In recent weeks, conservatives who have been arguing against the construction of an Islamic community center near Ground Zero have been claiming that such a building would be “offensive” to the memory of the 9/11 victims. They have also tried to imply that this mosque would embolden terrorists, with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich saying:
The idea of a 13-story building set up by a group many of whom, frankly, are very hostile to our civilization — and I’m talking now about the people who organized this, many of whom are apologists for sharia, which is a form of law that I think we cannot allow in this country, period.
A two-year study by a group of academics on American Muslims and terrorism concluded that contemporary mosques are actually a deterrent to the spread of militant Islam and terrorism. The study was conducted by professors with Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy and the University of North Carolina. It disclosed that many mosque leaders had put significant effort into countering extremism by building youth programs, sponsoring antiviolence forums and scrutinizing teachers and texts.
“Our research suggests that initiatives that treat Muslim-Americans as part of the solution to this problem are far more likely to be successful,” said David Schanzer, one of the authors of the study. Co-author David Kurzman added, “Muslim-American communities have been active in preventing radicalization. This is one reason that Muslim-American terrorism has resulted in fewer than three dozen of the 136,000 murders committed in the United States since 9/11.”
The Center for American Progress recently held an event on identifying, preventing, and responding to domestic terrorism, with Schanzer and other experts. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) was the keynote speaker, and he pointed to the “critical role Muslims in America have played and must continue to play in fighting domestic violent extremism.” For example, as ThinkProgress highlighted, Aliou Niasse, a Senagalese Muslim immigrant who works as a vendor in Times Square, was the first to bring the smoking car that was part of the failed Times Square bombing plot to the police’s attention.
Unfortunately, the battle at Ground Zero is playing out across the country. In Murfreesboro, Tennessee, protesters are similarly disparaging a proposed mosque. In June, Lou Ann Zelenik — a Republican candidate for Congress in that area — claimed the mosque was “designed to fracture the moral and political foundation of Middle Tennessee.” Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey (R), who is running for governor, wondered whether Islam is a “cult” and said Muslims “crossed a line when they start trying to bring Sharia Law into the state of Tennessee.”
Additionally, supporters of these Islamic centers are not the ones who are being extremists — it’s the opponents who are ramping up. Stop Islamization of America (SIOA), run by self-described “anti-jihadist” and right-wing blogger Pamela Geller — has launched a series of bus ads reading, “Fatwa on your head? Is your family or community threatening you? Leaving Islam? Got questions? Get answers!” in major cities. Opponents of a planned mosque in southern California have ominously warned of a “confrontational atmosphere” if the construction plans move forward:
The pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, just across a cul-de-sac from the site of the mosque, said the two religions “mix like oil and water” and predicted a “confrontational atmosphere” if the project moves forward.
“The Islamic foothold is not strong here, and we really don’t want to see their influence spread,” said Pastor Bill Rench.
“There is a concern with all the rumors you hear about sleeper cells and all that. Are we supposed to be complacent just because these people say it’s a religion of peace? Many others have said the same thing,” he said.
On Friday, the Connecticut Post reported that approximately “a dozen right-wing Christians, carrying placards and yelling ‘Islam is a lie,’” confronted Muslim worshippers outside a mosque. Using a bullhorn, the protesters yelled “Jesus hates Muslims,” and one protester “shoved a placard at a group of young children leaving the mosque.”