On Sunday night, when President Obama announced the death at American hands of Osama bin Laden, he was quick to “reaffirm that the United States is not â€“- and never will be – at war with Islam. I’ve made clear,” he continued, “just as President Bush did shortly after 9/11, that our war is not against Islam. Bin Laden was not a Muslim leader; he was a mass murderer of Muslims. Indeed, al-Qaida has slaughtered scores of Muslims in many countries, including our own. So his demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity.”
That was an important message to send to the world – and sent to the world it was, on every television station and Internet news site – and possibly by smoke signals, for all we know. It was important for many reasons – not least as a reminder of the scope of this man’s villainy but also to avert (or try to avert) acts of reprisal.
It was a reassurance to Muslims in general that the United States is not their enemy, and to Muslim Americans in particular, who may well be feeling anxious just about now – and as the 10th anniversary of 9/11 looms.
Much of the anti-Muslim feeling in this country in recent years – more, oddly, than just after 9/11 – sprang from frustration at the fact that bin Laden was still at large. A case in point is the angry opposition to the establishment of a Muslim community center and mosque a few blocks from Ground Zero. Planned mosques and mosque expansions across the country have faced vehement opposition as well.
The Anti-Defamation League made a distinction between its opposition to the Muslim center near Ground Zero – because of “sensitivity to the location” – and the aspirations of Muslim Americans to build or expand mosques in their home states. It helped to create an interfaith task force to “come to the aid of [Muslims] who face prejudice in their neighborhoods,” the ADL’s Abraham Foxman told this newspaper in August.
It is supremely fitting that at this time – when Muslims may be fearing “a war against Islam” – the task force and the ADL itself have gone into action, filing a friend of the court brief on Tuesday in support of an Islamic center in Alpharetta, Ga., whose plan to construct a mosque for its growing community was blocked by that city.
This could scarcely have been more timely as a demonstration, by diverse faith groups, of respect for Muslim aspirations, and of the workings of democracy.