I’ve been ignoring the controversy over Cordoba House – the so-called Ground Zero Mosque – hoping for a sudden outbreak of sanity across America. I took a similar approach to run-up to the invasion of Iraq, and, considering how well that worked out, I really should have known better.
Opposition to the community center – calling Cordoba House a mosque is like calling Columbia University a restaurant since it serves food, or Saint Patrick’s Cathedral a bar since it serves wine – makes me ashamed to be an American. Opposing Cordoba House does far more damage to America and its values than a few planes flown into buildings ever could.
The bigotry and narrow-mindedness behind much of the opposition to Cordoba House attacks the fundamental principles of our nation and does irreparable damage to America’s image overseas. Hostility toward Cordoba House proves radical Islamists’ point: Americans hate Muslims, so Muslims should hate them back. Building Cordoba House won’t help recruit terrorists to attack the US and Americans overseas; opposing Cordoba House is doing precisely that.
I was plenty ashamed about the Iraq invasion, but now American is making war on its own values. What’s particularly troubling is that, unlike the highly orchestrated Tea Party movement, the Cordoba House backlash truly is a grassroots movement. Two years ago, during another controversy involving Islam, I noted that many Americans consider “Muslim” a dirty word. Since writing that piece for The Guardian, the percentage of Americans who believe President Obama is a Muslim has doubled, and I doubt any of them laud his links with Islam.
The arguments against Cordoba House are specious at best, at worst against the very principles that make America the land of the free. Islam didn’t attack the US on 9/11, al Qaeda did. Assigning collective guilt to Muslims is no more logical than blaming Christians (or God) for Nazi Germany because its soldiers carried Bibles and wore belt buckles proclaiming “Gott Mitt Uns (God is with us).” Collective guilt, a fancy term for bigotry, means we all end up hating each other. When Newt Gingrich argues that the US shouldn’t allow Cordoba House because Saudi Arabia doesn’t allow churches or synagogues, he paints a grim vision for America. If our country doesn’t aspire to a higher standard than a theocratic monarchy, then what’s the point of America?
I’m shocked that so many Americans are acting this foolish, this bigoted, and this misinformed. But perhaps I shouldn’t be. How many years ago would there have been poll number similar to those opposing Cordoba House against living, working or going to school with Irish, Catholics, Jews, blacks, Hispanics? Opposing Cordoba House follows the tradition of Yankee hypocrisy that began with slaveholders who declared all men are created equal.
Americans can take no comfort that it’s just this one special case because it’s Muslims and Ground Zero, as if James Meredith and the University of Mississippi, or Rosa Parks and the Memphis bus, or Jews and the Ivy League, or women in the executive suite weren’t also special cases in their day.
America is either the land of the free, or it’s not – and right now, the Cordoba House controversy points which way the country is heading. It’s up to good people to take our country back, to stop making excuses and equivocating and stand up for liberty and justice for all.
Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.