Excuse Me, Your Exclusion is Showing

In college, I took a sociology class called "Who is an American?" Yes, that was the name of the class. I remember hating the class, especially when the professor would call on me as he noticed I was drifting off to sleep.

It wasn't until I was an adult that I realized the potency and importance of this question, "Who is an American?" especially in terms of the recent debate about the "ground zero mosque."

I try not to take the bait and get wrapped up in one particular news story. I typically fail. It's time to fail again.

One thing that bothers me is that this proposed structure is being reported all over the news as a "ground zero mosque." It's not a mosque, it's not at ground zero, and it's not scheduled to open on Sept. 11, 2011. There's already a peaceful Islamic presence in the area. The imam behind the project has been working for decades to foster understanding and peace between Islam and the West. But no matter...the news outlets need their ratings and the politicians need their votes, so we're going to present it in a way that we know will get people riled up.

But what bothers me more is how people apparently define an "American." First let me say that there are people out there who oppose the project but are opposing it with respect and civility (unlike a Gainsville, FL church). In today's political climate, I applaud them for that. But even these people are revealing an ingrained but faulty assumption. Here's what someone said wrote online:
In my mind, it is like rubbing salt into a wound. For all those who lost loved ones, it is just too much. I think it is fine if they want to build their "community center," but they should pick a different location.
Here's the problem with such statements: Hundreds of the people who lost family members or their own lives on September 11th WERE Muslims. Muslim Americans just trying to work and provide for their families like everyone in the towers, buildings, and planes. Why is it "us" versus "them"? In just a few words, millions of Americans are revealing their subconscious assumption that the attack was carried out by Muslims on Christians. Another person said it well: "I think as long as we use 'us and they' language there is a problem. All Americans grieved that day, regardless of ethnicity or religion."

Who is an American? Who gets that status? Are some "more American" than others? Clearly, in the minds of far too many, the term "Muslim American" is an oxymoron.

To oppose the building of this community center because those behind the project are Muslim is to hold all Muslims responsible for the actions of their most deplorable extremists. Are Christians willing to do the same? As another online commenter asked, "Would there be an uproar if Christians decided to build a church at the site of a bombed abortion clinic?" Terrorists and extremists exist in all religions. I will grant that one could make a case that Islam has more extremists than other religions, but that's just an accident of the era we live in. Rewind 800 centuries, and Christians are the worst.

Newt Gingrich compared the building of this community center in New York City to Nazis putting up a sign next to a Holocaust museum. That is a deplorable comparison and we are better than that.

Anyone can be an American, regardless of ethnicity, religion, or anything else. The Constitution and the values of freedom allow us to say no less. If you claim to be Christian, our faith demands that we say even more. A Christian stance says that Muslims, along with everyone else, are all children of God, uniquely created in His image, and infinitely loved by Him. Do we even come close to saying this with our actions and words? 1 John 4:20 says, "If we say we love God yet hate a brother or sister, we are liars."

I understand there's a strip club close to ground zero as well. We mysteriously haven't heard as much opposition to that. I do not believe the location of this Muslim project is the real issue. Recent opposition to other Islamic buildings would suggest that other factors are at work.

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