Mosque near Ground Zero!

By Ram Puniyani

The memories of 9/11, 2001 have haunted not only the US but the whole of the World, as it changed the direction of global politics and the way people look at Islam and Muslims. This debate was brought forward again recently (August 2010) by a section of US society in the wake of proposed Islamic Cultural Center, near ground zero; the place where the World Trade Center was located. It has been presented as if a mosque is being constructed at ground zero, this will add insult to the injury, it will be a victory of global jihad, and it is a sign of Islamic expansionism. The opinion amongst large sections as reflected in the statement of political figures like Republican Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin, opposed the construction. Barrack Hussein Obama initially pitched for the mosque and later in the face of hysterical attack from the likes of Palin, retracted to say that Muslims too have the right to practice their religion like anybody else, stopping short of openly supporting the construction of mosque as a part of Islamic Cultural Center, near Ground zero.

To begin with it is not a mosque; it is a cultural center, with prayer rooms as well. Also it is not at the ground zero; it is two blocks away and has been duly cleared by the competent authorities. The main promoters of the project, Cordoba Initiative1, named after the 10th Century Spanish City, where, Christians, Muslims and Jews lived in harmony; aim to reverse the extremist ideology, to promote American values of multiculturalism and peace. This initiative and its main movers are believers of moderate Islam, condemning the violence which some have perpetrated in the name of Islam. Few blocks away there is another mosque in the same area. In New York, where half a million (5 Lakh) Muslims live, there are many a mosques. So, why such a strong reaction to this proposed cultural center, mosque?

One recalls the attackers of 9/11 2001, were no representatives of Islam. Also in the attack on twin towers many a Muslims were also killed. Osama is not a representative of 135 Crore Muslims of the World. He was part of the Al Qaeda, which was propped up by US to counter the Russian attack on Afghanistan. The version of Islam used to indoctrinate the Muslim youth was the most orthodox and conservative version, the Salafi one, prevalent in parts of Saudi Arabia. Saudi regime in turn is an ally of US, as US has a long term contract with Saudi rulers to extract oil from its wells. This version of Islam is far away from humanistic interpretation of Koran and distorts the words, Kafir and Jihad in particular. As such word Kafir stood for one who hides truth, one who used to attack the new converts to Islam, in a hidden manner. This word was distorted to mean a non believer in Islam. Jihad means striving, striving for overcoming personal and social evils. It was distorted to mean killing of non-Muslims. The version of Islam used in Madrassas set up in Pakistan by US, led to formation of Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda version of Islam promotes killing of innocent people, while Koran, Sura5 Ayat 32, teaches that killing of even a single innocent person is like killing the whole humanity.

Unfortunately to pursue its interests in the oil zone US machinery merrily distorted Islam and also picked up the most backward version of Islam to be introduced in the US supported Madrassas. Now like Frankenstein’s monster, the products of these Madrassas are creating havoc in this region. In the aftermath of 9/11 US media also coined the word ‘Islamic terrorism’ and the result of this was that terrorism got associated with Islam and Muslims in the popular mind. Today time has come to reverse this process and harp on the liberal and moderate tendencies of all religions, rather than promoting the orthodoxies and extremism of religious tendencies. Those using religion for political goals use the extremist version of religions. In contrast the saints of all religions have harped on moderate, liberal versions, focusing more on moral values contributed by religions.

During last decade in US the Muslims have been demonized and singled out. The Muslims from Middle Eastern Region and South Asia have been the particular targets. The theory of ‘Clash of Civilizations’, the antagonism between religions has been made popular. The alliance of religions in the arena of morality and alliance of civilization in the arena of culture and material development has been undermined. The result is that in a section of people this negative image of Muslims has been drilled very deep down their minds. There is nothing like global Islamist authority taking over US through this cultural center. The proposed center aims to promote intercommunity relations and promote moderate version of Islam, far away from the one propagated by the likes of Osama bin Laden. In US itself most of the liberal Muslims and Muslim groups have condemned the act of terror by any name.

As such US state apparatus seems to have used the demonization of Islam and Muslims to enhance its lust for controlling oil wells in the area. It is due to the subtle policies of US state that the particular ‘picture’ of Muslims has been planted in average peoples mind. U.S. as a hegemonic power has been resorting to such demonization all through. As Noam Chomsky points out US state has been “Manufacturing Consent’ to pursue its imperialist goals. During cold war era, it had demonized the Communists due to which McCarthy launched his hunt of Communists in the era of 1950s. The “Hate” against Muslims propagated by various conduits is resulting in the present anti Mosque outbursts of various people in US. In this scenario, there is a glaring ray of hope in the form of Obama’s support for Muslims rights to practice their religion. Obama is appealing for de-linking of Al Qaeda from Islam, “The Al Qaeda’s cause is not Islam-it is a gross distortion of Islam”. Unfortunately even he buckled down under the pressure of section of society, to just reiterate Muslims right to practice their religion rather than an open support for Islamic Cultural Center, with Mosque in that. One hopes the path of peace prevails over the one of Hatred and there is an end to ‘Hate other’ propaganda, prevailing as an undercurrent in US, and pave the path for peace and amity amongst communities, pave the path for progress of mankind as a whole.

[Ram Puniyani could be reached at]


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