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August 23, 2010 Special Dispatch No. 3184

Palestinian Researcher: A Legal Victory in Ground Zero Mosque Could Cause the Muslims to Lose the Battle that Counts – The One for Coexistence

August 23, 2010
Palestine | Special Dispatch No. 3184

In a recent article in the PA daily Al-Ayyam, Dr. Khaled Al-Haroub, a Palestinian researcher at Cambridge University, praised the freedom and tolerance enjoyed by the Muslims in the West, and criticized the Muslims for waging legal battles over marginal issues like the Ground Zero mosque, which provoke Western society and could end up ruining their relations with their neighbors in the West.

Following are excerpts from the article:[1]

We Must "Not Let Marginal Issues Ruin the Relations between the Muslim Communities in the West and the Societies that Host Them"

"There have been reports in the media that Muslims in Canada and Italy are holding their Ramadan prayers in churches [this year], because there are not enough mosques and Islamic centers to contain their great numbers. The most important point in these reports is the permission granted by priests and by those in charge of the churches to hold [Muslim] prayers there. [When asked about it,] some of the priests indicated that the Christians' experience with the Muslims in mixed neighborhoods has been positive, and that is what led them to welcome [the Muslims] into their churches and let them pray there.

"In Denmark, which has been the target of a vicious campaign throughout the Muslim world because of the rashness of some [Danish] cartoonists, there was a touching human story that was reported in the news about a Muslim Somali bus driver. One morning, when he came to work and got on the bus, he found it full of flowers, gifts and greeting cards. They were placed there by the people of the neighborhood whom he serves every day. Later he understood that it was all for his birthday, which passes every year without his noticing it. [There are many] such stories about coexistence, and about touching human gestures that Westerners have made towards Muslims out of personal regard, far from any consideration of religious or ethnic background. The problem is that the media – both in the Arab word and in the West – focuses on negative and blood-soaked stories, on everything that [undermines] coexistence and perpetuates the belief that East and West have no common ground.

"We should think deeply about [this] civilized and progressive step of allowing the Muslims to hold their Ramadan prayers in the churches, and about what can be learned from this [affair]. First of all, we can say that it forces us to examine our priorities, and not to let marginal [issues] ruin the relations between the Muslim communities in the West and the societies that host them. These marginal [issues] do not interest the majority [of Muslims] and are not considered fundamentals of the faith. At the same time, they are seen as provocative, [because they] touch a nerve and stir up unnecessary hatred among the people of the West."

"A Legal Verdict Permitting [the Muslims] to Build a Mosque against the Will of Over Half the [City's] Population Cannot Be Regarded as a Victory"

"Here are two examples of issues that cause [people] to waste time and effort on meaningless battles: the [issue] of the niqab in Europe, and the issue of the mosque or Islamic center that is to be built in New York near [the former site of] the Twin Towers. Regarding the niqab: the Muslims, especially those who [were allowed] to hold their Ramadan prayers [in the churches], must oppose [the attempt] to reduce the image of Islam to [the narrow issue of] the niqab. [This issue] concerns only a small number of women who wear the niqab in Europe without even knowing why, so it is not something worth fighting for... As for the mosque that sparked so much opposition, and provided the conservative and Zionist right so much ammunition with which to attack the American Muslims – this too is a losing battle, politically and culturally, even if the [Muslims] involved in it win the legal [battle over it]. From a purely legal and theoretical perspective, the New York Muslims have the right to build a mosque and an Islamic center as they wish, within the boundaries of the municipal laws. They are citizens of this cosmopolitan city, just like any other citizens of any other religion. However, the principle that should guide those who wish to build the mosque transcends the [dry letter of the] law and the [goal] of scoring legal points. After all, a legal verdict permitting them to build a mosque against the will of over half the [city's] population cannot be regarded as a victory. Building a mosque near that place [i.e., Ground Zero], legally or illegally, is a provocation that hurts people's feelings, so it is inappropriate to insist on building it on that spot, of all places...

"The example of the mosque is similar to many [other] instances that occurred in the West, in which the Muslims hurried to turn to the law for protection and for help in pursuing some goal or interest. Taking legal action in pursuit of interests is a natural and usual option in the West, where the judiciary system is usually fair and is not controlled by the government. Nevertheless, it is not wise to take every issue, large or small, to the courts, and it is certainly [unwise] in the case of a marginal issue. A short-term victory in the legal arena will lead in the long run to a defeat in the cultural and political arenas. Provoking the other side will eventually create public opinion that will undermine the very laws that the Muslims evoke today. How do the Muslims benefit... from the legal victory of a nurse who does not wish work with her arms exposed, and therefore forces the health ministry to pass a new regulation [permitting her to wear disposable sleeves], when a Christian nurse loses the legal battle over the right to wear a crucifix to work...? The battle over [our] image, [namely] the cultural and political battle, is much more important [than the legal battle], for it concerns worrying phenomena like the increasing provocations, the widening circle of [our] rivals, and the growing hatred. Sometimes, the racism and xenophobia experienced by Muslims increases in exact proportion to the legal victories they achieve over marginal issues..."

"We Keep Increasing Our Religious Demands Vis-a-Vis the West, While Refusing to Meet Even a Few of the Demands Made by Religious Minorities Living among Us"

"We must take stock and do some soul-searching by asking ourselves the opposite question, [namely] how people in a Muslim country would react if the Christians wanted to pray in a mosque on Sunday due to an insufficient number of churches. Or let's ask an even simpler [question]: What is the reaction in most Arab and Muslim countries to the demand of religious minorities – not only Christians but also Hindus and Sikhs – to build their own houses of worship? In practice, our countries exhibit hypocrisy and a double standard. We keep increasing our religious demands vis-à-vis the West, while refusing to meet even a few of the demands made by religious minorities living among us."

Endnote:

[1] Al-Ayyam (PA), August 16, 2010.

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