Opposition to the planned building of mosques in New York City and Temecula, California has oozed firmly into bigotry territory. But, don’t worry…it’s just anti-Muslim bigotry.
An ad produced by the National Republican Trust PAC proclaims the proposed N.Y. City mosque as a “celebration of the murder of 3,000 Americans.” In a CNN interview, majordomo of the PAC and producer of the ad, Scott Wheeler, confirmed his belief that the people establishing the mosque are doing so to honor the “19 martyrs” who leveled the Trade Center Towers. In other words, Wheeler is saying for all the world to hear that NYC Muslims–some of whom not only lost family and friends in the tragedy, but also put their lives on the line as first responders to the attack–not only condone mass murder, but also hold the 9-11 murderers in the highest esteem.
Meanwhile, 3,000 miles to the left, anti-Muslim bigotry is running full tilt in the rolling hills of Southern California wine country. Muslims in Temecula, CA, who have been saving for over a decade to build a new mosque and community center, are getting the same kind of treatment.
“The Islamic foothold is not strong here, and we really don’t want to see their influence spread,” said Bill Rench, pastor of Temecula’s Calvary Baptist Church. “There is a concern with all the rumors you hear about sleeper cells and all that. Are we supposed to be complacent just because these people say it’s a religion of peace? The two religions mix like oil and water, it would create a confrontational atmosphere,” Rench added.
Sadly, the good reverend is not the only Islamophobe in town. Members of a conservative group called Concerned Community Citizens are circulating a petition to stop the mosque.
Leaders of the town’s Muslim community are surprised by the level of opposition to the center, telling the L.A. Times that their current makeshift mosque and community center — a converted industrial warehouse — has been in town for more than a decade and members always have felt welcome in the community. “Our children go to the same schools their children go to. We shop at the same stores where they shop,” said the mosque’s Imam Mahamoud Harmoush. “All of a sudden our neighbors wake up and they’re opposed to us building the Islamic center there, the mosque. I hope it’s a small group,” he said.
Imam Harmoush will find out how large the group is at next week’s planned protest in front of his current mosque/warehouse. According to Temecula Valley News, an e-mail blast was sent out last week by a local “conservative coalition,” announcing that a one-hour “singing – praying – patriotic rally” would be held and that participants should “bring” their Bibles, flags, signs, dogs and singing voices to the rally. The email explained that singing voices would be needed because “Muslim women are forbidden to sing.” Why the dogs? You guessed it — Muslims “hate dogs.” If these concerned citizens could only find some singing dogs they might be able to frighten Temecula’s Muslims into abandoning the mosque altogether. “If we see so much as a shovel at that site…we un-muzzle the hounds!”
Zero Tolerance of Intolerance
The words “ignorance” and “lack of understanding” have popped up in a number of articles about opposition to the planned mosques. Conspicuously absent are words like “bigotry,” “scapegoating” and “hateful.”
To their credit, major networks are refusing to run Wheeler’s ad condemning the New York mosque on the grounds that it is offensive, and the Temecula Interfaith Council, a group of local religious leaders, has endorsed the proposed Temecula mosque, saying “It’s important for people to see our neighbors, and for them to be part of our community,”
As admirable as the networks’ refusal is, their characterization of Wheeler’s ad as “offensive” should also have included the words “stupid, “hateful” and “dangerous.” The Interfaith Council’s similarly welcome-but-tepid endorsement of the Temecula mosque is sorely lacking a stinging repudiation of the bigotry spewed by fellow minister Rench and the singing dog-wranglers. “The Islamic foothold is not strong here, and we really don’t want to see their influence spread” sounds like Rench is defending his community from an outbreak of malaria rather than a faith practiced by 6 million Americans – the vast majority of whom are as peaceful as the vast majority of Baptists. His “oil and water” line is frighteningly reminiscent of the old “birds of a feather” mantra howled by 60s era segregationists. Poisonous statements like these should be attacked mercilessly at every opportunity.
Reactions to the 9-11 tragedy in particular and Muslim extremism in general have led to a dangerous new tolerance of intolerance. Though most Americans would find Rev. Rench’s remarks to be out of line if he were talking about, say, a Jewish community center, many are giving him a pass because, after all, it was a group of Muslims who caused 9-11.
Therein lies the danger. That a Christian leader is attempting to drive a faith-based wedge between Americans is sad enough, but worse is his implicit belief that he can make anti-Islamic statements with impunity and by extension, question the peacefulness and motives of the150 to 200 families that have been quietly practicing their faith in Temecula for years.
Are Rench’s parishioners OK with his views? How about the op/ed pages of the local press? What about his church’s governing body? How do Temeculans feel about it?
Or is it now OK to make public statements disparaging entire groups because of the actions of a few of their members? Is it now acceptable to bash the whole of American Mohammedanism because a group of Muslim zealots believed mass murder was their ticket to glorious eternity? If so, let’s tar Protestants for their witch-burning indiscretion years ago and the anti-Constitutional stance on gays currently taken by many in their number. While we’re at it, let’s pillory Catholics for their pedophile priests and the Inquisition.
Pastor Rench and Scott Wheeler’s widely disseminated us-against-them remarks are not only divisive, unfair and decidedly un-American, they also play directly into the hands of Muslim extremists looking to paint all Americans as crusading anti-Islamists.
Rest assured that comments like his are being played over and over in the world’s madrassas. Who knows? Rench’s “oil and water” reference alone might have been good for two or three Al-Qaeda recruitments today.
It’s time to call this anti-Muslim crap what it is…plain old, unadulterated hate.
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