Much of my recent focus on Muslim-American dialogue concerns the concept of civil reciprocity: Muslims are not “victims” in America, Americans do not hate Muslims, Muslims thrive in America — and as Americans are repeatedly pounded into sensitivity regarding Muslims, Americans wish to see a measure of corresponding Muslim sensitivity. That is, in a nutshell, the current cultural tension, writ large by the proposed mosque near Ground Zero.
It is strange to have to say this, again, but the controversy regarding the mosque near Ground Zero has absolutely nothing to do with the First Amendment or the right of private property owners to build as they please. The commentators who perpetuate this counterfactual and insidiously polarizing narrative have neither credibility nor, evidently, shame.
The mosque controversy is about an American people who have demonstrated remarkable sensitivity toward and solicitude for Muslims in this country, and committed American blood and treasure on behalf of Muslim self-determination and dignity globally, asking, in return, a measure of sensitivity and solicitude from American Muslims. The matter is neither legal nor constitutional. It is cultural. It is an invitation to civil reciprocity. It is a plea for Muslim moderates to meet their fellow Americans halfway, to decline the “victim” status, and to say, yes of course we have an indisputable American “right” to build this thing but perhaps it is unwise.
What a tremendous contribution to interfaith harmony and mutual respect that would be, if that were the aim.
The mosque controversy has frayed the patience of many Americans. I see in the comments posted to numerous stories about the controversy a burgeoning skepticism about Islam as a religion to police its radicalism. This is not “Islamophobia.” It is ordinary people trying to come to grips with what horrors continue to happen in the name of Islam, trying to identify Islam’s ideological center of gravity, and then getting ridiculously condemned as “racists” for asking fair questions.
And then I saw a frankly amazing comment posted to a Wall Street Journal article (unfortunately, subscription only) about Imam Rauf that struck me as a perfect statement of Muslim civil reciprocity. The author is presumably Muslim, but I may never know. I reproduce it here (with only minor formatting edits) with an exhortation to Americans that they acknowledge the suffering of Muslims — as well as Christians, Jews, Buddhist, and Hindus — at the hands of Islamist terrorists, and that Americans appreciate the sacrifices of Muslim moderates on behalf of the values we all embrace:
Islamic moderates are in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq — they take up arms and are at war with militants.
Islamic moderates are among the dead at the hands of militant Islamists.
Islamic moderates have issued fatwas against bin Laden, and others who have hijacked Islam.
Islamic moderates have invited Salmon Rushdie to speak and told Ayyan Hirsi Ali that she has much to add to Islam’s partnership between men and women.
Islamic moderates have blended secular submission and sublime submission with no conflict.
Islamic moderates understand that the mosque is offensive and inflammatory and unnecessary.
Islamic moderates issue fatwas against those who murder their daughters, mutilate their wives and persuade the sons that they can have orgasms after they are dead and dismembered.
Islamic moderates understand that the prophet’s spiritual ancestors, Jews and Christians, are coequal in God’s eyes and deserve a place in the sun as coequals.
Islamic moderates understand that dhimmitude was an accident of mistranslated Koranic transcriptions and now make amends.
Islamic moderates disband the suicide warriors of the current wars.
Islamic moderates grieve for and with the family of Daniel Pearl.
Islamic moderates make peace between Shia and Sunni and between Islam and Hindu and Jew and Christian.
Islamic moderates understand that psychopaths in the name of Islam commit mass murder and Islamic moderates tithe themselves to make financial amends as may be possible to victims of psychotics in Islam’s name.
Islamic moderates have added to NYC subway posters – “if you see something say something” – by adding this in Arabic and Farsi and all the other languages that Muslims speak, and added “Muhammad wills it.”
Islamic moderates say:
“We can go places where secular authority cannot go/
western secularism has been good to us/
the only place on earth where Muslims do not kill Muslims is in western secularism/
support western secularism/
if you see something say something.”
I hope this helps.
This voice, from wherever it came, needs to be more prominent. It is precisely the bridge, the gesture of Muslim-American civil reciprocity that can bind us, that can once again validate the unique greatness of American diversity.
Kendrick Macdowell is a lawyer and writer in Washington, D.C.