Saturday, 21 August 2010

Excluding Muslim Americans from sharing in their country's history?

The controversy over the construction of the Park 51 Islamic Center brings back painful memories. For three hours on the morning of 9/11, I did not know if my son was one of the victims; he worked for one of the banks in the World Trade Center and on any given Tuesday might have been either in New York or in London. I could not get through to him, but three hours after the attacks he called, from overseas, to tell me: “Mom, I’m all right.” I was one of the lucky ones; I was one of the mothers who did get that reassuring phone call. I can imagine what it was like for those who didn’t.
So it is particularly painful to hear, nearly a decade after 9/11, virulent voices raised to exclude Americans of Muslim faith from sharing in their country’s history, including its traumas; to exclude them from participating fully in the rights and privileges of American citizens, including religious freedom. It’s as if Muslim Americans- regardless of their condemnation of the attacks and their disassociating Islam from the atrocity committed falsely in its name- are nevertheless held collectively responsible for the act of a score of hateful fanatics.
Another painful memory revived: I had planned my annual Fall party, scheduled weeks ahead, for what turned out to be the Saturday before 9/11. I worried that any signs of entertaining would be misinterpreted by the neighbors as ghastly insensitivity at the very least. This year, one of the two great feasts of the Muslim calendar will fall on September 11; it is a lunar calendar, and feast days fall on different dates every year. On this feast, Muslims celebrate the end of a month of fasting and cleansing the soul. This year, though, the coincidence with September 11 means that Muslim Americans will justifiably be concerned that any signs of celebration are liable to be misinterpreted. They will be more aware than ever, in the context of the “mosque controversy”, that they are objects of suspicion and rejection by many of their neighbors.

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