Another Un-American Attack on Religious Freedom
By Bernie Horn
September 28, 2009 - 9:43am ET
There was another attack on religious freedom in Washington, DC last Friday. Sadly, it received little notice in the news. Worse, almost no one has denounced this demonstration of naked bigotry.
A prayer event was held on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol on September 25. Here in Washington, it happens all the time. Public prayers by Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, and even worshipers from the Unification Church—the Moonies—are a common sight in our Nation’s Capitol. What was different last Friday? Because the worshipers were Muslims, fundamentalist Christians decided to heckle them.
Here’s how the prayer event was described by the Los Angeles Times:
Thousands of Muslims, prostrating themselves in prayer, gathered just feet from the Capitol on Friday for “A Day of Islamic Unity,” an event intended to showcase what organizers called the “peace, beauty and solidarity” of Islam… [T]he crowd was energetic as participants rolled out variegated prayer mats and plastic tarps in front of the Capitol, where Obama's inauguration was held in January.
“We can show the world that not all Muslims hate America,” said Habib Beyah, who came from New Jersey with his son to participate. “Not all Muslims are terrorists. Not all Muslims are extremists.”
The local ABC News affiliate reported:
It was a first as thousands of Muslims from different countries and backgrounds—the women on one side and the men on the other—came to the Capitol to pray and to say that they're just like everyone else.
“We’re just here to show our positive side and show that we can be peaceful and we can be normal people,” said Seher Rakin, a Burke resident. “Muslims are not terrorists,” added Asma Chikanawari, a Springfield resident. “They’re not violent people. We’re a religion of peace.”
But some right-wingers don’t want to let Muslims pray in peace.
About 50 protesters came to heckle. One contingent calling itself “Operation Save America” carried signs and distributed papers saying “Islam Is A Lie.” There was “a 10-foot-tall wooden cross and two giant wooden tablets depicting the Ten Commandments.” A minister from North Carolina shouted “I would suggest you convert to Christ!” and Islam “forces its dogma down your throat.”
It got so bad that an Imam from New Jersey had to ask protesters to tone it down: “We would never come to a prayer meeting that you have to make a disturbance… Please show us some respect. This is a sacred moment. Just as your Sunday is sacred, our Friday is sacred.” But the request was futile—the whole point for the right-wingers was to disrespect the Muslim religion.
As usual, this tea bagger-style affair was not spontaneous. It was orchestrated by leaders of the far right. Here they speak for themselves:
Rev. Canon Julian Dobbs, leader of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America's Church and Islam Project, claimed:
[The service is] part of a well-defined strategy to Islamize American society and replace the Bible with the Koran, the cross with the Islamic crescent and the church bells with the Athan [the Muslim call to prayer].
Christian evangelist Lou Engle said:
[The prayer event] is much more than a nice little Muslim gathering. It's an invocation of spiritual powers of an ideology [that] doesn't have the same set of values that our nation has had.
The founder of “Stop Islamization of America”—which held its organizational meeting in Washington on Friday—wrote:
[All non-Muslims] are at war with an ideology that is as diabolical as Nazism and even more cruel. The Nazis planned destruction for the Jews and were clear on this point in their own foundational document, Mein Kampf. The Koran does not limit itself to Jews alone, though there is a special deep hatred for Jews in the Koran; rather the Koran and Islam is at war with all unbelievers (the kafir) everywhere and forever.
We need to recognize and condemn the bigotry. Religious freedom is one of the pillars of our nation's value system. Demeaning another American’s religion is simply un-American. If you want to maintain the freedom to practice your own religion, remember the words of Clarence Darrow:
You can protect your liberties in this world only by protecting the other man’s freedom. You can be free only if I am free.
The writer is a Senior Fellow at Campaign for America’s Future and author of the book, “Framing the Future: How Progressive Values Can Win Elections and Influence People”.
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