Ram Puniyani dissects the disinformation surrounding the controversial proposed Islamic Cultural Centre near Ground Zero in New York and hopes that the path of peace will prevail over the one of hatred.
The memories of 11 September 2001 have haunted not only the US but the whole 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 the proposed Islamic Cultural Centre, near ground zero; the place where the World Trade Centre 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 practise their religion like anybody else, stopping short of openly supporting the construction of mosque as a part of the Islamic Cultural Centre, near Ground Zero.
To begin with it is not a mosque; it is a cultural centre, with prayer rooms as well. Also it is not at 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. A few blocks away there is another mosque in the same area. In New York, where half a million Muslims live, there are many mosques. So, why such a strong reaction to this proposed cultural centre, mosque?
One recalls the attackers of 11 September 2001 were no representatives of Islam. Also in the attack on the Twin Towers, many Muslims were also killed. Osama is not a representative of the 1.35 billion Muslims of the World. He was part of Al Qaeda, which was propped up by the 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. The Saudi regime in turn is an ally of the US, as the US has a long-term contract with Saudi rulers to extract oil from its wells.
This version of Islam is far away from the humanistic interpretation of the Koran and distorts the words ‘Kafir’ and ‘Jihad’ in particular. The word ‘Kafir’ stood for one who hides the 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 to overcome personal and social evils. It was distorted to mean the killing of non-Muslims. The version of Islam used in Madrassas set up in Pakistan by the US, led to the formation of Al Qaeda. The Al Qaeda version of Islam promotes the killing of innocent people, while the Koran, Sura5 Ayat 32, teaches that the killing of even a single innocent person is like killing the whole humanity.
Unfortunately, to pursue its interests in the oil zone, the 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, the 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, the 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 the last decade in the US, Muslims have been demonised and singled out. The Muslims from the Middle Eastern region and South Asia have been the particular targets. The theory of the ‘Clash of Civilisations’, the antagonism between religions, has been made popular. The alliance of religions in the arena of morality and the alliance of civilisation in the arena of culture and material development have been undermined. The result is that, in a section of people, this negative image of Muslims has been drilled very deep into their minds.
There is nothing like a global Islamist authority taking over the US through this cultural centre. The proposed centre aims to promote intercommunity relations and promote a moderate version of Islam, far away from the one propagated by the likes of Osama bin Laden. In the US itself, most of the liberal Muslims and Muslim groups have condemned the act of terror by any name.
The US state apparatus seems to have used the demonisation of Islam and Muslims to enhance its lust for controlling oil wells in the area. It is due to the subtle policies of the US state that a particular ‘picture’ of Muslims has been planted in average people’s minds. The US as a hegemonic power has been resorting to such demonisation all through. As Noam Chomsky points out, the US state has been “Manufacturing Consent’ to pursue its imperialist goals. During the Cold War era, the Communists were demonised when McCarthy launched his hunt of Communists in the 1950s. The “hate” against Muslims propagated by various conduits is resulting in the present anti-mosque outbursts of various people in the US.
In this scenario, there is a glaring ray of hope in the form of Obama’s support for the Muslims’ right to practise their religion. Obama is appealing for the 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 a section of society, when he just reiterated the Muslims right to practise their religion rather than expressing open support for the Islamic Cultural Centre, with a mosque in that. One hopes the path of peace prevails over the one of Hatred and there is an end to the ‘hate Other’ propaganda, prevailing as an undercurrent in US, paving the path for peace and amity amongst communities, paving the path for progress of humankind as a whole.
Ram Puniyani was a Professor in Biomedical Engineering in Mumbai before he took voluntary retirement to work full-time for communal harmony in India.
Source: ISP II August 2010