Monday, July 9, 2007

Could This Happen Here?

COLOGNE, Germany — In a city with the greatest Gothic cathedral in Germany and no fewer than a dozen Romanesque churches, adding a pair of slender fluted minarets would scarcely alter the skyline. Yet plans for a new mosque are rattling this ancient city to its foundations.

Cologne’s Muslim population, largely Turkish, is pushing for approval to build what would be one of Germany’s largest mosques, in a working-class district across town from the cathedral’s mighty spires.[1]

As I was reading this story, I was troubled by the underlying message from the people who were opposed to the mosque. I am still amazed that many people have the false belief that democracy cannot withstand the integration of Islam. All over the world there appears to be this undercurrent of fear and mistrust of the Islamic faith. I would be the first to admit that there have been zealots who have committed many atrocities in the name of Islam, but have there not also been Christians and Jews who have done likewise. The idea that only Muslims are capable of misusing religion is preposterous and foolhardy. It is this simplistic view of the world that continues to feed the radicals with fuel to espouse their teachings of a religious war against the Muslims.

I wonder what would be the sentiments if Muslims attempted to build a similar structure here in the states. Is our religious tolerance only for those religions we like? Those religions that mimic our own are tolerable, but those we don’t understand are not? With the 4th of July just passed I wonder what is really being celebrated on Independence Day. Is it democracy and freedom or is it majority privilege? Unless we are willing to extend these freedoms to everyone then they are false freedoms. The problem with the founding fathers of this nation is that they didn’t have the strength of their convictions to make democracy real for all. Freedom was only offered to a select few and to this day we are struggling with the aftermath of their fateful decisions. This thing called freedom and democracy is not some static event housed in some musty museum, it is living and breathing like the people it is suppose to include and whenever through our short-sightedness, as humans are prone to be, we find it does not include some, we need to amend it so it does. The problem is amending a document is a lot easier than amending hearts and minds. It’s funny, but whoever gets to an event first automatically believes that they are the only ones worthy of the event. That whoever comes later is not as entitled to be there as they are. There is an ancient story about it here.

Mr. Giordano, a Holocaust survivor, has been sharply criticized, by fellow Jews, among others, and has even received death threats. But others say he is giving voice to Germans, who for reasons of their past, are reluctant to express misgivings about the rise of Islam in their midst.

Germany’s “false tolerance,” he said, enabled the Sept. 11 hijackers to use Hamburg as a haven in which to hatch their terrorist plot. Cologne, too, has struggled with radical Islamic figures, most notably Metin Kaplan, a militant Turkish cleric known as the caliph of Cologne.

“I don’t want to see women on the street wearing burqas,” said Mr. Giordano, a nattily dressed man with the flowing white hair of an 18th-century German romantic. “I’m insulted by that — not by the women themselves, but by the people who turned them into human penguins.”

Such blunt language troubles other German Jews, who say a victim of religious persecution should not take a swipe at another religious minority. Henryk M. Broder, a Jewish journalist who is a friend of Mr. Giordano’s, said he should have avoided the phrase “human penguins.”

But Mr. Broder said that his underlying message was valid, and that his stature as a writer gave him the standing to say it. “A mosque is more than a church or a synagogue,” he said. “It is a political statement.”

For Mr. Alboga, though, the line between frank debate and racist demagoguery is not so clear. “This is like thinking from the Middle Ages,” he said, “and it is sending the racists to the barricades.”[2]

Centuries later we see how that ancient story plays out in that a witness to some of the worse persecution of one man to another is willing to persecute others who are different. Mr. Giordano is supposed to have survived the Nazi persecution by hiding in a cellar, but it appears more like he survived it by collaborating with them. If we believe in religious freedom it must be extended to all. Democracy does not survive because of us; it survives in spite of us. The more we try to limit its scope, the more we limit ourselves and our world. There is a growing trend to reverse many of the gains to this document that we hold reverently, to go back to the “good ole” days. Those days were only good if you were white and a male, instead of reversing our direction we need to be blazing new directions in human tolerance and understanding.

Jesus wasn’t surrounded by the politically connected or the religious leaders; he was surrounded by those that were considered less than others. He was surrounded by those that needed understanding and tolerance. I don’t have to agree with someone to offer comfort and love; I just need to recognize that they like me are just human.


[2] Ibid.

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