EDITORIAL: Preying on religious intolerance
LAST SATURDAY marked the ninth anniversary of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre and, as expected, all American came together in mourning for the almost 3 000 lost souls.
This year, however, was different. The burning issue was whether a mosque should be built on the site of a derelict clothing store in New York. It has become a test of America’s commitment to religious freedom and tolerance, one of its founding beliefs.
There is growing opposition to the mosque, which centres on it being disrespectful to the memory of the 3 000 people killed on September 11. This might be understandable if it were at, or very near, Ground Zero. Obviously, that is and always will be hallowed ground, and a site of enormous sensitivity.
The proposed building is reportedly two blocks, and several hundreds metres, from that spot. Moreover, it is supposed be a 13-storey Islamic cultural centre that will include a prayer room, mosque and a September 11 memorial.
As proposed by a well-known and congenial imam from New York, the centre is intended to give Islam a new face in the United States and to promote tolerance. As such, it had been warmly endorsed by the city’s mayor, Michael Bloomberg.
None of this matters to eccentric clerics and ultra-conservatives who have whipped up frenzy against the project. That an obscure pastor from Florida could cause such global uproar because of an ugly threat to burn the Koran shows how vulnerable the United States is.
Unfortunately, thanks to the gullible media that propel these dangerous elements onto the stage for immediate global recognition, we can expect more such crackpots to crawl out of the woodwork across the religious spectrum. We have seen shades of them here before, promoting death and destruction.
The diversion was enhanced by the way it was being inflamed by people in positions of influence in the media. Overzealous broadcasters have been aided and abetted by politicians, most notably from the Republican Party.
With mid-term congressional elections looming, it has taken some courage for President Barack Obama to take a stand against this intolerance, given that the tide seems to be turning him and Democratic incumbents.
The irony is that United States was built on its ability to integrate successive waves of immigrants, with their many cultures, customs and religions into its bosom. The election of President Obama was another progressive step along that same path.
This episode of religious intolerance threatens to undermine that progress and further fan the flames of Islamophobia. Though this tolerance is not often reciprocated in Muslim countries, the tragedy is that the pastor’s five minutes of fame detracted from the reverence of 9/11 remembrance by the victims’ families.
The question we in the media need to ask ourselves is whether such misfits should be given such wide exposure or simply treated with the contempt they deserve.