Why are some Buddhists sitting out the Islamaphobia debate?

By Danny Fisher

“Though intolerance may be as old as religion itself, we still see vigorous signs of its virulence…Such tensions are likely to increase as the world becomes more interconnected and cultures, peoples and religions become ever more entwined. The pressure this creates tests more than our tolerance — it demands that we promote peaceful coexistence and understanding across boundaries.”

The importance of the above words by His Holiness the Dalai Lama became incredibly apparent to me in recent days as my students in the Master of Divinity program in Buddhist Chaplaincy at University of the West and I prepared our September 11th interfaith memorial on campus. Amazingly, in the mere fourth months since they were printed in the pages of The New York Times, his thoughts have taken on exponentially more urgency. In fact, it is impossible to ignore how news of anti-Islamic sentiment in North America almost completely overshadowed remembrances this year of September 11, 2001—a horrific national tragedy not even ten years past, and still very, very raw.

Indeed, it seemed to me an unavoidable issue for us—so much so that I asked one student, Monica Sanford (of the much-beloved blog Buddhist in Nebraska), to reshape some of her insights on the matter into a central “sermon” of sorts. This decision dictated the shape of the rest of the service, and Monica’s talk was definitely not the only time current tensions in the U.S. were alluded to or explicitly mentioned.

It’s an open question just how much the 24-hour news cycle has contributed to the sense that conflict between Muslims and religious others has defined September 11, 2010. (It certainly seems to me that incidents of varying importance and relation to one another have been messily connected into a headline-friendly narrative.) Nevertheless, reportage in the last couple of months has given us disquieting glimpses of our collective soul (if you will): Terry Jones, the pastor behind the over-exposed, stillborn “International Burn a Koran Day,” may be a fringe figure (albeit one with a dangerous effect), but the national debate about Park51 (the “Ground Zero mosque” that is to be neither at Ground Zero nor a mosque, but a community center that will occupy a building on nearby Park Place that used to be a Burlington Coat Factory), occurrences of violence at mosques in the southern United States, and recent discovery that nearly 1/5th of the country thinks that President Barack Obama is a “secret Muslim” cannot be as easily ignored or written off.

Let’s focus on that last statistic for a moment. Yes, a recent survey from the Pew Forum found that the numbers of Americans who think the Commander-in-Chief is an a covert adherent of Islam are not quite as few as we might like to imagine—indeed, a full 18% percent of respondents erroneously believe that. (In actuality, the President and his family were members of the United Church of Christ and now attend private services with Camp David’s Protestant chaplain.) Though these numbers are bothersome, what is most troubling is the likelihood that a large portion of the U.S. has with Islam…and, in fact, The Washington Post and ABC News conducted a poll recently that found about half of the country has a negative attitude towards Islam.

With Islamophobia so rampant, then, none of the latest headlines are any surprise, really.

As we all think about how to “promote peaceful coexistence and understanding across boundaries,” pundits and others have been handicapping the work of our political leaders. Former President George W. Bush has been getting high marks from many (including President Obama and Eboo Patel of the Interfaith Youth Core) for attempting within days of the September 11 attacks to make clear that “Islam is not the enemy.” (They do forget to mention his use of the word “crusade” to describe the “War on Terror” early on, though, which probably didn’t help make things “crystal clear.”) President Obama has been getting big thumbs-up too for his own recent comments, despite a frustrating unwillingness to comment directly on things like “the wisdom” of Park51’s location.

But as I think Nicholas Kristof illustrated with one of his recent columns, it’s really on all of us—not just our most foremost public figures—to “promote peaceful coexistence and understanding across boundaries.” It was with this in mind that the students and I proceeded to craft a service that sought to both acknowledge a somber event and offer something healing at such a challenging time in our country.

Monica spoke about first becoming aware of Park51, saying, “I thought, ‘What a wonderful idea…[How better] to demonstrate the true spirit of American than by embracing the religion that was perverted in order to commit atrocities?” Another of our new students, Holly Hisamoto, in a brief dedication, spoke eloquently about the importance of making the distinction between those who commit violent acts for their own ends in the name of religion and those who do not. (It’s a point well taken: indeed, would it be fair to hold all Buddhists responsible for the acts of Than Shwe and the other generals in Burma’s atrocity-committing junta, who are all nominally Buddhist and invoke that whenever it serves their purposes?)

Perhaps the most powerful moment in the service came from Vanessa Karam—UWest’s Coordinator of General Education and International Services Officer, and a practicing Muslim. Vanessa shared an old story retold in Farid Esack’s book On Being a Muslim: Finding a Religious Path in the World Today:

The story is told of a rabbi whose disciples were debating the question of when precisely “daylight” commenced. One proposed: “It is when one can see the difference between a sheep and a goat at a distance.” Another suggested: “It is when you can see the difference between a fig tree and an olive tree at a distance.” And so it went on. When they eventually asked the rabbi for his view, he said: “When one human being looks into the face of another and says: ‘This is my sister’ or ‘this is my brother’ then the night is over and the day has begun.“

This seemed to me the most important “teaching moment” in our service—especially for us Buddhists. Let me explain.

Not long before planning for our service began, as the debate about Park51 was in full swing, I got a note from Stephen Prothero, the Boston University professor and author of the bestsellers Religious Literacy and God is Not One. The gist of Steve’s note was a question to me: Had I noticed Buddhist Americans weighing in publicly on Park51 and/or the hateful response to it?

At the time, the answer seemed to me to be “Not really.” Though some Buddhist blogs (including this one) had been posting about Park51, the only prominently placed commentary from a Buddhist teacher that I could find anywhere was Robert Thurman’s for The Washington Post’s On Faith blog. But I couldn’t find any other statements of support (or opposition) from individual Buddhist teachers or organizations on their websites or in national newspapers or other major media outlets.

Since then, a couple of things have happened that are worth mentioning: there were members of the Interdependence Project in New York City “bearing witness” at Ground Zero demonstrations on September 11, for example.

