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Kashmeri: Freedom To Worship

08/31/10 7:55AM By Sarwar Kashmeri
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(HOST)  Commentator Sarwar Kashmeri wonders if those opposed to having an Islamic Center near Ground Zero, have given much thought to the law of unintended consequences.

(KASHMERI) When I first heard that former Governor Dean had spoken out recently against constructing the Islamic cultural center in New York, I just assumed that he was echoing the concern that many of us have about the location of this building. After all, does it make any sense to have prayer rooms next to the Pussycat lounge, and the New York Gentleman's Doll Club? Muslims praying next to scantily clad pole dancers? How disrespectful, how demeaning? What could the developers have been thinking?

But when I read the actual text of his remarks, I found Dr. Dean meant something completely different. "We have to understand that it is a real affront to people who've lost their lives..." the Governor said, forgetting that Muslims also were killed in the terrorist attacks of 9/11.  "The site doesn't belong to any particular religion" he stated, forgetting that there are already churches and two mosques in this area. To my dismay, his voice added to the chorus of political opposition to what Mayor Bloomberg of New York has called a litmus test for upholding American values. The Mayor has drawn a line in the sand, saying there's no middle ground when it comes to religious liberty in the United States.

It's important to remember that the builders of the cultural center are New Yorkers and Americans. The man leading the project, Imam Rauf - Imam being the Islamic equivalent of religious leader - is a Columbia University physics graduate. He has worked with Jewish and Christian leaders to promote interfaith relations for years. Former President Bush, the FBI, numerous American politicians consulted him after 9/11 to better understand Islam and Muslims. The State Department even today sends him to the Middle East as a goodwill Ambassador to illuminate the freedom that women and men of all faiths have in America to practice their religion.

I believe those who oppose the center, unwittingly perhaps, take the side of those who believe that just because the terrorists who flew planes into the World Trade Center on 9/11 were Muslims, all Muslims are terrorists - and should be treated differently from other Americans. It is a stance that is rapidly eroding America's already low standing in the Islamic world. American intelligence agencies wonder if this Islamophobia has already undercut General Petraeus' uphill battle to win hearts and minds in Afghanistan, and given a public relations bonanza to the Taliban.  

So much inflammatory rhetoric on a matter with such sensitive religious and constitutional overtones, reminds me of another notable Vermonter, President Calvin Coolidge, who once said, "if you don't have anything better to say than silence, don't say it.
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