Debate About Islamic Center Brings Out the Worst in Us
After listening to the simplistic euphemisms of pundits from either political extreme (dealing with the location of an Islamic cultural center near the site of the 2001 World Trade Center tragedy), I am struck by the failure of most of our citizens to comprehend our own history.
Lower Manhattan has been the seat of bigotry and ill-considered speech-a-fying since Peter Stuyvesant ranted about non-Calvinists being allowed to settle nearby. When in 1645 a small Jewish congregation built one of the first synagogues near the tip of the island, the locals became almost apoplectic.
Particularism (the favoring of one's own system of beliefs and ancestry) has been popular since the Ionians thought the Dorians "looked funny" and long before Sparta took on Athens over the Peloponnese.
Karen Armstrong, a savant/historian of the Abrahamic faiths (the three monotheistic, common-origin religions of Judaism Christianity and Islam), writes about the Axial Age, beginning around 600 B.C., when Socrates, Confucius and Buddha all were alive.
She notes that in that age, humans gave birth to most of the world's current religions. They have fought for individual supremacy ever since, in all parts of the world, each believing they owned/believed in the sole right way.
When the Founding Fathers of this nation discovered the multiplicity of beliefs among themselves, they went out of their way to inscribe/dictate into our Constitution a guarantee of freedom from governmentally induced preference for one over any other. It has been tough sledding ever since.
In this Land of Enlightenment, many of our presidential candidates have been "labeled" (at one time or another) as Catholic (Fremont), Jew (Roosevelt), Muslim (Obama) - none correctly, and not as a descriptor, but as a term of derision.
It is always easier to be simplistic (some of the politicians among us - most notably Newt Gingrich recently - adroitly attributed al-Qaida's actions to all Muslims) than to be thoughtful, careful and explorative in one's quest for "truth."
A college roommate of mine has made his place in the universe by teaching those of different belief systems how to work together to make a better world for each other and the rest of us. Plowshares Institute says there are no easy solutions to "difference" - and only with reconciliation through justice can the benefits of everyone's belief system coexist without harming each other.
Nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002 by the South African Parliament, Plowshares helped solve the apartheid disaster; its members work today in Indonesia, the country with the largest Muslim population in the world, and the scene of several horrible bombings of Christians by others.
They bring those of disparate beliefs into the same arena and teach them how to have respectful dialogue, coming to conclusions of mutual benefit. It is a long, arduous process with much give-and-take. The shouting of slogans is not permitted and all must be heard.
If it hadn't worked in so many different locales for the last two-plus decades, no one would believe that "talk" could resolve these kinds of differences. But it does.
The placement of a center for Muslim culture should be near a site that demands discussion, understanding and respect for the beliefs of both sides. Please turn off the silly talk-show, media-hyped, Internet-squawking -simpletons and listen to reasoned, interesting discussions of hard problems by those who have lived and studied many varying points of view.
Try to think of solutions that appeal to those of different beliefs, and try to understand from whence comes the -vitriol and sincere confidence in -diametrically opposed conclusions upon which each side draws. Until one has seen the situation from the other group's viewpoint, long-term resolution will elude us.
I believe we need places in which -honest, interested persons can engage in thoughtful discussions to ease the tensions that will otherwise spiral downward into armed conflict, as they have consistently in all past generations.
Vertrees Hollingsworth is a retired naval officer and physician living in Pinehurst.
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