More recently, though, members of the Wat Amphawan of America Thai-Buddhist Temple of Murfreesboro held an Asian cultural fair with a special attention on community hearts as well as minds. Murfreesboro has seen ugly, vociferous response to the proposed building of a mosque—a response that throws into sharp relief the opposition to Park51. (With what’s happening at Murfreesboro and elsewhere in mind, we might well ask if resistance to Park51 is really about “sacred ground” or Islamophobia.) Speaking about the fair, Abbot Preeda Momungkun told the press:

In light of the recent and ongoing controversy surrounding the attempt by the Muslim Mosque to expand its facilities, we feel it is important to reach out to the community and encourage people to learn more about each other. We believe that if people know and understand each other well then fear, mistrust and hatred can be eliminated.

The abbot’s sentiments are strikingly similar to the moral of the story shared by Vanessa at our UWest service, and also put the lesson there in the context of the Dharma: we have specific responsibilities as Buddhists in the current religious climate in America, and those include demonstrating our loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity we try to cultivate for all sentient beings much more clearly to our Muslim sisters and brothers.

Buddhists should be more visible and vocal in this situation. Why aren’t we? His Holiness, Robert Thurman, the ID Project, and Bhante Preeda Momungkun offer ways of engaging that are rooted in practice, and there are perhaps many other angles from which we could approach. So… Where are all the other Buddhist voices on the issue of Islamophobia in America? Where are the strong statements of support and solidarity from our communities and organizations? Where are the dharma talks and writings from our most revered teachers on how we “promote peaceful coexistence and understanding across boundaries” in light of recent events and findings? Why were there no Buddhist representatives at the ISNA Interfaith Press Conference and Unified Statement to Protect Muslim Civil Rights and Safety?

There are many possible reasons for Buddhist Americans sitting this one out, I suppose: there is our general resistance to political discussion; a sometimes tendency to excuse ourselves from conversations about religion in America (though we enjoy religious freedom rights we also like to say that Buddhism is not a religion but rather a philosophy or “way of life”); orthodoxy (where do the texts say we have to stick up for Muslims?); the fact that President Obama has once again excluded us in his rhetoric (as he has done in the past, he addressed his recent comments to “Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, and nonbelievers”); and even, incredibly, the Muslim conquest of India and obliteration of Buddhist culture there has been given as a reason in comments at my personal blog (do some people know how to hold a grudge or what?).

None of these are excuses, though. The time has come. Enough is enough. Our absence is becoming conspicuous, and our silence nears deafening. We must become allies in the fullest sense.

I feel so proud of my students and our university community for modeling this so well in recent days. They have offered a most important lesson for this new semester: It is only when all of us—all of us, Buddhist and otherwise—who recognize our shared humanity stand beside Muslim Americans and say, “This is my sister” or “this is my brother” that the night is over and the day has begun.

Danny Fisher is a professor and Coordinator of the Buddhist Chaplaincy Program at University of the West. Danny was ordained as a lay Buddhist minister by the Buddhist Sangha Council of Southern California in 2008. In addition, he is certified as a mindfulness meditation instructor by Naropa University. He also serves on the advisory council for the Upaya Buddhist Chaplaincy Program, and in 2009 became the first-ever Buddhist member of the National Association of College and University Chaplains. He blogs for the Shambhala Sun and elephant journal, and has written for Tricycle, Religion Dispatches, The Journal of Religion & Film, and more, and has commented on Buddhism in America for the BBC, the Associated Press, E! Entertainment Television, the Religion News Service, Buddhist Geeks, and The New York Times.

[Update from Danny: Despite having posted about it at my personal blog weeks back, I neglected to mention The New York Buddhist Church and Rev. T.K. Nakagaki’s stalwart support of the Cordoba Initiative. This was careless and forgetful on my part, and I apologize sincerely for leaving them out of this write-up. Their friendship should not be overlooked, especially considering the fact that the Cordoba Initiative itself has singled them out for special appreciation. To learn more about The New York Buddhist Church’s efforts, I recommend this write-up on The Huffington Post.]


  1. Rebecca Burgess says

    I want to point out another reason that I think might add to the lack of support from Buddhists (taken from http://progressivebuddhism.blogspot.com/)
    "I don't want this to come across as yet another rant against politics or social justice, as these are all fine undertakings, just as much as opening a soup kitchen, teaching a child to ride a bike or making dinner for the family. But when we attempt to justify these endeavors as the purpose or goal of Buddhist teachings, then the practice becomes something other than Buddhism. They are at best, distractions from our practice and are just more squirrel mind running ramped. And at worst, they are delusional additions to Buddhist teachings in order to create an artificial goal of happiness, or social change or whatever the extra desires may be. "
    Now, this is an issue I've seen quite a bit actually, and TBH its something that has made me question following Buddhists teachings. I read about a Buddhist who stated she wouldnt help someone escape from a speeding car on a road, because Buddhism is about just accepting things, letting these things happen. To let bad things happen is to accept and end personal suffering. I just don't agree. Maybe its good to accept things that HAVE happened, and accept that the bad things may happen in the future. But surely concentrating on the present means having the power and freedom to then do what you can to make the world around you the place you want to be apart of? I read in an essay on Buddhism basics yesterday that to achieve enlightenment is to let go of unhappiness, but also passion and hope. Is letting go of hope a way to personal freedom, or is it a way to letting go of a responsibility you have, because you are apart of this world? I dont know, I dont want to 'let go' if it means letting go of emotions that push our world forward, in bad ways, but also in amazing ways. :S (perhaps I am misinterpreting Buddhism? I wish I lived in a place where I could discuss with a real teacher to get better insight)

    • says

      Rebecca – Buddhism is not about ignoring the world around you, or just some blind acceptance, it is about being present, in this moment, in this world, with everything in it.Stopping and helping a person on the side of the road is not a Buddhist thing to do, its a good human thing to do.

