(NNPA)—I watched with outrage as a debate over the placement of a mosque near Ground Zero in New York took place. The proposed mosque had been suggested as a symbol of tolerance in a society that is becoming less tolerant. The response, particularly led by right-wing Republicans, was outrageous in the extreme.
The gist of the opposition’s position was that it would somehow be insulting to have a mosque near Ground Zero since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks were conducted by Muslims. One group of opponents calls itself “Stop Islamization of America!,” a ridiculous name that plays to the fears and insecurities of many, but especially plays to racial and religious intolerance.
So, let’s think about this for a moment. The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks were carried out by 19 religious extremists. They happen to be members of a religion that counts itself as having more than one billion followers, and growing. So, let’s divide one billion into, 19 and see what percentage of Muslims were involved in the attacks.
You get my point?
But now let’s push the envelope further and go into terrain that no one seems to want to discuss. Were churches banned anywhere near the site of the Oklahoma City bombing that was carried out by the White domestic terrorist Timothy McVeigh? Was there any suggestion that because McVeigh was a right-winger, influenced by a particular interpretation of Christianity, that a Christian church was somehow a sanctuary for terrorists?
Let’s push the envelope a little further. How many African-Americans, Chicanos and others have been murdered by White supremacists who hide behind a burning cross? Should that mean that there are no Christian churches anywhere near where a lynching took place? Should it mean that Christianity is held responsible for the slave trade, the annexation of northern Mexico, and the thousands of lynchings that have taken place throughout the history of this country?
It is time for people of goodwill and sanity to speak up. The focus on Islam is both a cynical attempt by right-wing politicians to appeal to the fears among many White voters, but also a not so subtle effort to play to racial and religious intolerance, furthering an agenda of a new “Cold War.”
The political right saw, in the first Cold War against the Soviet Union and China, that it could use the fear of communism as a means of suppressing dissent here at home. The aim of today’s right-wing opportunists is to take that approach into the 21st century by creating an enemy of one billion people where none exists and keeping us in a perpetual state of fear, war and intolerance. This is not about fighting terrorism but rather about a descent into demagoguery.
(Bill Fletcher Jr. is a senior scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum, and the co-author of “Solidarity Divided.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)