By John L. Esposito and Sheila B. Lalwani
Religion has a dark side and, as we have bitterly experienced, religious extremists can be deadly. But, as Park 51 and recent congressional elections have demonstrated, no thanks to some politicians and bigots, religion can be also be exploited to feed division and hatred.
Politicians like Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin and Sharron Angle grabbed headlines, using Islam and Muslims as convenient scapegoats. Gingrich, in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute earlier this year, created a reality that doesn’t exist by calling for a federal law barring US courts from considering Islamic Law as a replacement for US law. Sharron Angle nearly topped him when she falsely suggested that Frankford, Tex., and Dearborn, Mich., were subject to a “Sharia” regime. Voters in Oklahoma and ……… followed suit, with ballots to ensure Islamic Law never creeps into their systems. There is a significant problem with these bogus concerns and charges. No federal court would consider Islamic law or any religious law as a replacement for US law and mainstream Islam and Muslims, like mainstream citizens of other faiths, accept the US legal system,.
We herald our US history of ethnic and religious diversity but often leave out the price paid by immigrants along the way. Forgotten are the struggles of Jews, ethnic Catholics, Japanese in WW II and many others against bigotry and discrimination before they were accepted. Today, Muslim Americans, despite the fact that major polls show they are economically, educationally and politically integrated continue to face powerful forces that wish to deny them their place as a part of America’s social tapestry. Major polls on public sentiments about Islam taken by Time Magazine and The New York Times in August reflect this forgetfulness: 33% disclose that they believe that Muslim Americans were more sympathetic to terrorists and, in general, 60% of those polled have negative feelings about Muslims. Other studies from Gallup, the Washington Post and the Pew Forum indicate similar findings.
It has become increasingly more difficult for Muslims to construct mosques and Islamic centres which according to a report from the Pew Center on Public Life and Religion, municipalities and city councils have consistently blocked. So too, existing mosques are being subjected to protests and vandalism in Connecticut, New York, Wisconsin, Texas, California, and many other cities throughout the US.
In America, faith matters. In our country religion is important to the majority of our citizens and we are unique in the numbers of citizens representing such a variety of faiths. But in 21st century America, religion has too often become a source of division, an excuse for discrimination, bigotry and hate crimes. To meet the many challenges we face in this century, a fundamental transformation is critical in the way we “see” religion and religious rights in general and Islam in particular.
First, we must improve our religious literacy. Ironically, although studies show that religion is important to most of us, most Americans are more broadly religiously illiterate. While our vast public school systems should not “teach” religion, they need to “teach about” religions, in order to prepare future generations for life in our multi-religious society that is based on mutual understanding and respect.
Second, the mainstream news media which has a huge impact on public opinion, must provide a more balanced and nuanced view on religion, global affairs and policy. Coverage of violence and terrorism by religious extremism is important in a world where it has become all too common, but just as critical is media coverage the constructive and inspirational roles that religious faith plays in so many American lives.
Third, we also need to resist being exploited and divided by politicians who promote themselves through hate speech as an integral part of their campaigns. Intolerance is intolerance, and that’s not what we stand for in America.
John L. Esposito is University Professor and Founding Director of the Centre for Muslim-Christian Understanding. He is co-author of Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think, and author of the newly released book The Future of Islam (2010). Sheila B. Lalwani is a Research Fellow at the Centre.
Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby downplayed any disconnect with the White House and said U.S. officials were constantly reviewing Syria options
Turkish Cypriots now find themselves in a state of soul-searching. The debate has also highlighted the attitudes of mainland Turkey media towards the KKTC.
Kiir will be accompanied on his visit by a number of South Sudanese government ministers and officials.
Announcement follows unprecedented talks between Myanmar’s military, political leaders, major opposition parties
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said he believed that the coalition combatting ISIL militants was focusing too much on the Syrian town of Kobani near the Turkish border and should turn its attention to other areas
Tension has run high across the occupied West Bank since the Wednesday shooting of an extremist Jewish rabbi in Jerusalem
Activists decry decision by Cambodia’s Ministry of Labour, one warning could lead to civil unrest
A perforation made in a subterranean water source during mining activities seemed to have caused the flooding
Ankara deputy Emine Ulker Tarhan resigns from main opposition party, accusing it of having 'wrong and weak' policies.
Al-Ahram said Egyptian authorities asked Moussa Ibrahim to leave the country at the request of the Libyan government of Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni
A fire broke out at France's public radio headquarters in Paris, forcing live programmes off the air as staff evacuated the vast Paris complex where major building work has been underway
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP is a major trade agreement currently being negotiated between the EU and the U.S to create a new transatlantic marketplace.
Rula Ghani, spouse of Afghanistan's new president Ashraf Ghani, have already critised some Islamic norms welcomed by Afghan society.
At least 300 ISIL militants were killed and scores of vehicles captured in clashes
South Sudan has been shaken by violence since last December, when Kiir accused sacked vice president Riek Machar of leading a failed coup attempt against his regime.
Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Burkina Faso on Friday to press President Blaise Compaore to step down, a day after the army dissolved parliament and announced a transitional government in the face of violent mass protests.