      Letting go I think could best be looked at as allowing and letting go to the attachment that these emotions, these good and bad things will last and are permanent. No matter how hard we try, we can not get rid of our emotions, but we can learn how to sit with them in an open and honest way with ourselves. We can see just how much our mind runs a muck and how much of lifes' unsatisfactoriness is linked to this.

      There is a saying in Zen, First I saw Mountains and Rivers, then I did not see Mountains and Rivers, then I saw Mountains and Rivers again. Hung Po said "The Enlightened man is capable of perceiving both unity and multiplicity without the least contradiction between them." We are not separate from one another, we are not separate from our problems or the worlds problems, but the directed effort, or Buddhist practice is not dogmatic and is the bare attention to the world around us. We see social problems and we act on them, but we do not do this as Buddhists, we do this as human beings. Buddhism allows us to see that the social problems and self are not separate.

      I hope that made some sense.

      • Rebecca Burgess says

        Thank you for your reply! Yes, it gave some much better insight, as has a bit more research on my part! So much so, I feel much more inspired to add some of the philosophies into my life. I think some of the sources I have looked at before are maybe good examples of people approaching Buddhism in a possibly unhelpful way. (That is, using religion as an escape from your personal decisions and reactions instead of a clearer insight into your personal decisions and reactions.)

  2. Josh says

    Great post! I feel like, to some extent, the 3 Abrahamic religions are often isolated in the media in such a fashion that they are only portrayed as relevant to each other, and other religions are marginalized or simply ignored with respect to Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. And, the fact that most of the media coverage of the criticisms of Park51, for example, places these criticisms within the context of larger fundamentalist Christian and Zionist diatribes against Islam (thus treating the issue as one of black-and-white ideology) creates the impression that the ideas of other religious teachings on these issues are simply not important. It's just a sad reality that when most Westerners use the term "religion" or talk about "religious" beliefs, teachings, practices, or issues, they are simply talking about the Abrahamic traditions; even in an ultra-liberal forum such as the HuffPost Religion section, one is hard-pressed to find serious coverage of Buddhist views or of the teachings of non-Western religions. The question is, is this a good or a bad thing? Given the amount of negative attention focused on the rise of Islam in the US, and the fact that most Americans probably understand Buddhism even less well than they understand Islam, one wonders if it is not better for Buddhism to remain under the radar for now….

  3. LA Buddhist says

    Your points aren't wrong, Danny, but I think some of what you perceive as lack of public position-taking by Buddhists is actually over-expectation that everyday Buddhists have immediate access to the organs of the media. Buddhists are still a tiny minority in America and most of them are Asian-Americans with varying degrees of representation on television news and in the by-lines of major newspapers. Thus much of our conversation on Islam (and other current social issues) may occur but be invisible to the larger public that doesn't care what we think and to which we have limited ability to broadcast our views when compared to other, more enfranchised constituencies. For example, several temples in the Buddhist Churches of America's Southern District have been speaking out to their local sanghas about resisting Islamaphobia, sharing this message both in Dharma talks and in special seminars, including offering specific strategies for how to counter anti-Muslim prejudice when one sees it and why this is related to Jodo Shinshu Buddhist core values. But even though the memberships of these temples ranks in the thousands, their position against Islamaphobia will never make it onto the nightly news or receive coverage in national newszines or papers. They simply don't have the social capital to get their voices heard, and therefore even though several of these talks have taken place in your own city of Los Angeles, you haven't heard about them. That's the reality of Buddhism in America: we're not large, we're not loud, and even when we're actively working for social justice, even our own peers often don't know about it.

    Anyway, thank you for doing what you can to help us resist this attack on our Muslim neighbors. Your efforts are appreciated.

  4. says

    Here's a follow-up bonus question: the entry of what new religion to the Indian subcontinent led to the precipitous (and violent) decline and near total eradication of Buddhism there?

    • LA Buddhist says

      You seem to be posting merely to be provocative, but it's worth pointing out some additional facts for the benefit of other readers who may be unaware of them. Islam began to enter the greater Indian cultural sphere (i.e. what we today call the nation-states of Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, parts of Nepal, and if we choose to be expansive, Sri Lanka) in the later 7th century CE. Buddhism survived within fully Indian areas until the 16th century, and persisted in unbroken fashion in heavily Indianized (though perhaps arguably not truly Indic) parts of Nepal and Sri Lanka (we may wish to include the Chakma in Bangladash as well) up until today. In other words, rather than a precipitous decline, we have the decline of Buddhism in India over an 800 year period, due to many factors other than just violent Islamic conquest, including retooled and resurgent Hinduism, changes within Buddhism itself, and many invasions by various non-Muslim peoples (some of them Buddhist, in fact–Buddhism has never kept Buddhists from slaughtering other Buddhists and destroying their monasteries and temples, just look at what happened when the Burmese sacked Ayutthaya, for one of many examples). We also have to acknowledge compelling strategic reasons for Indians to have converted to Islam, including the access it gave them to the rich trading lands to the west and the Muslim repudiation of the caste system (Indian Buddhism, despite how it is portrayed in Buddhist circles, had long ago accommodated to the caste system, just as modern-day Indicized Buddhists in Nepal and Sri Lanka operate by and reinforce the caste systems in those nations). Was there Muslim-on-Buddhist violence in India? Most definitely. Is that the whole of the story? No way. And anyway, things that happened on the other side of the world in premodern times do not necessarily relate to our society (and Buddhist responsibilities) in America today. The Muslims in our nation have no intention of invasion or conquest, and simply wish to be good citizens like the rest of us. Let's try to keep some perspective here, please.

      • says

        Both of my questions were quite serious. They seem to make you uncomfortable, though. That is the problem with political correctness — it leads people to insist that certain questions are not to be asked.

        And as far as American Muslims go, it is simply a fact that a great many of them have sympathy for the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, and other fundamentalist current within Islam. The whole reason why Islamic fundamentalism is such a problem is because of the significant amount of support it has from the world's 1.5 billion Muslims.

