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Is There a Muslim Under Your Bed? America’s Growing Paranoia

September 27, 2010

Note: This is an updated repost from my Rebel Political Observer blog. I’m sharing it in this forum because of the personal leadership implications and the need for those who wish to lead in business, government and the non-profit sector to be open-minded and tolerant of divergent views and beliefs. I’ve also added some new information I recently came across.

Looking south from Top of the Rock, New York City

New York City

Let me be frank. I’m getting really fed up with the escalation in paranoid cries that are emanating from those purporting to be purveyors of truth on Islam’s intent to destroy America. As much as the Internet has enabled wider perspectives on current events and eliminated the strangle-hold on news by the big media companies, it has also let the crazies loose. It’s become so bad that I wonder if anyone has any clear perspective on critical issues affecting America.

You’re either an Obama socialist/communist intent on introducing the Koran into schools, or a right-wing zealot who hates anyone who’s not white and Christian. What has really poured gas on the flames is the hysterical debate over the planned mosque and community center two blocks from Ground Zero in New York City. I’ve analyzed this to death, only to become more confused. So I let my gut tell me, based on what’s appropriate when it comes to mutual respect. I personally lean away from the building of the mosque. It’s hard for me to articulate why, especially when my analytical thinking gets in the way, but then my opinion doesn’t really count, does it? I’m just not in favor of it being built there.

However, what’s intriguing is listening to the families of those who perished on September 11, 2001. I can relate to the aunt or father or brother who stands opposed to the construction of the mosque. It’s like me and the death penalty for someone who’s murdered a child: hang the bastard. But what’s most striking is when I’ve listened to a family member argue sincerely and articulately in favor of building the mosque near Ground Zero. Somehow they’re able to look beyond their own parochial niche on why blocking the mosque’s construction is wrong and contrary to what Americans have traditionally believed in when it comes to welcoming newcomers.

Bizarrely, some media commentators have resorted to introducing the Holocaust to the fray over the Ground Zero mosque. As historians have pointed out, there’s no comparison here. The irony is that it was America that made the deciding difference in defeating Hitler and fascism, led by President Franklin Roosevelt who dragged America out of its isolationist behaviour.

I would argue that the essence underlying America’s turmoil in dealing with Islam’s growing presence is related to the country’s psychologically weakened state stemming from a litany of bad policy decisions over the past decade, combined with the devastating effects of the recession and financial meltdown. Add to the mix a country whose population is still largely ignorant of the rest of the world. Not just my opinion folks on this last point; I’ve heard it from many Americans who are embarrassed for their country.

Conversely, those who emigrate to America, and Canada, need to appreciate and understand the value systems that have served as the bedrock to their respective developments. As Stephen Covey states in one of his seven habits from his well respected book: “Seek first to understand, then be understood.” In other words if you’re a Muslim and just arrived in North America, extend an open hand and take the high road. Don’t fall prey to the minority who make all the noise and attempt to generate all the fear.

Fast rewind to 1980. I had just quit my job as a loans officer and returned to school to do a Masters in economics. Sue and I sold our used car and moved into the married student residence on campus, which was filled with families from around the world. Our first born was only a toddler at the time, and she played with kids from dozens of nationalities. One of her playmates was little Ahmed, the son of parents, both with PhDs, from Iraq. They were lovely people, and it was Canada’s gain and Saddam’s loss that they came to my country.

One of my best memories is international students’ night on campus. It was an incredible event where children and their parents danced to lively music and ate food from all over the world. It was one big smile. This is what immigration brings to countries like Canada and America. Why is it we have to see the worst in newcomers, suspicious of their motives and beliefs. And the corollary also holds: if you’re a recent immigrant to North America, don’t automatically assume that all Caucasians are intolerant rednecks who want to burn the Koran or who think that you’re an Al Qaeda operative.

We need only to look back a few decades at the internment of Japanese Americans and Canadians during World War II who were suspected quite incorrectly of being sympathetic to Japan. Obviously we failed to learn much from that exercise, and it remains a stain on our two countries. So here we are again, 70 years hence, growing increasingly paranoid with the immigration of those who practice Islam, scared shitless that they mean us (White folk) harm.

There is hope. I recently read about the launch this fall of a theological university in California. Initiated by Rev. Jerry Campbell, president of the respected United Methodist Claremont School of Theology, who has had to grapple with falling enrolments since becoming president four years ago, the new university embraces the training of pastors, rabbis and Imams. This project is a first in the United States, and brings together the Claremont School, the Academy for Jewish Religion in California and the Islamic Center of Southern California.

Already enrolment is rising. By integrating religious instruction across diverse faiths, the hope is to generate greater knowledge and wisdom on America’s growing pluralistic society. Two other theological schools, one in Chicago and one in Boston, are exploring the creation of similar schools.

Why can’t such a center be built at Ground Zero in New York City? It would go a long way to facilitate the needed healing from the past decade of mounting intolerance and suspicion.

The Claremont initiative and subsequent similar ones may prove to be the necessary mitigating factor to slow the escalating tide of intolerance in America. I’ve always tried to believe in mutual respect and racial tolerance. It’s time that Americans, a melting pot of some 305 million people, stopped the bus to reassess where it’s at in terms of being supposedly the greatest nation on earth, a society that is sliding steadily towards one composed of polarized values and beliefs. At some point there will be no return.

So tonight, just when you’re ready to drift off to sleep, take a quick peek under your bed. What do you see?

You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist. (Friedrich Nietzsche, German Scholar, 1844-1900)

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. December 29, 2012 2:02 am

    It would be an improvement over -20C temps with 30 cm of snow.

    • December 29, 2012 3:38 am

      Only if you don’t mind temps consistently exceeding 35C, sometimes in excess of 40C, with no rain in sight for days or weeks on end. And if you don’t mind that in the Summer, everything dies – there’s no green here, but for the olive greens and browns of ‘native’ trees and shrubs. But it IS less of a hassle than what you’re currently putting up with 🙂

  2. December 28, 2012 2:29 am

    “I’m getting really fed up with the escalation in paranoid cries that are emanating from those purporting to be purveyors of truth on Islam’s intent to destroy America.”

    You and me both, ChangingWinds, although such paranoia isn’t restricted to the U.S. I believe we have the media to largely thank for such idiocy, though.

    • December 28, 2012 2:00 pm

      Yes, I agree. Since writing this post two and a half years ago, we’ve been subjected to non-stop rantings from the Right. It becomes monotonous for Canadians, who are deluged with U.S. media.

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