Archive for August 27th, 2010

Ground Zero Mosque Controversy Helps Give Rise to Islamophobia Across the US

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

A man was accused of attempted murder for his vicious knife attack on a Muslim New York City Cab driver Tuesday evening in what is being described as a hate crime by the authorities.

Michael Enright, a college student who also did some volunteer work in Afghanistan, was being held without bail on charges of assault and attempted murder as hate crimes.

In a criminal complaint filed by the New York Police Department, Michael Enright allegedly asked the driver if he was a Muslim. The cab driver, Ahmed H Sharif, an immigrant from Bangladesh, replied that yes he was indeed a Muslim. At this point, Mr. Enright is alleged to have uttered the customary Arabic greeting of “Aslaam-a-laikum” (Peace be with you) and brutally attacked the cab driver with a knife, slashing him badly on the face, hands and neck. During the attack, Mr Enright also uttered “Consider this a checkpoint” to the cab driver, all the while brutally attacking him with his knife.

 Besides a serious neck wound, the cab driver, Mr Sharif, suffered cuts on his forearms, face, and hands while trying to defend himself from the attacker.

Inexplicably, Einright had volunteered with Intersections International, a group that promotes interfaith dialogue between religions and an organization that has also supported the plans for the Islamic center and mosque 2 blocks from Ground Zero. He had also recently returned from Afghanistan where he volunteered to be embedded with a combat battalion so that he could document their experiences as soldiers that Einright wanted to showcase in an upcoming documentary.

Police stated that Einright was drunk and intoxicated at the time of the attack on Mr Sharif and it is not clear what his motive was for perpetrating the violence on the cab driver. There is growing speculation however amongst members of the American Muslim community as well as several civil rights organizations such as the ACLU and CAIR that the attack is a result of the growing Islamophobia and fear amongst the American public as a direct result of the Ground Zero Mosque controversy that has been brewing for weeks and has been front and center in the media and the American public for some time now.

The plan to build an Islamic community center and mosque two blocks from the 9/11 tragedy and the site of the World Trade Center towers became controversial as right wing groups seized on what they believed to be “an insensitive provocation towards the American public”. Muslim groups demanded their First Amendment rights of freedom of religion and pointed to the New York City council vote allowing them the permit to build as reasons for what they are doing as legal and in fact an effort to build bridges between Islam and other faiths following the events of September 11. However, the issue became nationally prominent and controversial by then as fanned by right wing blogs and ad campaigns, the majority of the American public became against the building of the mosque, according to recent polls.

Thankfully, the voice of reason in this whole debate has been none other than the billionaire Jewish mayor of New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg. His stance and views in support of the mosque as a constitutionally protected right has been welcomed by Muslims as well as civil rights organizations and he should be commended for standing up for what is constitutionally the right thing to do. Briefly, President Obama also came out in support of the group’s right to build the mosque as being a constitutional right, before making statements the next day that “questioned the wisdom” of building it there.

Nonetheless, a link has been made by the right wing, no matter how unfairly, that Islam promotes terror and violence. This can be seen in the fact that the vast majority of Americans now have a negative and unfavorable view of Muslims. For the country to be even having a debate whether a group of Americans can build a house of worship is a testament to how far things have regressed.

No one would ever have thought that a constitutionally protected right such as that of freedom of religion would ever seem controversial. Many have argued that only the area around Ground Zero is off limits to Muslims and they are free to build their mosques elsewhere. This does not appear to be the case as mosques thousands of miles away from Ground Zero in California, Tennessee, Ohio and elsewhere across the country have now come under heavy opposition by local zoning boards and people in those communities. The fear and hatred of Muslims is becoming a growing problem as the Ground Zero Mosque controversy has began to fuel acts of violence against Muslims as seen in the attack on the NYC cab driver. It is a message that is being sent to the American public that Muslims in the United States do not deserve the same rights and privileges enjoyed by all others. In fact, there is an attempt to link all mosques to terror somehow, which is very offensive to millions of peaceful Muslims who abhor violence and who live decent hard working lives in their communities.

At first I was not happy to learn that Muslims planned to build a mosque near Ground Zero as I knew that this would become controversial. But as the opposition to mosques has grown across the nation, and not just for building near Ground Zero, but hundreds and thousands of miles away, it has become clear that this anti-mosque movement is not just about that hallowed area near the World Trade Center site but is in fact becoming an opposition to the religion of Islam as a whole.