        • LA Buddhist says

          Apuleius, I think the reactions to your two posts are quite natural. If you look back at them, you'll see that instead of engaging with the substance of Danny's essay, all you've done is post short rhetorical questions that are meant to be insinuating. They don't offer any information at all, they merely raise the specter of violence in a vague and threatening way. This is a communication style that seems designed to provoke emotion, rather than rational argument. So if your intentions have been misinterpreted, I think you need to reflect on whether there might be a more effective way to get your viewpoint across. You come across merely as a fear-mongerer, whether that is your intention or not.

          For myself, I don't insist that people not ask certain questions. But I do insist that they discuss things with facts and context, not mere insinuation.

          "A great many of them" is a vague, unfalsifiable statement. Where's your proof? And having sympathy with these movements may have meanings beyond what you suggest. For instance, some people who hate terrorism nonetheless have some sympathy with the Muslim Brotherhood's resistance to Egypt's incredibly corrupt government, or with Hamas' many charitable activities amongst the poor.

          But at least in my experience, among the many Muslims who live in my neighborhood and whom I interact with at work, I've never once heard any support for violence against civilians or against the United States; but, I have many times heard these things repudiated by American Muslims. You're painting all Muslims with the alleged opinions of some others, and meanwhile not offering any justifications about why Buddhists shouldn't speak out against the anti-Muslim hate campaign. So what if some Muslims got angry about cartoons intentionally designed to make them angry? Or that some Muslims in ancient India sacked monasteries? How does that make it OK to depict all Muslims as dangerous, or to deny them their basic American freedoms, or any of the other offensive things that Danny is saying we should speak out against? That's the real issue here.

          • says

            The level of support for Islamism among Muslims worldwide is not in question. Look at the recent elections in Turkey and Iraq (or anywhere else where elections are held in the Muslim world).

            In the West we now have a new report, just released by Pew, on "Muslim Networks in Europe". They conclude that, by far, the most influential Muslim group in Europe is the Muslim Brotherhood, which is the grand-daddy of all Islamist groups in the world today.

            So far there is not the kind of data publicly available in the US to quantitatively characterize the level of support for Islamism among American Muslims. Hopefully the FBI, Homeland Security, etc, have such data or are in the process of actively gathering it.

            It is possible that the level of support for Islamism among American Muslims is lower than it is in either Europe or in predominantly Muslim countries. But there is not evidence to support such a claim.

            What we need is much more information about the funding sources for American mosques and other Muslim organizations. We also need to know where the imams currently serving the approximately 2000 mosques in American were trained, and, in particular, how many of them received their training from Wahhabist and other extremist currents in Islam.

          • says

            That's pure poppycock, "Apuleius". First of all, the recent election in Turkey was not in favor of "Islamism" — the party that supported the constitutional revisions has switched to being a moderate party, and is even pressing for Turkey to become a member of the EU. Islamism isn't even remotely about to take power in Turkey. You obviously have no clue what you're talking about.

            Polls show support among Muslims towards violent practices such as suicide bombing has been declining in recent years, as well:

          • says

            The current head of the Islamist AKP party in Turkey, Erdogan, is quite fond of quoting a particular stanza of Sufi poetry that goes like this:

            " The mosques are our barracks,
            The domes our helmets,
            The minarets our bayonets,
            And the faithful our soldiers."

            I guess this is what currently passes as "moderate" Islam!!

            Turkey has historically been the most secular of all Muslim countries. It has also been an on-again-off-again military dictatorship since the days of Ataturk. But over the last decade or so the military has loosened its grip (somewhat) and Islamist groups, especially Erdogan's AKP have gained power because of their popularity.

            Meanwhile in Iraq the democratically approved constitution officially proclaims that "Islam is the official religion of the State and it is a fundamental source of legislation." The constitution also decrees that "No law that contradicts the established provisions of Islam may be established" & also that "The Federal Supreme Court shall be made up of number of judges, and experts in Islamic jurisprudence and law."

          • says

            Please, you're again spreading idiotic, ignorant blather. Go do some research. Erdogan is not "fond of quoting that"; it is from 1997, he was put in prison for quoting that, and since then he has moderated his positions quite a bit. It's really offensive to me that you post this bigoted, moronic rhetoric that is either deliberately false or based on your lack of research.

            As for Islam being the official religion of Iraq: so, every country in the world isn't the United States, so what? In many European countries they still collect "church tax", such as Germany or Sweden. And just because some Muslim countries have various forms of lack of church-state separation does not make them all "Islamist" in the sense of Al Qaeda.

          • says

            Mitsu, you are not doing your side any favors with your hysterics and your personal, insulting remarks.

            Also, you seriously undermine your credibility when you say that you see no problem with the idea of a state religion. Defending theocracy in the name of tolerating cultural pluralism is very revealing about what we have to look forward to in the West as the influence of Islam (and its "multicultural" apologists) spreads.

          • says

            I haven't made any personal remarks, whatsoever, "Apuleius". I have confined my comments to characterizations of your remarks, which are quite accurate, as I've already demonstrated. You don't know what you're talking about, you obviously don't know many Muslims very well, you don't know much about the culture or politics of the many different, disparate cutures that go into it. If you actually got to know real Muslims instead of the manufactured bugaboo in your own mind, you'd discover that the vast majority of them are no different from everyone else, they are just ordinary people with ordinary concerns in life. Go out and learn something, rather than merely reading right-wing websites and panicking over imaginary threats.

            As for "theocracy": were you aware that the Church of England has a number of guaranteed spots reserved for them in the House of Lords? Do you know that in Germany, everyone is expected to pay tax to help support Christianity there? You do realize that Tibet was a theocracy for centuries? I personally don't condone any of that, myself, but the point is having a mixture of church and state doesn't make it a threat to us unless it is supporting a certain form of extremism.

