An American rabbi, Daniel S. Brenner, has put forward a
fascinating suggestion for what should be done with the World Trade Center site.
Build a mosque there, he says. And put in a synagogue and a
church as well. Or erect an inter-religious center where believers
of diverse backgrounds can come together to discuss and honor their
different gods in an atmosphere of mutual respect.
The point, he says, is to show the world that America's religious
tolerance remains among its most cherished values. We should make
clear to friends and detractors alike, he urges, that our
dedication to first principles, including respect for individual
religious conscience, is unshakable, no matter how terrorists try
to undermine our confidence and divide us from one another.
We leave it to New Yorkers to decide what is best for that site.
But we find the spirit of the rabbi's sentiment commendable.
As he indicates, America's safeguarding of religious freedom
ranks among our proudest achievements. This is a country of
Lutherans and Catholics, of Muslims and Mennonites, of Baptists and
Bahai's - with each citizen, religious or irreligious, regarded as
fully American in the eyes of the Constitution.
Indeed, America is exceptional in being a land where a suggestion
such as Brenner's can even be considered in the first place. In
many parts of the world, a call for such an inter-religious
dialogue would be dismissed out of hand, since it would either
violate legal strictures, run afoul of religious dogma or simply
offend people's chauvinistic sensibilities.
These considerations bear directly on how Islam should be viewed
since 9/11. Muslims deserve tolerance and respect. At the same
time, they have an obligation to exercise maturity and
The Muslim terrorists who committed the atrocities of Sept. 11
were evil men. But it would be a mistake to conclude that Islam
itself is an evil religion. America has serious grievances against
Osama bin Laden and other like-minded radicals who have distorted
Islamic tenets to promote terror and death. Such men are our
enemies. The global Muslim community is not.
These concerns also have resonance within our own borders.
Terrorist attacks should not be allowed to push Americans of Muslim
or Arab background into second-class status in terms of the respect
they receive from their fellow citizens.
At the same time, the gravity of the threat against this country
warrants an aggressive response by law enforcement. As agencies
work to track down al-Qaida members and ensure public safety,
difficult questions involving civil liberties inevitably arise. Law
enforcement will need to exercise a sense of proportion. So will
leaders in the Muslim-American community, who can help by
acknowledging the complexities of this situation.
Muslims overseas have an obligation, too. They bring themselves
no credit when they prove receptive to anti-Semitic rhetoric and
anti-American conspiracy theories touted by segments of the foreign
press and over the Internet. The casual acceptance of such hate-
mongering is reminiscent of the way Europeans during the Middle
Ages provided an enthusiastic audience for anti-Islamic poetry that
depicted the prophet Mohammed in offensive ways and slurred Muslim
America's insistence on respect across religious lines can help
provide an antidote to the hatred and prejudice on ready display in
much of the world. The more that Americans stand up for their
ideals at this time of crisis, the more the hollowness of the
terrorists' cause will be revealed.
©Copyright 2002, Omaha World - Herald
Page last updated/revised 020609
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