Let Reformation Begin at Ground Zero
Meacham, Jon, Newsweek
Byline: Jon Meacham
The debate over the Islamic center in lower Manhattan--the mosque with a pool and a prayer room--is not a matter of being for religious liberty and thus for the center, nor is it one of being against the center and therefore a bigot. Sometimes life offers such stark moral crises. This is not one of them.
The attacks of September 11--and subsequent bombings in London, Madrid, and elsewhere--embody the most repulsive of human instincts, the will to power at the price of the lives of others. Elements of Islam were responsible for these deaths of innocents, and extreme interpretations of the Quran have provided--and, inevitably, will provide again--inspiration and justification for terrorist violence. Muslims flew those planes into the towers and the Pentagon; Muslims were in the cockpit when the passengers brought down Flight 93 in the fields of Pennsylvania. To indict a faith for the sins of a few, though, is a tricky business. Christians have massacred innocents before, too, and they have interpreted Scripture in ways to justify slavery, and the subjugation of women, among other things.
Still, Islam needs reform. There are virulent elements of anti-Semitism and sexism abroad in the faith. There are, as we have noted, big strains of extreme anti-Western, specifically anti-American, hatred. Christianity might offer something of a constructive model in terms of reformation (this is coming from a Protestant): large parts of the Christian universe have managed to adapt to modernity in ways that have at least discouraged the worst excesses of religiously motivated believers. Such work is what the leaders of the Islamic center in lower Manhattan say they wish to be about. The test of their sincerity will come with time.
The controversy in New York has helped create something America largely avoided in the aftermath of September 11: a climate of anti-Muslim hatred. My liberal friends think I am wrong about the seemingly distant autumn of 2001, arguing that the country turned nativist then. I disagree: to me, the remarkable thing about the aftermath of the 2001 attacks was the muted reaction to Islam itself from the broad whole of the nation. Certainly there were exceptions, but when you think of how much worse the anti-Muslim backlash could have been in the emotion of that hour, the country comes out quite well. …