This idea by the opponents of the mosque and the right wingers that somehow it is perverted and insensitive to build a mosque several blocks from Ground Zero is in reality only true if we buy into the belief that Muslims and Islam brought down the towers and not a handful of radical extremists of the religion of Islam. If we believe that mainstream Islam itself was responsible for all those deaths on American soil and not Osama Bin Laden and his Al-Qaida network, only then would building the mosque there be insensitive. But for us to somehow associate the whole religion of Islam of over 1.5 billion people by the actions of 19 terrorists is ridiculous.

It is my fear that attacks similar to the one a few days ago on the NYC cab driver will continue to grow as we allow an environment of hate to perpetuate and grow against a group of people. At the very least, this opposition to mosques across the country will certainly grow and continue to spread the notion that ALL Muslims are violent and terrorists. This is simply not true as the 5-7 million American Muslims and the 1.5 billion Muslims around the world will attest.

We must remember that we have a war on terror and not a war on Islam. Far away from Ground Zero in cities across the US as more and more mosques come under opposition in their communities, we must hold steadfast to our ideals, principles and to the US Constitution. As the best nation in the world, we have to defend our ideal and the basis of what makes us the best and that is the US Constitution. Speaking as an American and not even as a Muslim, I know that if we stop defending it for fear of being distasteful, insensitive, or inconsiderate, then we lose what makes us who we are as the freest nation in the world and we must not ever let that happen!

-Manzer Munir, a peace activist, and the founder of Pakistanis for Peace, is a freelance journalist who writes for www.PakistanisforPeace.com and other online journals.

No Change Seen in Pakistan’s View of India Threat

By Myra MacDonald for Reuters

The Pakistan army is unlikely to change its assessment of the threat from India despite heavy demands on its troops to provide flood relief while also fighting Islamist militants, a senior security official said.

The Wall Street Journal said this month Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency had decided — for the first time in the country’s history — that Islamist militants had overtaken India as the greatest threat to national security.

But the security official suggested this was a misinterpretation of the stance of the Pakistan army, which views the threat from militants and India in very different ways, rather than comparing them against each other.

“These are two mutually exclusive threats. The magnitude, the type, is quite different. One is an internal threat which is insidious, difficult to quantify. It is a clear and present danger. This is a very serious threat,” he said. “The other is a conventional threat. What has India done, politically and militarily, for this threat to have been reduced?”

Another official said the threat from India had if anything increased into both a conventional and unconventional threat, as it used its presence in Afghanistan to support those fighting against the Pakistani state in its western border regions.

India denies accusations by Islamabad that it backs separatists in Baluchistan province, which borders Afghanistan, saying it is interested only in promoting Afghan development.

With flooding which has uprooted some 6 million people further destabilizing a country already battling militants, the WSJ report raised the possibility the Pakistan army might revise its assessment of the threat from its much bigger neighbor.

It keeps the bulk of its troops on the Indian border.

INDIAN FLOOD RELIEF

India has promised Pakistan $5 million in flood relief and analysts there see no chance of it exploiting its nuclear rival’s current vulnerability by raising tensions on the border.

“At this time no one is thinking of anything other than how to help them get over the suffering and the damage,” said retired Brigadier Gurmeet Kanwal at the Center for Land Warfare Studies.

“The Pakistanis should feel free to pull out their troops for flood relief as and when they want. The Indian Army obviously cannot give any written guarantees but our DGMO (Director General of Military Operations) could reassure his counterpart that we have no intention of attacking them at such a time.”

The DGMO’s of the two countries talk by phone once a week, mainly to clear up misunderstandings over any ceasefire violations on the Line of Control dividing disputed Kashmir.

But the security official said that Pakistan’s military deployment was based on its assessment of India’s potential offensive strength. “The configuration of any defense force is based on enemy’s capabilities and not intentions,” he said.

Pakistan has taken more casualties in its battle with Islamist militants than in all its wars against India combined — the two countries have fought three full-scale wars since independence in 1947 along with other smaller conflicts.

Yet for Pakistan to drop its guard against India would require progress on political disputes, including over Kashmir, officials say.

India broke off a peace process with Pakistan after the 2008 attack on Mumbai by Pakistan-based militants and despite several attempts the two countries have been unable to get their talks back on track again.

And even while Pakistan fights militants on its western border with Afghanistan, it remains wary of sudden Indian retaliation should there be another Mumbai-style attack on India.

“This enforced attention to the western border has made the Pakistan army reassess its priorities,” said western military analyst Brian Cloughley, an expert on the Pakistan army.

“But it still does not wish to drop its guard to the east, especially as the there is still the threat of a swift and dramatic attack if a terrorist outrage in India is determined by India to have been planned in Pakistan.”

Pakistan has said it cannot guarantee there will be no more attacks on India, arguing that it too is a victim of bombings.

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