State of intolerance

Andrew Sheeler


Living in Alaska, it is easy to feel disconnected from the rest of the country.  We see riots and rallies, speeches and skirmishes, and we think, “That sort of thing never happens up here.”  Yet, for all the distance between Alaska and the Lower 48, the seeds of hatred and intolerance have found their way even to the 49th state.  Case in point: the “Ground Zero Mosque” debate.

Never mind that the Park51 Plaza neither sits on Ground Zero nor is it actually a mosque. Never mind that this building is the Muslim equivalent of a YMCA, complete with a swimming pool. Never mind that Muslims were among the victims of that heart-breaking Sept. 11 morning.  Never mind that the First Amendment of the Constitution states “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” No sir, there’s outrage to be had and political points to be scored.  Lest you think that Alaska is removed from this, a UAA Northern Light editorial and a Facebook post serve as reminders that we are not.

On Aug. 26, UAA columnist Daniel McDonald wrote a column entitled “Mosque debate driven by ‘sensitivity.’”  In that column, McDonald wrote that supporters of the Park51 project are “deluded hoards (sic) of leftist capitulators” and “an evil ideology rooted in Islam is to blame” for the tragic events of Sept. 11.  Of course, by that same logic an evil ideology rooted in Catholicism would be to blame for the disturbing number of cases of child molestation by Catholic priests.  After all, we know now that higher-ups in the Catholic Church had a hand in obfuscating and perpetuating the cycle of abuse.  So should we ban all Catholic churches from neighborhoods containing schools?  Should an entire religion and its adherents be blamed for the actions of the comparatively few?

The bigotry doesn’t stop in Anchorage.  With Starvation Gulch less than a week away, we were given an ugly reminder that right here at UAF there exists an anti-Muslim sentiment.  A person wrote on the wall of the Starvation Gulch Facebook page of their desire to bring a copy of the Quran to the bonfire with the intent of burning it.  This person was no doubt inspired by the actions of the Gainesville, FL church that vowed to burn copies of the Muslim holy book on Sept. 11.  The Gainesville church ultimately backed down from that threat, but it remains to be seen whether somebody will follow through at Starvation Gulch.  Cody Rogers, Assistant Director of Student Activities, has removed the post and notified authorities.

For all the hatred and naked bigotry being expressed nationwide and locally, there is hope.  Ibrahim Adebiyi, a master’s student from Nigeria attending UAF, said that he is “surprised at the animosity” expressed nationwide. Adebiyi said he has encountered only acceptance of his Islamic faith in his travels through the United States, as well as here at UAF.  In reference to the Park51 protesters, Adebiyi said that it is sad that such a number of people “have so much power.”

Sadly, it may not just be a minority.  A Time Magazine poll puts opposition to the Park51 project at 61 percent.  That same poll states that 46 percent of Americans believe Islam is “more likely than other faiths to encourage violence against nonbelievers.”  Right-wing ideologues like Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck have joined hands with such prominent democrats as Howard Dean and Harry Reid in condemning Muslims for the crime of wanting a Muslim center in New York.

To the agents of intolerance calling for the Park51 building to move, I leave you with the wise words of Captain America:

“Doesn’t matter what the press says. Doesn’t matter what the politicians or the mobs say. Doesn’t matter if the whole country decides that something wrong is something right. This nation was founded on one principle above all else: the requirement that we stand up for what we believe, no matter the odds or the consequences. When the mob and the press and the whole world tell you to move, your job is to plant yourself like a tree beside the River of Truth and tell the whole world, ‘No, you move.’”

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