Thursday, July 15, 2010

Religious Freedom for All?

In a post-Colonial world it appears that, initially at the very least, America has been far more welcoming to people of various religious backgrounds than its European allies. The ban of the face-covering veils in France and the constitutional ban on the building of minarets in Switzerland both serve as examples that signal a start of possible stigmatization of Muslims in the respective countries specifically, and Europe generally.

The United States, contrastingly, has been a country built upon a belief in tolerance of a racially, religiously, and ethnically diverse population. The freedom of religion, as outlined by the First Amendment, is a right proudly exercised in America and has been protected since its creation. However, this right, as a result of the apparent decrease of tolerance for other peoples, is becoming jeopardized.

The newest manifestation of this endangered right is evident in the case of hostile opposition towards the building or expansion of mosques. According to USA Today, the building of new mosques has been hard since 2001 and “over the past three years, at least 18 mosque projects — from Mississippi to Wisconsin — have run into fierce opposition. Mosque foes cite traffic concerns and fear of terrorism.” This infringement on the freedom to build places of worship coincides with a larger infringement on the right to religious freedom. As expressed by Yasser Salet Arafat, who is involved in the building of new mosque in Antioch, "You are betraying America by standing against our basic values, by saying you cannot have a mosque, you cannot be a Muslim in the United States."

Due to this difficulty and opposition to the creation of new mosques, most Muslims have been dealing with this by using converted office buildings, unable to expand them once again due to this resistance. Because of these barriers, mosques of this kind only operate for the purpose of prayer. Mosque builders, such as Arafat, would like to create spaces that are multipurpose and have room for various activities—religious and non-religious— and are therefore more attractive to the Muslim youth. In this way, these new spaces may also serve as outreach to “cultural Muslims” that do not regularly attend mosque.

Mosque opponents grounded on practical reasons, such as traffic concerns, are more irritating than harmful. However, opposition based on the belief that mosques are breeding grounds for Islamist ideology and terrorism are far more worrisome and appear to be outrightly founded on religious prejudice. Political satirist Jon Stewart cleverly mocks opponents by likening the purpose of mosques and Islam to that of the purpose of Christianity. He counters the arguments that the building of mosques is a demonstration of the Islamic cornerstone of spreading the religion by quoting the Bible to show that Christianity also has this cornerstone. He then quotes various politicians that claim that the Constitution is built upon Christian beliefs. Through this satire, Stewart is able to highlight the hypocrisy of these opponents and the harmlessness of the creation of new mosques. Mosques, and more specifically the purposes of mosques, are no different from the purposes of churches, synagogues, and temples. Therefore by deciding which religions are allowed to build places of worship, practice their beliefs, and spread their word, these opponents are unapologetically impugning religious freedom and making it okay to implement religious discrimination.

This unfortunate manifestation of bigotry is endangering American ideals and acts as a reminder that this country—especially in these post-9/11 times—is no longer the freedom for all, tolerable, progressive country it once claimed to be. Like our European partners, Americans that feel this way are showing concern that the American identity is being threatened and is no longer in their control.

However, these concerns are unnecessary—America is comprised of different people coming from different religious, racial, ethnic, and class backgrounds and has been a melting pot of identities since its foundation. The increase in building new mosques is not a demonstration of a Muslim takeover, but instead it shows that like always, America is growing and with that growth comes an increase in its various populations—in this case the Muslim population—and should not be threatened by this expansion.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

how are ground zero and mecca related??? im confused...

12:30 PM


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