Blog Archive

Blog Archive – August, 2010

A Mosque Or A Shared Holiday?

August 17, 2010

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

National media headline ongoing, and growing, controversy over the proposed Cordoba Islamic Center in downtown New York City. New York mayor Michael Bloomberg has given his wholehearted support to the leaders of the proposed religious center. He vows that it will be built. In his endorsement of the mosque, Bloomberg affirms the religious rights of all Americans and recognition of Muslims as an integral part of city life. Thank you Mr. Mayor.  

But are there not other perhaps less confrontational means of establishing these principles? I can suggest one: that’s the inclusion of Muslim Eid holy days in the city’s school curriculum. By removing your objection to the Eid holiday plan you may even achieve real integration and deeper respect for Islam. 

In general the acceptance in the US of its Islamic peoples is an uphill struggle. We recognize this. Strategies and priorities need to be carefully thought out.  

Opposition to any mosque project in lower Manhattan could have been anticipated. Resistance is so strong it demonstrates still widespread and shameful anti-Islamic sentiments across the country. The issue promises to remain a source of antagonism; opposition tactics will doubtless stir up even more anti-Islamic feelings. These must be laid bare for the world to examine. At the same time they must be forcefully and rationally confronted. Dispute—in the courts and in the streets—is the history of American justice, and injustice.  

Anti-Islam opponents vow to continue their challenge even after the New York City Council cleared one hurdle to the mosque’s construction, deciding the building under question was not a city landmark and was thereby available for commercial or other private use. Demonstrations are ongoing; OpEds commentaries are plentiful. (Although our Muslims themselves seem to be letting others speak on their behalf.)  

With Mayor Bloomberg’s endorsement of the mosque in question, the Muslim community has a good friend on its side.  

But Mr. Mayor: you could have chosen something more reasonable than this nationally debated and heavily polarized subject which could explode. You could allow the City Council vote on another issue-- adoption Muslim holidays in the New York City schools-- to move ahead. Several cities already recognize Muslim holy days.  

Last year, the same New York City Council voted overwhelmingly (50-1) to adopt the Muslim holiday proposal. It needed only your nod to make it law. You refused, Mr. Bloomberg. And that issue languishes. Meanwhile the question of a new city mosque introduces tension and controversy. Do we not already have abundant crises associated in the minds of the public with Islam? 

Do we not have sufficient mosques—almost 200—in the city today?  

A new downtown mosque will, we are told, be an educational center. Good. But surely the inclusion of Muslim schools holidays for New York City’s more than one million children can serve a wider educational role. All children as well as their parents would learn what these holidays mean and share the Muslims values represented therein. The Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha in our school calendar would incorporate Muslim values in the lives of many more than a single mosque will.

Mayor Bloomberg and our Muslim leadership need to get their priorities in order.

[ A Mosque Or A Shared Holiday? ]

Syria In and Out of The News

August 07, 2010

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Several media outlets took great pride in announcing the initiative by Syria in banning the full face covering at its universities. Another Muslim head covering story. As if the subject somehow warms the West to Syria, and offers the opening of a dialogue. Oh good. Now our otherwise hostile, yet ‘liberal’ Americans, can feel they one thing in common with a tentative Arab friend. 

At the same time, we hear nothing about the country’s president’s important diplomatic and political initiatives. In recent TV interviews with both the BBC and PBS in the past weeks, Bashar al-Assad has shown himself a capable statesman, and a leader who has opened a dialogue with others, if not the most worthy political ‘friends’ i.e. those sanctioned by Tel Aviv and Washington.  

Besides displaying his diplomatic lucidity and amicable character, Bashar al Assad’s message in those interviews was particularly telling on the political level. He tried repeatedly to the almost hostile British and American hosts to explain a number of important perspectives: a) how Syria and regional states view the world differently than Washington and London, b) that they give higher priority to developing good relations with their own neighbors, c) that they have priority economic interests with their neighbors, and d) they intend to protect those despite attempts by outside powers to divide them. We have to believe that at some level, western leaders got these messages. A pity they could not reach the wider public. But maybe, they did. 

I learned not long after about an even more important event regarding the Syrian leader, namely a successful international efforts further abroad. He was apparently warmly welcomed in a number of South American states who received him. For anyone familiar with the long history of migration form Syria to South America and the ties between the émigrés and their homeland, this would be no surprise. And it is certainly something to build on. This world is fortunately larger than the USA.   

[ Syria In and Out of The News ]

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