An Opportunity to Affirm Out Faith
Forty-two years ago, my father, then a lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps, was assigned to duty in Izmir, Turkey. My family went with him and, although I was only 9 years old at the time, the experience made a lasting impression on me.
I learned firsthand how fortunate we are in this country. But I also learned one of my first big words from a Turkish teacher at the school for American military dependents. The word was “ethnocentric.”
It was the beginning of my realization that Americans were not loved unconditionally throughout the world and that there might be reasons for that.
The most valuable lesson from my time in Turkey was the dawning of my understanding that there are some really great people in the world and some really bad ones; and that ethnicity, politics and religion have very little to do with which any one individual might be. That realization has been central to my understanding of the world.
I am a Christian, but I have seen enough of Islam and of Muslims not to regard one religion as better than another. I see Islam, Christianity and Judaism as different paths to the same end — an attempt to relate to something beyond our understanding, that which we call God.
Faith should be tempered with a healthy dose of humility and skepticism. Religion is power and, as such, subject to manipulation and corruption. The taint of violent extremism is not exclusive to Islam. Christians and Jew have their own bloody histories.
At 51 Park Place in New York City, there are plans for a new Islamic center. Building an Islamic center just four blocks from the site where the World Trade Center was destroyed by Islamic extremists is perceived by many Americans as insensitive on the part of Muhammad Abdul Rauf.
There have been attempts by some business and civic leaders and even some Christian clergy to appeal to Abdul Rauf as a man of faith not to be unmindful of the open wound that the events of Sept. 11, 2001, have left on our national psyche. The imam has rebuffed those appeals, asserting that the radicals win if the center moves.
He’s right. Americans believe in the right to worship when, where and how we choose. That is an essential part of our core values. Current polling doesn’t matter. The issue was decided 230 years ago. We do not get to vote, nor should we. What could possibly be more cowardly or more disrespectful to the memory of the fallen than to give those who attacked us the satisfaction of watching America abandon its principles?
Moreover, the sensitivity to the mosque is misguided. Islam did not attack us on 9/11, any more than Christendom burned signs and construction equipment at the construction site for a mMosque in Murfreesboro, Tenn.
When those planes hit the towers of the World Trade Center, they didn’t differentiate between Muslim, Christian, Jew, Buddhist or atheist. Muslims were among the victims and the heroes that day — as they have been throughout our history.
There is an opportunity here. As Americans, this is a chance to live up to our promise — to stand together and show the world a nation that chooses its aspirations over its anxieties.
For people of faith, this is an opportunity to affirm our commonality. Muslims, Christians and Jews all worship the same God, the God of Abraham. We all believe that we’re never so close to God as when we love one another and raise each other up.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that,” the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. taught us. “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Let this be our legacy. Let this country once again be that light.
Kevin Smith lives in Aberdeen. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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