Divided We Fall


In light of the furore caused by Pastor Terry Jones, Dearbhail O’Crowley examines the increasing chasm which exists between American and Islamic values

“The 9/11 anniversary should be an occasion that unites the American people. Now, it seems to be dividing the melting pot of American culture like never before.”

A stereotyped image of intolerance is familiar to us as. It the racism and hate we saw in Hitler’s SS or the Ku Klux Klan. However, this new brand of intolerance is not so obvious.  It is a suit-wearing Christian preacher who believes that constitutional freedoms should not be entitlements for all. He and his ilk hide behind the “My God told me to” banner of incitement of hatred, and demand protection of their own faith, but denounce that of others in a heartbeat.

The commemoration of the ninth anniversary of September 11th was unlike those in previous years. For the first time, the day was not just about remembrance, it was politicised too.

It would have been natural for this to occur straight after the tragedy, but to give Bush and his cohorts credit, the Republicans pushed back their conservative norms and repeatedly highlighted the difference between Al Qaeda and Islam to the average American.

Leader of the Dove World Outreach Centre, Pastor Terry Jones, received much media attention in the days coming up to the anniversary. He had unveiled plans to burn copies of the Qur’an in a response to plans to build a mosque and Muslim community centre on the site of Ground Zero. While his plans were extremist and ridiculous, the media attention to his cause meant that his message of hate was able to reach all corners of the globe.

The United States, or more accurately, the western world, needs strong, steady voices to push back against hatred and irrational fears. The fact that these attacks lie contrary to the values of citizens of a democratic country, particularly a country that was built on the notion of freedom and religious tolerance, must be highlighted.

The 9/11 anniversary should be an occasion that unites the American people. Now, it seems to be dividing the melting pot of American culture like never before.

Five billion people, over eighty percent of the world’s population, claim to subscribe to some tenet of religion, a code of beliefs by which they live their lives. What they call their God, the dogmas of their faith and the history of their beliefs differ worldwide, but every subset ascribes to one basic tenet: the idea of loving thy neighbour. Treat others as you wish to be treated. Yet this principle seems to have become twisted, warped over time. A necessity only if your neighbour is a reflection of yourself.

Westerners have always lauded itself for freedom and equality, particularly in relation to religious tolerance. It’s a concept we strive towards on a daily basis, to protect constitutionally and legislatively.

However, it has become acceptable to question who deserves the protections we put in place.  We now seem to believe that concepts such as equality, religious tolerance and free speech should be reserved for those who epitomise our cultural view and societal norms.

The people using banner of new wave discrimination use religion as their propagandist tool of hatred. They expect religious tolerance and protection of their own faith, yet demand exclusion of others on the same grounds.

Why is it acceptable to use the framework of belief in a higher order to undermine someone else’s? Why is it that unity and acceptance have to come from the exclusion of others? The answer is quite simple: they don’t.

Yet many prominent American commentators question whether Muslims should be afforded the same constitutional freedoms as everyone else. What is the root of all this?  The Christian right.

Faith is turning the legislature against itself, and in the process losing what it means to have faith to begin with. Muslims have become a target for the religious right and are stigmatised, generalised and presented as a threat to society.

Is it possible to imagine the same type of casual racism being aimed at African Americans or Jews? How do America’s almost seven million Muslims feel when their faith is denounced as barbaric?

The source of the problem lies in the war waged by the fundamentalist Christian right against the Islamic movement. It is clear that it is time for our acceptance of this movement to stop.

This is one of those moments that tests our moral cores. We must not react in an overtly prejudiced manner as was seen when Japanese-Americans were interned during World War II, or when countries around the world refused to accept Jewish refugees from Nazi Europe. Our actions will define how we, as a generation, are remembered.

To quote the eternal wisdom of The West Wing: “Radical Islamic fundamentalists are to Islam as the KKK are to Christianity”. This comparison makes an important differentiation. For now the question remains: is the new wave of religious intolerance accepted simply because the actions of its leaders vocalise our inner fears?  We’re worth more than that. So are our ideals.