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.
Bavaria's state premier Horst Seehofer took aim at Angela Merkel's open-door refugee policy on Saturday, rejecting her "we can do this" mantra just two days after she defended the message after attacks in Germany.
Thousands of people have staged a pro-Independence march in Glasgow
In the minutes of meeting in then-defense minister Moshe Dayan’s office, top Israeli officials discussed how to deliberately violate international law in building settlement of Kiryat Arba, next to Hebron.
Thousands of people have protested against the human rights abuses of children in Australian detention centres
Deadline passes as Philippines government prepares for peace talks aimed at bringing end to 40-year insurgency
The CEO of Spain's BBVA, owner of a large stake in local heavyweight Garanti bank, touts its success and interest in Turkey
Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus President Mustafa Akinci meets Greek counterpart
Ukrainian authorities detained Oleksandr Yefremov, a close ally of ousted pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych
US Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford will visit Turkey tomorrow following the failed coup attempt
OIC's Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission denounces coup bid against Turkey's democratically elected government
Turkish military says the PKK terrorists were killed in air and ground operations
Iraq says al-Baghdadi's aide was killed in airstrike near Syrian border
Reinforcements come amid protests in Tripoli and other Libyan cities against French military intervention in the country
U.S. authorities have issued subpoenas to Goldman Sachs for documents related to the bank’s dealings with the Malaysia 1MDB investment fund
Additional police have been deployed as a security measure following a threat at Amsterdam
Petrobras said Friday it had sold its majority stake in a pre-salt exploration block in the Santos Basin to Norway's Statoil for $2.5 billion.