Friday, August 20, 2010

[OP-ED] Echoes of past in Ground Zero mosque controversy

Seems like the Ground Zero mosque story is not going away anytime soon. But what is the uproar against building a 13-story, $100 million Islamic community center really about? Are we punishing Muslims because they are from the same faith as the September 11th hijackers? The opponents have a point about revering the victims of the World Trade Center. But let's also realize that dozens of Muslims were killed in the September 11th attacks and worldwide Muslims constitute the largest number of victims of terrorism. How would not building a mosque at Ground Zero defeat terrorism or cause Al Qaeda and their affiliates to fail? It won't.

The dogmatic rhetoric, linking of a Muslim-owned establishment to a national security debate, reminds me of the 2006 DP World (DPW) controversy, in which a state owned Emirati company wanted to manage six major US ports. Back then, President Bush, like Mayor Bloomberg today in the Ground Zero deal, argued vigorously in favor of the DPW deal. Guess Bush and Bloomberg, both Harvard Business School alums learned a thing or two about the harmful effects caused by an intolerant business climate.

I'm not a Harvard MBA, but I do know enough about business to tell you that in the world of global commerce, there is no tolerance for religious preference or putting up artificial barriers to capital flows. In the end of the day, it is markets and public relations that determines the winners and losers. The anti-Arab, anti-Muslim sentiment has been bad publicity for the US and has sent a cascading chilling effect to our allied partners and their capitalist class.

Coincidentally, DPW deal was one of the few times I actually agreed with Bush. Despite the backlash by large swaths of the US public, I was even more shocked when US Congress intervened with legislation against the DPW deal.

Four years later, now living in Manhattan, I still don't get what all the anti-Muslim fuss is all about. As a Muslim-born American, I am asking myself are we really at war with terrorism or Islam? Shouldn't we be empowering bougie Muslims anyways-so they can be integrated into our social fabric?

Having pro-American Muslims as revered role models in the Islamic world is better for all of us than having rogue figures who praise Al Qaeda and their dangerous affiliates. While the enemy despises the American way of life, there is no difference in ideology between Muslim bourgeoisie or entrepreneurs and those from other faiths-essentially all share the same goal to accumulate wealth, participate in free market enterprise, and live the good life. What makes me happy about this controversy is that no one is turning their backs on the victims of 9/11.

That brings me back to the Islamic community center. What makes rejecting the Ground Zero mosque fair? Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf's project which calls for an auditorium for a performing arts center, a library, a swimming pool, among other tony amenities sounds like, not an insular madrassa, the shaping of a modern cultural institution. To restrict religious freedom and privilege only a monolithic Judeo-Christian society is not only unfair but goes against the every strands of American exceptionalism.

Muslim American immigrants have been trying to assimilate into public life for a very long time. September 11th was a game changer. The American Muslim community has become one of the pantheons of scapegoats: they have endured an enormous amount of pressure, constantly being questioned about their patronage or justifying their loyalty as citizens.

America has always been a land of religious liberty. And New York is the idiosyncratic land, where rich cultural and religious diversity makes us stand apart from the rest of the world. The biggest losers when the Ground Zero mosque is built will actually be the terrorist enemy who's propaganda machine will go in idle mode. So let's show our patriotism, take pride in the American tradition of inclusion by welcoming the Cordoba House into the fabric of the city's future.

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