Religious tolerance in America

Published: August 17, 2010
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The Cordoba House, a multi-purpose Islamic centre which has misleadingly been named Ground Zero Mosque because it is a couple of blocks from the site where the World Trade Centre once stood, has become the latest flashpoint in the so-called ‘clash of civilisations’ between the US and Muslims. This time, the battle is between liberal Americans, who are horrified at the thought of the government restricting Muslims’ right to worship freely, and conservatives who equate terrorists responsible for 9/11 with the entire Muslim world — a classic battle between tolerance and bigotry. President Barack Obama, as is his wont, tried to have it both ways. On August 13, at a White House dinner celebrating the start of Ramazan, he forcefully came out in favour of Cordoba House. With polls showing that 70 per cent of Americans are against the building of the centre, Obama took a bold stand in supporting its construction. The next day he backtracked, saying he was not speaking on the “wisdom” of going ahead with Cordoba House but making a general point that the government should not interfere in matters of religion. Political concerns forced this clarification but Obama’s first statement stands: the project should go ahead. Lost in the debate over whether American Muslims have the right to build a mosque near Ground Zero is the realisation that this project is ultimately in America’s own interests. The moderate Muslims behind the initiative are the kind of people that the US has repeatedly said it wants to encourage. Placing legal roadblocks will only play into the hands of those who believe that the US is in a war against all Muslims, and not just a small group of extremists. All those against Cordoba House should keep in mind that this is exactly the kind of tolerant, progressive project that the likes of Osama bin Laden and his cohorts would attack. Published in The Express Tribune, August 17th, 2010.

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