            There are plenty of Christians in our own country who want to establish a Christian state: who claim America is a Christian nation. Perhaps you are one of them: you sound right-wing enough for that. There is no chance that Islamic theocracy will ever gain a foothold in the United States; there's a much bigger chance that some form of Christian theocracy might take hold here (thankfully, I believe that is quite unlikely as well, but it is at least a much more realistic threat).

            Go educate yourself, "Apuleius".

          • says

            LA Buddhist: "How does that make it OK to depict all Muslims as dangerous, or to deny them their basic American freedoms…"

            LA Buddhist, these are classic straw man arguments. I don't know of anyone who has ever questioned the right of Muslims to practice their religion in the US, or who has ever claimed that all Muslims are dangerous. In fact, LA Buddhist, please either cite where someone has actually said any such thing, or admit that you are simply arguing with the voices in your own head.

            In particular, since you make these ridiculous statements in "response" to me, please show where I have ever said any such thing — or admit that you are engaging in cheap rhetorical BS.

            Please note in advance that I am not asking for some smarmy passive aggressive apology. You are putting words into other peoples mouths — and you should either honestly acknowledge that this is what you are doing and stop doing it, or simply stop participating if that's the best you can do.

          • LA Buddhist says

          • says

            LA Buddhist, I asked you to support your specific claims that
            (1) there are people who think it is "OK to depict all Muslims as dangerous"
            (2) there are people who want to "deny them [Muslims] their basic American freedoms"

            You replied with a long list of links. I looked through the top five and did not find any evidence to support either of your claims.

            The first link talks about a local controversy over a cemetery — a very common area of legal disputes. Obviously these disputes often involve religion in one way or another — and it is common for one or both sides to claim "discrimination" of some sort.

            The second link involves a dispute over a proposed expansion of a mosque. Churches, Synagogues, Buddhist and Hindu Temples, etc, often face such opposition to their expansion plans, and this opposition is often due, at least in part, to antipathy toward the particular religion involved. But in a nation of laws these things are handled through the legal process, and Muslims are not somehow immune to the same scrutiny and legal hassles that everyone else has to put up with.

            The third link is to an article about a poll in which 33% of NYC city residents stated that they believed that Muslims are "more sympathetic to terrorists" than non-Muslims. Is this "Islamophobic"? No. Here are two quotes from Fareed Zakaria, an American Muslim journalist (whose father was an Islamic scholar):

            "Elections in many Arab countries would produce politicians who espouse views that are closer to Osama bin Laden's that those of Jordan's liberal monarch, King Abdullah."

            "The problem is not that Osama bin Laden believes that this is a religious war against America. It's that millions of people across the Islamic world seem to agree."

            The fourth link is to a story about a guy who went nuts after a judge slapped him with a two year restraining order barring him from seeing his own grandchildren (hmmmm — sounds like he was probably already nuts).

            The fifth link is to a story about employment discrimination cases involving Muslims, of which there were 803 in the latest reporting period, out of over 93,000 cases altogether. Of course it is nothing to brag about that less than 1% of all employment discrimination cases involved Muslims, since such things shouldn't happen at all. But it does rather put things in perspective.

  5. Readers via facebook says

    Marnie LF: I'd like to know where the teachers are on a lot of issues. The silence is roaring.

    David A: First, they came for the Jews. Then they came for the Muslims. Next…?

    Heather LR: Very true, glad to see your article

  6. Alan says

    Danny, thank you for a thoughtful heart-opening post. Sometimes I find myself using my Buddhist "training" to withdraw or disengage from the world. It's good to have someone give me a kick from behind. The rabbi's words, 'this is my brother, this is my sister', are the heart of the matter.

    Apuleius and LA Buddhist are my brothers and sisters too.

  7. Kpazz says

    First a quick story – shortly after troops started being sent to Iraq, I happened to be at an anti-war protest in Ann Arbor, at the University of Michigan, and I remember looking around me and thinking – "Oh, how sad, hardly anyone is here!". But as I walked around the "diag" (where the event was held), I heard a young woman on her cell phone telling someone "This is great! There are so many people here!" Thus, our points of reference were simply quite different. So I have to thank LA Buddhist in his first post above at pointing out that, just because we aren't seeing it on the blogs, doesn't mean that "it" (whatever "it" really is) isn't happening. So in relation to the story I just conveyed, when Danny Fisher elucidated the various activities that DID transpire in the Buddhist community in response to our society's ever deepening sense of hostility toward Islam, I feel more like the girl on the cell phone, thinking "Way to go! I'm so happy people are acting!". Of course we can always do more, and I appreciate this discussion for inspiring us to have the courage to do so.

  8. says

    I've been vociferous in my support for religious freedom in this country, particularly in the debate surrounding Park51 and the ugly bigotry evidenced in it. People are conflating terrorism with Islam as a whole which really makes no sense, whatsoever, is un-American, and simply unjust. However, I'm speaking as an American, not really as a Buddhist per se. I'm not so sure that Buddhist voices really get that much airtime in the public sphere in our country; at least not identified as Buddhists.

    To comment on a separate issue, however: Buddhism is certainly not about disengaging from the world. Acceptance, a Buddhist virtue, has nothing to do with sitting back and being passive in the face of injustice or oppression. It is rather at a different level: one accepts that things are as they are, but that doesn't preclude compassionate action. Buddhism without compassion isn't Buddhism at all, and passivity is not compassion.

  9. Anders says

    Sadly, elements in the Western Buddhist community are VERY islamophobic (if not borderline racist) indeed. "Lama" Ole Nydahl, anyone?

  10. says

    Yes, Lama Ole is obviously a terrible person because he speaks our for women's rights and freedom of speech, and against terrorism. Obviously an Islamophobical racist!

    As far as "acknowledging" him goes, he is in the Karma Kagyu sect of Tibetan Buddhism. The current head of that sect has strongly supported Lama Ole, and he worked very closely with the previous Karmapa.

