Messaging Failures Lead to Tipping Point for Islam in the U.S.
For the first time, I almost believed in the famous “change” that my skepticism has prevented me from embracing. Time and time again, I saw a stark difference between words and action on the part of our nation's leader. This latest moment was our President backing the Cordoba House Project during his address at the White House Iftar. I thought to myself, principled, bold and decisive leadership in spite of the growing anti-Islam hysteria. Well, as usual, hope was not enough as we now have the sorry display of the amateur hour; “I didn't mean it and then again well, yes, I meant it,” a flip-flop so quick that John Kerry would be proud.
As disappointed as I am in the President's leadership, I can't lay the blame anywhere other than on our own community. Our collective messaging is a cacophony of name calling, alienating stances, special interests and a complete disconnect from the national dialogue that has allowed this issue to morph into a watershed moment for the perception of Islam and Muslims in the U.S. At stake is nothing less then the mass adoption of the clash of civilizations theory by a majority of Americans.
CNN and FOX News polls show a full 68 or 64 percent of Americans (respectively) think it is wrong to build a mosque near ground zero. Then we have the Muslim community's civil rights and activist organizations resorting to name calling with charges of “bigotry” against a nuanced attack on the project that “this is not about religious freedom, it is about the 'right' thing to do” which, effectively places American Muslims against our neighbors with us yet again acting like a entitlement driven special interest rather than a community being victimized by hate and fear-mongering.
Let's deconstruct some of the core arguments against the Cordoba House. All of which seek to associate the religion of Islam as the cause of the worst terrorist attacks in our nation's history becausee the object being opposed includes a masjid, an Islamic house of worship.
1) It is a “victory” mosque – Is it a victory for Islam that Muslims were among the innocent victims of the attacks? We hear from some pundits attacking the community center about this idea that the Cordoba House will be some kind of trophy. Many of these same pundits utilize the talking point that Muslim terrorists are causing the majority of Muslim deaths overseas when they try to avoid discussions of foreign policy missteps or tragic civilian casualties due to botched military action. Well, why is it okay now to ignore the deaths of Muslim victims of terror? And about this notion of victory mosques, the story of Umar Ibn Al-Khattab (may Allāh be pleased with him) refusing to pray in a church after liberating Jerusalem should be sufficient. For readers who are unaware of the history of the third Caliph of Islam, once the holy city became a part of that dynasty's territory, a delegation from the Christians asked Umar to pray in their church and he declined by saying that he was afraid that in the future Muslims would use his action as a reason to take over that particular church in order to build a mosque in its place.
2) It is a slap to the victims of 9/11 – This sentiment is a slap to the Muslim victims and first responders of the 9/11 tragedy.
3) It is too close to hallowed ground – Did not the blood of the Muslim victims of 9/11 also add to sacredness of the site? Do we really want to ignore that Jumu‘ah (Islamic Friday congregational services) were held in the twin towers?
As American Muslims we can afford to listen to the concerns of our fellow countrymen. If we continue to dig in our heels, we may win a civil rights battle and lose a opportunity to truly dissipate fear, prejudice and ignorance. We can create the type of change that people so desperately sought during the 2008 elections by building bridges and increasing dialogue. If we don't, we risk empowering a negative platform built on alienating an entire demographic in the upcoming elections.
Logic will not win the day in this controversy. It is a deeply emotional issue. On one side, you have the trauma of surviving a terrorist attack and on the other side, the added insult of being a victim of that attack combined with the suspicion that your community is somehow responsible for it.
There is a messaging solution. A way to show that the two sides are artificial. Turn the Cordoba House into a memorial for Muslim victims of terror and the resulting cycles of violence. As American Muslims, the dehumanization of the Muslim victims of 9/11 is an all too familiar feeling. The devaluing of Muslim lives in the reporting of tragedies and conflicts is all too common. Muslim victims are often labeled “collateral damage” in drone attacks or generically by their ethnicity, rarely are they humanized with photos or stories of the survivors who have now lost their loved ones. We hear about them in the press as merely statistics. Many of the victims of 9/11 were my fellow countrymen. They were ALL my brothers and sisters in humanity. All of them. And ALL of them, even the Muslim victims were also yours.