It’s as if Americans woke up one morning to realize that there’s a growing Muslim population in our midst. And that’s an odd sentence to begin with, for aren’t Muslim-Americans as entitled to their hyphenated status as the rest of us?
To some people, clearly not. The events of 9/11 – and incendiary Islamic rhetoric, coupled with savage quotations from the Koran – have made them pariahs in the eyes of many.
The controversy over the planned Islamic center at Ground Zero has shone a spotlight onto this population, and onto the difficulties it presents to the body politic. Like the disproportionate numbers of baby boomers, the growing numbers of Muslims in America stress our nation in unexpected ways.
This controversy is one of them – as are recent demonstrations against planned mosques in several states. Muslims in America, whether native-born or immigrants, are facing hate and fear, much as Jews did, not all those many years ago.
Who would have thought that this would happen in America, which traces its very beginnings as a nation to the pilgrims’ quest for religious freedom, which emerged from the fiery furnace – well, mostly – of religious and racial and ethnic discrimination?
This is not about the Islamic cultural center at Ground Zero; this is about our Muslim friends and neighbors and how we can be sensitive to their needs and feelings just as we – mosque or no mosque at 51 Park – ask them to be sensitive to ours.
Many people fear the radicalization of Muslim youth here, as has occurred in a number of European cities. As Fareed Zakaria wrote in a recent Newsweek column, “radical Islam” is “the ideology that motivates young men to kill and be killed.”
And, as he did not write, it feeds on poverty and hopelessness, both of which are rampant in this literally and figuratively depressed economy.
One way to avert the threat of radicalization is to encourage the development of moderate Islam and those who speak for it. (See page 20.)
Another way is “welcome the stranger,” as our faith tells us, to learn more about these people and their beliefs and to share our own beliefs with them. We’re happy to report that some of this is being done locally through a dialogue group from Temple Emeth and the Dar-Ul-Islah mosque, both in Teaneck. (See page 16.) But more is needed. As Rabbi Tarfon is often quoted, “The task is great, the laborers are lazy, the wage is abundant, and the master is urgent.”