  11. says

    Reading Ole's comments online I can only say he is absurdly ill-informed about Islam, and is speaking in a bigoted, irresponsible, and ignorant fashion about the religion. He's not speaking out "in support of women's rights" — he speaking out in favor of a stereotype. He clearly knows little about Islam as it is actually practiced in many contexts. There are bound to be people like him in any group, Buddhist or otherwise. He obviously doesn't know many actual Muslims, nor has he bothered to educate himself about the beliefs and practices of Islam. Sure, there are Muslims who oppress women; there are people of every religion who oppress women. He doesn't know what the hell he is talking about, and the fact that he speaks out without understanding is a perfect example of a failure of right speech. There is a wide range of different interpretations of Islam, not only Sufis and Bahais, but entire societies such as Tunisia, Indonesia, Turkey — Tunisia has banned the niqab and hijab in public spaces, for example, Turkey is a secular state, Indonesia is a democracy. Sure, there are regressive Islamic societies as well, but there were and are regressive tendencies in Christianity and in every other religion and culture, for that matter. Smearing an entire religion based on the behavior of some subset of them is the definition of bigotry and prejudice.

  12. says

    HEY, Apuleius and Mitsu and everyone else: While we feel there's always room for differing views on SunSpace, there is NOT room for personal attacks. We provide this forum for discussion, not sniping.

    The web is a near-infinite realm; if you cant say what you want to say here without getting ugly, there are no doubt plenty of other places you can go.

    We'd rather, though, that you stayed here, and were civil. It's only through being civil that we — any of us — will get to real solutions. It also just makes life nicer.

    When you don't like what someone has to say, perhaps it's better to let it go unrecognized entirely than to "return fire." It's doubtful that you're going to convince anyone of anything if you lash out at them.

    In peace,
    Rod / Editor, Shambhala SunSpace

    • LA Buddhist says

      Rod, I haven't intentionally attacked anyone, but Apuleius appears to feel like I've done so to him, even though I think he's misreading me. I apologize for adding to the heat. Thank you for offering Danny's post–as you can see, this is a subject that calls for more discussion. And thank you for your moderating comment: as you said, it's doubtful that anyone will be convinced if they feel (rightly or incorrectly) they're being lashed out at.

      • says

        Hopefully we'll all just take a step back and not only assess each other's intentions, but our own, and our reactions to these all. Just as you seem to have done. Thanks, LA Buddhist!

        It's so easy to get taken away by our opinions, especially in the relative anonymity of the web. I've done it. I bet we all have. All I hope is to foster an online culture here on SunSpace where we say what we say to bring out something positive; not to make others feel wrong or small.

        Thanks again.

  13. says

    I appreciate the comment, Rod, but as I noted above, I have simply been characterizing "Apuleius"'s remarks, I haven't said anything about him personally. I certainly believe it is possible that if he spent more time actually researching this subject, found out more about Islam as it actually is, he might well learn something. I don't think he is stupid. However, when someone attacks an entire culture, an entire religion, using false statements which can easily be refuted through careful research, then that is not, in fact, something that ought to be treated with the same degree of respect, rhetorically, as other statements.

    Imagine if we were discussing, say, race, and someone were to come onto a website and talk about how "violent" blacks are, or other broad-based characterizations of an entire ethnicity based on false information. Everyone could see that such statements ought to be condemned. Here, we're talking about Muslims, a small minority in our country, but the sort of rhetoric I'm seeing here and in many other places in this country is really something that is not okay. It's not a case of both sides having equally valid points. When rhetoric veers into the space where it is attacking entire cultures based on stereotypes and misinformation, then it has crossed the line.

    I say this with the utmost respect to you, Rod.


    • says

      Shoot. I just dashed off a couple of fairly long responses to a couple of people's recent comments and now see that they havent appeared online for some reason. Well, long story short —

      Thank you, Mitsu, for taking the time to say that. We don't want to have rhetoric where there could instead be respect; we want this to be a positive and productive forum, one where tolerance reigns. No need to get into who said what at this point — let's just see if we can all continue in a more productive spirit. (And those who dont want to play along neednt bother.)

      A gassho back….

    • says

      Mitsu – Thanks. I certainly appreciate your taking the time to write.

      I just want all concerned parties — really, everyone who reads the site — to know that we want productive dialogue. Mud-throwing and stereotyping and insult-throwing aren't dialogue; they're not welcome, and we don't have to abide them. We want people to enjoy their experience with us, and to have it be productive and/or fun. It's that simple.

      Thanks again. Hopefully all can agree that we can go on in a different spirit, replacing rhetoric with respect, as you suggest.

      Gassho back.

  14. says

    Understood. Thanks for that LA Buddhist; onward, together, as "brothers and sisters."

    Brothers and sisters are of course expected to disagree. That's okay. But being outright disrespectful is another thing. Anyway, thanks for that.

    And yes, more discussion IS needed, and I'm so thankful to Danny and all who want to contribute. But we all know that mud-slinging and personal attacks arent discussion. So here's to continuing on in the positive and productive vein that Danny's calling for; and casting aside the incivility that causes continued rifts.

    Starting…. now! : )

  15. says

    Rod, I have made no personal attacks, and I would appreciate it if you would refrain from making accusations of that kind in such a reckless manner.

    • bodhipaksa says

      It's interesting that you make a personal attack (Rod is "reckless") while claiming not to have made any personal attacks.

      • says

        Bodhipaksa, you at least are being specific in your claim, whereas Rod was simply throwing the accusation around without providing any indication whatsoever of what he considered the supposed "personal attacks" to consist of.

        However, Rod left me no choice but to question his judgement when he made that accusation. It is my honest opinion that he was being reckless, and if he wishes to dispute that I would be happy to hear what he has to say.

