While a battle rages over a mosque in Manhattan, heated confrontations have broken out in communities across the US where mosques are proposed for far less hallowed locations.
In Murfreesboro, Tennessee, Republican candidates have denounced plans for a large Muslim centre proposed near a subdivision, and hundreds of protesters have turned out for a march and a county meeting.
In Sheboygan, Wisconsin, a few Christian ministers led a fight against a Muslim group that sought permission to open a mosque in a former store bought by a Muslim doctor.
At one time, neighbours who did not want mosques in their backyards said their concerns were over traffic, parking and noise — the reasons they might object to a church or a synagogue. But now the gloves are off.
In all the recent conflicts, opponents have said their problem is Islam itself. They quote passages from the Koran and argue that even the most Americanised Muslim secretly wants to replace the Constitution with Islamic Shariah law.
These skirmishes make clear that there is now widespread debate whether the best way to uphold America’s democratic values is to allow Muslims the same religious freedom enjoyed by other Americans, or to pull away the welcome mat from a faith seen as a singular threat.
A city panel ruled on August 3 that a 152-year-old building was not a historical site and could be demolished for the construction of a mosque near Ground Zero in Manhattan. The move cleared a hurdle to build a mosque near the site of the New York towers destroyed in the September 11, 2001, terror attacks.
“What’s different is the heat, the volume, the level of hostility,” said Ihsan Bagby, associate professor of Islamic studies at the University of Kentucky. “It’s one thing to oppose a mosque because traffic might increase, but it’s different when you say these mosques are going to be nurturing terrorist bombers, that Islam is invading...”
Feeding the resistance is a growing cottage industry of authors and bloggers — some of them former Muslims — who are invited to speak at rallies, sell their books and testify in churches. Their message is that Islam is inherently violent and incompatible with America.
But they have not gone unanswered. In each community, interfaith groups led by Protestant ministers, Catholic priests, rabbis and clergy members of other faiths have defended the mosques. nyt