Anti-Muslim forces are fired up even if qurans aren't

OPINION - As the reaction of Rev. Jones subsides overseas, conservative extremists such as Newt Gingrich and others continue to fan the flames of fear and Islamophobia...

The Rev. Terry Jones’ on again off again threat to hold an “International Burn A Koran Day” sparked quite a debate over the past few weeks. Many feared that such a despicable act would upset the nearly 1.5 billion Muslims around the world and be used by extremists as grounds to engage in violent acts against Americans.

According to one report a spokesman for the Taliban in Afghanistan stated: “If in Florida they were to burn the Quran, we will target any Christians, even if they are innocent, because the Quran is our holy book and we do not want someone to burn our holy book.” Interpol, warned of “tragic consequences” that may have “claim(ed) the lives of many innocent people” if the Jones had gone ahead with the burning.

These reactions came as no surprise in this current geopolitical landscape with America involved in military actions in Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Jones’ threats and antics fostered the perception in the minds of many Muslims that America is engaged in a war against Islam.

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As the reaction of Rev. Jones subsides overseas, conservative extremists such as Newt Gingrich and others continue to fan the flames of fear and Islamophobia. They are attempting to use this issue as a political wedge in 2010 as the “3-g’s” (gays, guns, and God) have been used by conservatives in the past.

On Fox News Gingrich equated Rev. Jones quest for attention with the leader of the Park51 or “Ground Zero Mosque” project Imam Rauf, Gingrich also questioned President Obama’s handling of the situation by telling Chris Wallace that all the President needed to do “is say something mild: they shouldn’t build it there…but the truth is he’s unwilling to say that, and that’s unfortunate.” Gingrich stated earlier in the week, “The folks who want to build this mosque — who are really radical Islamists who want to [triumphantly] prove that they can build a mosque right next to a place where 3,000 Americans were killed by radical Islamists …Nazis don’t have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust Museum in Washington …There’s no reason for us to accept a mosque next to the World Trade Center.”

New York Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Lazio has called Imam Rauf a terrorist sympathizer. In a campaign add he states, “New Yorkers have been through enough…Now a terrorist-sympathizing imam wants to build a $100 million mosque near ground zero. Where is this money coming from? Who’s really behind it?” What Lazio fails to discuss is that Imam Rauf represents the U.S State Department on trip to the Mideast to foster religious understanding, and has made similar trips under the Bush administration. Why would former President Bush, the initiator of the “War on Terror” have a terrorist sympathizer represent the U.S.?
Equating the sensitivities around the Park51 project in New York with the threat to burn the Quran is not comparing apples and oranges; it’s comparing apples and automobiles. Islam did not attack America on September 11, 2001; misguided Muslims did. Americans do not have the exclusive rights to pain and sorrow. People of all different nationalities, ethnicities, and religions (including Muslims) died in that heinous act. To burn the Holy Qu’ran is an affront to every Muslim in the world.

To oppose the building of a mosque because of the actions of a few Muslims is by its definition bigotry. Conservatives like Gingrich and Lazio are using lies and distortions to play upon the fears of American people. Their reactionary politics are not practical but tactical.

These tactics are not new. In the early 1800’s a secret society called the “Know-Nothings” or the American Party arose in opposition to immigration, especially the Irish. As a result, Catholic churches and schools were burned and in July 1844, riots broke out in the city of Philadelphia. And 20 people were killed.

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In response to Japans attack on Pearl Harbor, February 20, 1942, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 on February 20, 1942. It ordered the forcible relocation of approximately 112,000 to 120,000 ethnic Japanese most of whom were U.S. citizens. These actions like those of Gingrich, Lazio, and others were based upon ignorance, fear, and bigotry.

Instead of listening to these reactionary conservatives, people need to listen to Rabbi Arthur Waskow, of the Philadelphia-based Shalom Center. He and other religious leaders are supporting the Park51 project (Cordoba Initiative). They are appealing to the greater good and sense of compassion that exists within us all. Rabbi Waskow believes that the cultural center will educate people about Islam. “Whenever there has been bloodshed allegedly in the name of one tradition or another, it’s necessary to say, ‘That’s not what that tradition is about,’” …The Cordoba Initiative will keep saying that is not what Islam is about.”

Dr. Wilmer Leon is the Producer/ Host of the nationally broadcast call-in talk radio program “Inside the Issues with Wilmer Leon,” and a Teaching Associate in the Department of Political Science at Howard University in Washington, D.C. Go to or email: [email protected].>