Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Mr. Rauf: Build That Mosque!

Islamic Center Imam: Fight Could Shape Future Of Muslims In America:

The imam leading plans for an Islamic center near the site of the Sept. 11 attacks in New York said the fight is over more than 'a piece of real estate' and could shape the future of Muslim relations in America. The dispute 'has expanded beyond a piece of real estate and expanded to Islam in America and what it means for America,' Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf told a group Tuesday

I've been trying to get hold of what's behind the deja vu I've had since the controversy about the lower Manhattan Islamic Center started swirling around the internet--why I found the notion that Muslims were ok so long as there weren't too many and they weren't too visible, that they should reveal their sources of funding for building projects, that they were suspect familiar. Now I remember--vaguely because it was long ago: so long ago that I can't find confirmation on the internet.

Long ago in Wayne, New Jersey the local boosters decided to do a project for one of the patriotic holidays--I don't remember if it was Memorial Day, Fourth of July, or something completely different. Each of community organization--Lions, Elks and Moose, Chamber of Commerce, churches and synagogue--was to take on one of the heroes of the Revolutionary War and represent him in some grand civic event. The organizations drew lots to determine who their hero would be.

One of the heroes in the pot was Benedict Arnold. Even though his name was the very word for "traitor" most Americans who had been put through the extensive and boring American History program mandated in New Jersey schools at the time knew that he had originally been a patriot and had fought bravely in the Revolutionary War, being wounded in the leg, before his perfidious English wife persuaded him to turn Tory. So Benedict Arnold was something of a joker in the pack. Everyone naturally was hoping to draw George Washington or Patrick Henry. If the Elks or the Moose had drawn Benedict Arnold there would have been guffaws at their having gotten the booby prize, but they would have done a good job explaining that Arnold wasn't always a bad guy.

But it was the local synagogue that drew Benedict Arnold. Immediately the organizers announced that Arnold's inclusion was a mistake and apologized. Everyone was flustered and embarrassed, especially when some sociologist, or maybe journalist, publicized what had happened and explained that Wayne was a "gray area of anti-semitism." A little while earlier, he noted, a local politician had convinced voters that his opponent would likely raise taxes since he was Jewish and, since it was known that Jews were keen on education he would probably hike up taxes to improve the local schools.

But even apart from this political kerfuffle, it was the Benedict Arnold incident that showed up the anti-semitism, such as it was. No one doubted that the Elk and Moose, the Presbyterians, Lutherans and Dutch Reformed were real Americans. If any of them had drawn Benedict Arnold it would have been a good joke: now one would have been embarrassed or apologized because it would never have occurred to anyone that there was any question about their status as loyal Americans. The embarrassment and apologies when the Jewish group got Benedict Arnold showed that Jews were suspect in a way that these other groups weren't: they couldn't get away with Benedict Arnold because they had to be very careful to prove that they weren't traitors. They weren't quite completely real Americans.

This is the way that Muslims are now being treated. The controversy over the lower Manhattan Islamic Center is that revealing Benedict Arnold moment. Muslims have to prove themselves.

I'd bet that nowadays if the local synagogue had drawn Benedict Arnold there would have been guffaws at their getting the booby prize and no one would have thought any further about it. But I'd bet also that if the local mosque got Benedict Arnold there would have been embarrassment, abundant apologies and national coverage.

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