As I am about to move to another continent, I’ve found two sets of activities in America profoundly disturbing. First, the condemnation of a proposed Muslim multi-cultural center several blocks away from Ground Zero ; second, advocates for repealing the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution enacted in 1878 to grant citizenship to Africans who had been brought to America as slaves.
I personally know and deeply admire the couple who have been planning the center for close to a decade: Daisy Khan and Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who are and have been for decades totally devoted to sharing a progressive interpretation of Islam – promoting women’s rights, condemning violence and advocating tolerance – within the Muslim community globally and building bridges with people of other faiths throughout the world. I’ve been heartbroken to see them characterized as violent extremists as this is a complete misrepresentation of two people who are motivated by the noblest ideals.
I’ve been as outraged by those who, building on the xenophobia exhibited by outrageous anti-immigrant laws enacted in Arizona and now being proposed in Florida, are trying to strip the 14th Amendment so that children born here won’t constitutionally be guaranteed citizenship. America has been a land of immigrants since people from other nations arrived to join Native Americans. And from its first pilgrim immigrants’ arrival, many escaping religious persecution, this nation held central the aspiration of religious pluralism. While we have not always lived up to our ideals on these core facets of American tradition, they provide beacons of hope to people in the US and globally.
My Russian Jewish grandparents came here to flee the Czarist pogroms and my Irish Catholic husband’s ancestors arrived to escape the potato famine. The neighborhoods in which we each grew up have continued to absorb wave after wave of new immigrants with new religious beliefs: mine is now primarily Haitian who are primarily Pentecostal Christians and his is primarily Cambodian who are primarily Buddhists.
This is the very strength of this nation: its ability to absorb people of differing nationalities, races and religions; while we have a long way to go for true equality, I can think of no other country that does as well in welcoming and integrating people with such great differences.
So, I was greatly encouraged when President Obama declared his support for the Muslim Center saying that opposing the project is at odds with American values. I’ve similarly been heartened by people from around the country joining in protests against Arizona’s ill-conceived law. And, as I am about to be the foreigner in another country, I can only hope that more people in the US and throughout the world will stand up for tolerance.