Excellent post on Park 51 and fear-mongering at Vox Nova. I’ll post it here:
According to Sarah Palin, a large publicly visible sign and structure of Islam close to Ground Zero “feels like a stab in the heart to, collectively, Americans who still have that lingering pain from 9/11.” Stated explicitly, Park 51 feels like a knife separating the skin, rupturing the flesh, and piercing the very source of life. It is no coincidence that Palin illustrates the building project of Iman Rauf as a weapon and fatal act of violence. Indeed, she has gone so far as to call it the “9/11 Mosque,” using the name of an event of fanatical mass murder as an adjective to delineate a house of religious assembly. She’s not the least bit shy about manipulating language to play on people’s fears, but then, her use of language reveals a likely perspective: Palin literally sees Park 51 as an act of violence. It’s not merely insensitive in her book; it’s like the threat of a knife-wielding enemy. At least, it feels that way.
To protect the U.S. against this alleged enemy violence, Palin wants the area around Ground Zero free of impressive signs and structures of Islam. She desires, to use Glenn Greenwald’s expression, a Muslim-free zone, and she’s not alone. I don’t mean that Palin doesn’t want Muslims at all present in the area at and around Ground Zero. She clearly desires, though, that Muslims assemble and worship elsewhere, at a location where she and others won’t feel stabbed in the heart and the lurking presence of Muslims.
Palin’s appeal to emotion plays on the fears Americans have about a religious people we don’t understand. Most Americans, for example, couldn’t explain the difference between Shia and Sunni, note the reasons why Iman Rauf’s Sufism matters, describe the ways the different cultures in Iran and Somalia shape religious interpretation and practice, or locate Mecca on a map. Islam is a subject with which we’re mostly ignorant. We’re largely Christian and we have trouble understanding relatively similar Christian denominations! How many Protestants could accurately explain the Catholic appreciation of the Virgin Mary? Heck, how many Catholics could accurately explain why they pray the Hail Mary and where the prayer comes from? If we’re in the dark about the diversity in Christianity, how much more are we in the dark about Islam? Most of us are not even in a position to assess whether some Muslim (or former Muslim) expert on Islam really knows what he or she is talking about. We may think we’re listening to an trustworthy authority on Islamic orthodoxy when we’re really taking lessons on True Islam from a Muslim version of Garry Wills.
The last thing Osama bin Laden wants is a friendship between Muslims and non-Muslims. He wants us all afraid, ignorant, and at war. The way to fight against bin Laden (aside from bringing him and his accomplices to justice) is to work against the grand narrative of civilizational warfare he promotes through propaganda and terrorism. We do that by welcoming Muslims into our homes and hallowed ground, teaching about ourselves and learning from one another, and encouraging each other in our respective faith practices. Would Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia also benefit from such a hospitality? I have no doubt, but we don’t really have the power to promote religious hospitality there. We do have the power here. And the obligation to do so. Plus, doing so would really piss off the brute Osama bin Laden.
So, seriously, let’s cut the fear-mongering. Be not afraid and all that.