A few hours before my father died coming on for three years ago I became a U.S. citizen, joining about 80 or so others in a hall in Baltimore’s federal building in a naturalization process that included Africans, Asians, Europeans, South Americans and, dare I say it, Arabs. The World’s religions were also represented that chilly day – there were Christians, Jews and Muslims.
Am I now to believe, if I take Newt Gingrich at face value about why Cordoba House, the proposed Ground Zero mosque, should not be built, that those Muslims are, at worst, my mortal foes and, at best, suspicious representatives of a Jihad-obsessed religion that is intent on killing non-Muslims? I took those Muslims in Baltimore to be fellow Americans and as such citizens of a Rainbow nation dedicated to some basic freedoms, one of which includes the liberty to express their religion and the right to worship their God.
After all that is very the bedrock of the United States – a nation founded by people who wanted to worship in their own way without being persecuted.
In the debate that has been ignited by the proposal to build an Islamic center and mosque two blocks from Ground Zero the opponents have failed to recall the fundamental and historic founding principle of this country. And too many of the opponents have used the kind of language that President George W. Bush was careful to avoid when he launched his “war on terror” – the current American struggle is not against Islam but against those who bomb and shoot and fly commercial planes into skyscrapers, it is a struggle against violent nihilistic militants who distort a religion for their own vile purposes and care not whether they kill Christians, Jews or Muslims. What it ISN’T is a war between religions — however much Osama bin Laden would like to make it such.
And the Obama administration has been no different in the language it has used. The national security strategy published in the spring stresses “diversity is part of our strength—not a source of division or insecurity.”
Clearly Gingrich doesn’t believe this. His argument, as so many of those put forward by the Cordoba project’s foes, relies on conflating Al Qaeda and Islam – in short, rewarding Osama bin Laden by accepting his erroneous, arrogant claim that he represents Islam and acts and speaks for the true religion. Gingrich and others lean on the argument — sometimes overtly and other times covertly — that Muslims share responsibility for the 9/11 atrocity and that they are tainted by it.
Writing in the American Spectator magazine, Patrick O’Hannigan sneers at the notion that you can distinguish between the militants, the “fringe” adherents and other Muslims. He asks: “How do you figure out where the fringe is in a faith without a central authority?” I hadn’t noticed myself that there is a central authority for Christianity. Who is it? The Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Patriarch of Moscow or the patriarchs of the Ukraine, Greek or Serbian Orthodox churches or the leaders of the various Methodist or Baptist churches?
And as Christianity has no central authority, do I take it that we can’t therefore distinguish between Christians and that Christianity and all Christians share responsibility for the killings and rapes in Bosnia by Serbs and Croats in their last religious war?