Research Center study, almost 60 percent of adults reported that Muslims in America were subject to a lot of discrimination. According to a more recent Pew study, favorable opinions of Islam have actually declined in the last five years. Currently, less than a third of Americans hold a favorable view of Islam, and about a third think Islam is more likely than other religions to encourage violence.

Jones is currently the most prominent in the sea of ugly faces of anti-Muslim bigotry in our nation today. Others are carrying signs, such as one that proclaimed: “Everything I needed to know about Islam, I learned on 9/11.” Some are throwing bricks at mosques and urinating on the prayer rugs inside. One asked a New York cabdriver if he was a Muslim, and then allegedly stabbed him. And now, from the fringe church that brought us the sign “Islam is the devil,” this Quran burning event. It is chilling to recall a quote from the German-Jewish poet Heinrich Heine, who wrote in 1821 that “Wherever people burn books, there, in the end, will they also burn people.”

Disgusting as it is, Jones’ Quran burning day is a symptom of a larger problem, which is the widespread and increasingly accepted bigotry against Muslims, a group that makes up one-fifth of humankind, and includes several million fellow Americans.

A recent and fairly typical e-mail making the Internet rounds is titled: “Can a good Muslim be a good American?” The author answers “no” for a variety of reasons, such as: “Theologically — no … because his allegiance is to Allah, the moon god of Arabia, and admits no greater allegiance. Geographically, no… because his allegiance is to Mecca, to which he turns in prayer five times a day. Intellectually no … because he cannot accept the American Constitution since it is not based on the Quran and because it is based on biblical principles and he believes the Bible to be corrupt.”

But bigotry exposed is preferable to bigotry concealed. In the history of our nation, when we have seen and named the ugly demons of division, the better angels of American unity go into action.

Today, these angels take the form of visionary leaders who know how important it is to build an inclusive America. They are working to shield us from the scars of other eras — of Japanese internment, of “No Irish need apply” signs, of the KKK’s anti-Catholic, anti-Semitic and anti-minority idea of America.

For example, another pastor in Gainesville, Pastor Larry Reimer of the United Church of Christ, is gathering an ecumenical group to create a positive force in response to Jones. Reimer said: The acts of Sept. 11 were not acts that were Islamic in nature. They were acts of fanatical extremists. And fanaticism is not confined to any one faith. I think that there’s no better time than Sept. 12 to remind ourselves of this and to read from the Quran in worship to point out how much we really do have in common.

Similarly, Muslims across the country are responding to this hateful incident by choosing to live up to the highest ideals of their faith. Instead of turning on Jones, Muslim leaders nationwide are mobilizing their communities to volunteer and serve others to memorialize 9/11. This campaign, called Muslim Serve, is about demonstrating how Islamic values inspire Muslims to serve humanity and is meant to highlight the great contributions that the Muslim community has provided and continues to provide our great nation.

The forces of unity have saved American before. We need them to save America again.

Eboo Patel is founder and president of Interfaith Youth Core, a Chicago-based nonprofit working to build interfaith cooperation. He is author of “Acts of Faith.” Samantha Kirby is a communications and policy specialist at Interfaith Youth Core.

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