As the country still debates the Islamic community center in Lower Manhattan, one Canton minister sends a message of shared humanity. David Blanchard ’80 is the new minister for the Unitarian Universalist Church of Canton. Two weeks ago his congregation planted a sign near the church with the words, “Eid Mubarak,” an Islamic greeting at the end of Ramadan. Blanchard says of the sign, “There would be some benefit, even in a remote place like Canton, for a message of hospitality and welcome to Muslim community members.”
Blanchard’s sign emerged at the confluence of the 9/11 terrorist attack anniversary, the Islamic community center controversy and the close of Ramadan. He wants to promote positive awareness of Islam: “I would like to get people to learn more about the Muslim tradition and especially its distinction from the extremist movement.”
Feisal Abdul Rauf is Imam of the Cordoba House (also Park 51), which is the planned Islamic community center. The building will contain a Muslim prayer space along with features like a performing arts center, a swimming pool, a theater and a bookstore. The new building would be two blocks from Ground Zero. Opponents argue that Rauf should move his center (especially the Muslim place of worship) to a location further from the site of the terrorist attacks because the 9/11 hijackers were Muslim terrorists.
Supporters point to the First Amendment right of religious freedom and, more importantly, to the unreasonable implication that an Islamic community center will somehow benefit Muslim terrorists. There are 1.5 billion Muslims in the world and heir religion, Islam, is based on peace. Islamic extremists have distorted the religion to leverage power for their own personal and political ends—but this happens in almost all religions.
Government professor Ronnie Olesker explains the controversy with a historical perspective: “In the United States, viewing a group of people as the ‘other’ has always been going on.” In the late 19th century Jews were outsiders, but after World War II their culture and population became integrated into the fabric of American life. So the anti-Islamic sentiments in America are simply the latest expression of the ‘other,’and they derive from ignorance and misrepresentation from the government and media. The cognitive leap from “Muslim place of worship” to “terrorist training ground” is supplying the opponents with all the emotional fervor of their protest.
Thahitun Mariam ‘12, president of the Islamic Cultural Club, talks rationally about this debate and how it’s been covered in the American media. She thinks the controversy over Lower Manhattan is due largely to ignorance and sensational media reporting. “ Not everyone is receiving the same information,” she says. An example is this under-reported fact:
when the new Islamic community center was described in the New York Times in 2009, the location (45-51 Park St.) was already being used as a Muslim place of worship. Conversely, Pastor Terry Jones, the man who threatened to burn Korans in protest of the new Islamic center, was in the news all the time. When authors of books such as Islam Is Of The Devil are given what seems like infinite coverage on television, the Internet and newspapers, it becomes clear how unreasonable the debate is portrayed.
Nouman Saeed ’13, a member of the Islamic Cultural Club, says, “The pastor in Florida didn’t even know what was written in the Koran.” He explains how media portrayal of the controversy surfaces and sustains a lot of ignorance. The club is not angry, he says, but favors diplomatic channels and communication over burning a sacred book, deeply
important to more than a billion people.
Mariam, Saeed and Olesker think the solution is knowledge. More Americans need to learn about Islam, so they can develop judgment and critical thought, in place of unfounded associations between terrorism and all of Islam. They think
David Blanchard’s sign is a wonderful step in the right direction.
The Islamic Cultural Club is promoting peace and education on campus. ICC meetings are open to all students. They will host an Eid celebration on October 29th.