  16. Ruth says

    Fantastic post Danny. After seeing blogging Buddhists put so much energy into distancing themselves from any social concern outside of their own mental development based on personally conceived and a-historical notions of what Buddhism is vis a vis society, what a refreshing encouragement to see a Buddhist so grounded in the lives of other human beings – even non Buddhists, at that! I think one of the reasons for some of the problems that you have pointed to is based upon an overemphasis on "ultimate reality" in teachings. These non-dual teachings though, as I have been informed, were always considered by the Tibetan teachers to be a little like "nuclear power"; in the sense of being immensely dangerous and reserved only for those having reached the three highest Bodhisattva Bhumi states.

  17. Melissa via Facebook says

    "It is only when all of us—all of us, Buddhist and otherwise—who recognize our shared humanity stand beside Muslim Americans and say, “This is my sister” or “this is my brother” that the night is over and the day has begun."

    I completely agree! Great article!

  18. says

    Well…where to begin?

    Buddhists were largely silent on the issue of the Pope's recent trip to the UK.

    Most of the "name" Buddhists did not condemn the Dalai Lama's recent gratuitous atheist bashing in the NY Times op-ed page.

    Buddhists DID stand with Michael Bloomberg when he decried the religious bigotry in profound terms.

    Regarding that press conference, how do you know whether Buddhists were invited or not? Membership in the ISNA is limited to Muslims only, don't you know.

  19. says

    The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) is a pretty interesting organization.

    For example, Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi served for two terms as the President of the ISNA. He is an internationally respected Islamic scholar, and an expert on Sharia law, and has served on the Supreme Islamic Council of Egypt.

    Siddiqi has also been the Director of the Islamic Society of Orange County (ISOC) since 1981. In 1992 Sheikh Abdul Rahman spoke to the ISOC on the subject of Jihad. Siddiqi served as Rahman's translator. Rahman is today serving a life sentence for his role in the World Trade Center bombing, which happened less than a year after Rahman visited his friend and colleague Siddqi in sunny southern Cal.

    From his jail cell, Rahman issued a fatwa that was then circulated at a 1998 press conference featuring Osama bin Laden and two of Rahman's sons. In the fatwa Rahman calls on all Muslims to "Cut off all relations with [the Americans, Christians, and Jews], tear them to pieces, destroy their economies, burn their corporations, destroy their peace, sink their ships, shoot down their planes, and kill them on air, sea, and land. And kill them wherever you may find them, ambush them, take them hostage, and destroy their observatories. Kill these infidels."

    The Islamic Society of Orange County is also where Adam Gadahn was recruited to Al Qaeda. Since 2004 Adam has regularly appeared in Al Qaeda videos. He has become something of a celebrity and is known as "Azzam the American".

    Siddiqi also gained widespread attention for his views on homosexuality, as follows:

    "Homosexuality is a moral disorder. It is a moral disease, a sin and corruption… No person is born homosexual, just like no one is born a thief, a liar or murderer. People acquire these evil habits due to a lack of proper guidance and education."

    "There are many reasons why it is forbidden in Islam. Homosexuality is dangerous for the health of the individuals and for the society. It is a main cause of one of the most harmful and fatal diseases. It is disgraceful for both men and women. It degrades a person. Islam teaches that men should be men and women should be women. Homosexuality deprives a man of his manhood and a woman of her womanhood. It is the most un-natural way of life. Homosexuality leads to the destruction of family life."

    Muzammil Siddiqi's page at the ISNA:
    ISOC website: http://isocmasjid.com/v1/
    Profile: Ahmad Abdul Rahman at History Commons:
    Azzam the American by Malcolm Gladwell at the New Yorker: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2007/01/22/070
    Islam and Homosexuality at ReligiousTolerance.org: http://www.religioustolerance.org/hom_isla2.htm

  20. says

    This is a very Glenn Beck-esque post, "Apuleius", with its vague, context-free guilt-by-association pronouncements, which somehow manage to connect someone with terrorism because once, back in 1992, the guy translated for some other guy. The right is very fond of this sort of random paranoia fantasy. If you buy this sort of argument, I suggest watching this humorous takedown of a similar Glenn Beck conspiracy theory, the Rockefeller Center is a "progressive", anti-American front:

    but, as Keith Olbermann points out, Fox News is ALSO in Rockefeller Center, in a building designed by the same architect who designed … the United Nations (cue evil music)…

    Rather than vague, sinister innuendo, how about some concrete facts about what this person, Muzammil Siddiqi, actually himself believes?

    Recently, Siddiqi issued a fatwa against all terrorist acts committed against civilians:

    In 2005 he was part of a group which issued a similar fatwa:

    Here, Siddiqi explains that jihad does NOT simply mean "holy war", as it is frequently mistranslated in the West. It is a general term for struggle for justice:

    "The word Jihad does not mean “Holy War”. It means “struggle” or “striving”. The word for war in the Qur’an is “Harb” or “Qital”. Jihad means serious and sincere struggle on the personal as well as on the social level. It is a struggle to do good and to remove injustice, oppression and evil from the society. This struggle should be spiritual as well as social, economic and political. Jihad is to work hard to do right things. In the Qur’an this word is used in its different forms 33 times. It often comes with other Qur’anic concepts such as faith, repentance, righteous deeds and migration."

    As for his anti-homosexuality views, I don't agree with them. But that doesn't make him a supporter of terrorism any more than Mormons or evangelicals are terrorists because they are also homophobic.

    • says

      Mitsu, please tell me which of the following you think is worse. Personally I can't decide:

      (a) leading figures in American Islam such as Siddiqi naively associate with terrorist masterminds like Rahman, without ever suspecting the true intentions and activities of these jihadists.

      (b) leading figures in American Islam such as Siddqi deceitfully associate with terrorist masterminds like Rahman, knowing full well who these jihadists are and what they are up to.

      (c) leading figures in American Islam such as Siddiqi thoughtlessly associate with terrorist masterminds like Rahman without caring one way or the other if they are murderous jihadists or not.

      This is very relevant to the current debate over the Ground Zero Mosque, since Rauf & Co. claim that they will ensure that the mosque does not become a center of jihadist activity.

