A new wave of xenophobia is sweeping across the United States in the wake of a proposed plan to construct a mosque and community center two blocks from the site of the September 11th attacks. Images of burning Korans and angry white protestors holding up signs that denounce Islam pervade the media. What is behind such images of vehement intolerance in the country that pride’s itself on religious freedom and acceptance?
The right wing in the US has resorted to utilising fear in an the attempt to build a firmer base amongst its supporters. Harnessing fear is a typical tactic of the right wing to increase support of extreme policies. We have seen it used before to garner support for the proposed fence on the Mexican border to keep out immigrants, or to illegitimise Obama’s presidency by labeling him a Muslim and a foreigner. The “other-isation” of marginalised groups, like undocumented immigrants from Latin America, is integral to furthering the right’s political agenda. This is essential to understanding the motivation behind the move to keep the mosque in NYC from being built.
Playing off this fear of Islam, the right claims the building of the mosque/community center is an antagonisticmove that is insensitive to those who lost loved ones in 9/11. They say this totally ignoring that many of the victims who lost their lives that day were Muslim. On the other hand, supporters of the mosque see it as a progressive way to foster an environment of religious plurality and acceptance, indicated by the style it which it will be built. The center will be modeled after the famous Young Men’s Christian Association, complete with a pool, lecture halls, a gym and meeting rooms- all open to public access, with the intent of fighting religious extremism by encouraging interaction between New Yorkers of different faiths. The proposed center has even been dubbed “the Cordoba House” in homage to Cordoba, Spain, where Jews, Muslims, and Christians lived in harmony for hundreds of years.
The incredible support for the center received from the local community board in Lower Manhattan which recently voted on the issue is a hopeful sign for those who uphold the right of any religion to construct a place of worship. However, the developer of the center still must raise the money to fund the project. The lull between the center’s approval and the actual start of construction gives the right more time to stall the whole process by taking legal action. Whether or not the center will be built in the end will be a testament to how committed the people of the United States are to upholding the basic human right of freedom of religion.
- Daniel Hockenberry