      • says

        When I was in college, I hung out with all sorts of people — ranging from radical leftists to people on the right. One guy called himself as "Trotskyist" and advocated violent revolution. I thought he was bonkers to hold these views and I told him so — I actually suspected him to be a CIA plant, as he seemed a bit older than the rest of us; but he went through all four years of school and graduated with the rest of us, so who knows. The fact that I knew and hung out with these people does not make me a supporter of their views. I daresay if anyone looked carefully into your past (or the pasts of nearly anyone), they could find a few people who turn out to have questionable or violent views. This is why these guilt-by-association arguments are so irrational. It's pure poppycock: the idea that all of us ought to take responsibility for the views of everyone we've ever "associated" with, throughout our entire lives. It's really gotten to the point of lunacy when it comes to this sort of argument: precisely like McCarthyism, frankly, just another version of the same old paranoia. It's a simple statistical fact that you're going to end up "associating" with some people who turn out to be bonkers at some point in your life.

        None of this has anything to do with the so-called Ground Zero Mosque, at all. First of all, the guy who is behind the Islamic community center is a Sufi. It's hard to imagine a strain of Islam less associated with "jihadist" activity. Furthermore there are mosques all over the city already, including an informal one already at the site, and another mosque just a little further away. The whole debate is totally ridiculous, for obvious reasons.

        • says

          The founder of the Muslim Brotherhood was an initiated Sufi. The Brotherhood is the most important single organization in the history of modern Islamic extremism.

          Ayatollah Khomeini wrote Sufi poetry, and so does Osama bin Laden.

          Sufism, schmufism.

          (Oh, and notice how fond you are of "innocence by association": Imam Rauf is a Sufi, therefore he is above blame and suspicion…..)

      • says

        Oh yes, and this is something that isn't well-known: there used to be a mosque INSIDE THE WORLD TRADE CENTER:

        At least forty Muslims died on 9/11, including firefighters. Muslims fight in our armed forces. Muslims are Americans. I am Japanese-American and I know very well what can happen to an entire ethnicity when ethnic fear and hatred can overcome American values: my mother, uncles, aunts, grandparents… all interned during World War II, even as the 442nd fought for America in Italy and became the most decorated unit in the war.

        Of course we ought to defend against our enemies. But we have to remain true not only to American principles of fairness and honor, to Buddhist principles of compassion and awareness, but to universal principles of truth. I stand and I urge us all to stand against irrational bigotry, now and always.

  21. says

    Be careful, Mitsu. It almost sounds like you are ready to admit that the Muslim Brotherhood is an extremist group. The Brotherhood is very popular and influential among Muslims in the West. In Egypt, where they started, they are a major political force. So if it is admitted that the Brotherhood is extremist then the whole "only a tiny minority of Muslims are extremists" argument implodes.

    • says

      As you probably know, the Muslim Brotherhood is an Islamist, conservative organization who, in the past, did attempt to resort to violence to overthrow the government of Egypt. They've disavowed violence in the last several decades, but it's certainly true that their earlier views supporting violent overthrow of Islamic governments to impose Sharia law was influential in the development of terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda. This is well-established historical fact. So there are some problematic aspects to the Muslim Brotherhood, at least its history, which one can certainly trace to the pro-violence views of its founder (who, as I noted before, rejected Sufism largely because of its pacifism).

      These days, most sober analysts view the majority of actual Muslim Brotherhood supporters as peaceful, in line with their public position.

      The main point I have been trying to make with you is not that there are no extremists in any given cultural or ethnic group, or that there is nothing to be afraid of in the world out there. My point is that to brand an entire religious or ethnic group as dangerous because of "guilt by association" arguments is not only un-American it is manifestly unjust, and does no service to our own security, because it simply serves to inflame irrational hatred.

      The fact is, there is a point of negative return when it comes to fear. A certain degree of fear is reasonable. Beyond that, and we become the ones committing injustice. Protecting ourselves to the point where we persecute innocent people for bigoted reasons is not justifiable in my view.

      • says

        "Protecting ourselves to the point where we persecute innocent people for bigoted reasons is not justifiable in my view. "

        The issue, though, is whether or not any such thing as "persecuting innocent people for bigoted reasons" is going on. Making such an accusation is one thing, providing evidence is another matter.

        The fact is that Muslims have far more freedom to practice their religion in the US than they do anywhere else in the world, including in majority Muslim majority countries. That freedom should be defended, because it is not some special freedom for Muslims, but the same freedom guaranteed for all Americans.

        But that means that Muslims have to put up with the same kind of treatment as any other religion. Americans have the right to criticize Islam and to ask questions about imams and mosques and Muslim organizations, even if Muslims don't like it.

        And Americans have the right to talk about Islam the way Kathy Griffin talks about Catholicism: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D9jHSp2mczI

        • says

          It's a natural human reaction: when you get attacked, as we were, you tend to brand the entire group of which the attackers were a part as a single entity. It's the origin of racism, the origin of ethnic hatred, the reason why Rwanda happened, the Holocaust, slavery, the ethnic cleansing we committed against Native Americans, the ethnic cleansing that happened in Yugoslavia, the fate of Christians in early Rome, and on and on. We turn a group into "the enemy" because some of them attacked us.

          The whole Ground Zero mosque controversy (or the Burlington Coat Factory Community Center controversy, as it should rightly be called) is precisely of this same order. There's nothing remarkable at all about this thing — no reason whatsoever to think this center is any more "extremist" than a YMCA. Sure, if it were Al Qaeda establishing a branch two blocks from Ground Zero I'd be worried too. But that's not what is at issue here.

          Why is this not the issue? Because obviously people are not seriously suggesting Rauf is actually an extremist himself. Yes, Fox News has been going on about this or that statement he made in the past, but the reality is, the precise thing everyone is demanding is not that he not build the center anywhere, just that he build it "farther away". If it really were some terrorist sympathizers building something, it wouldn't matter where it was, it would be a problem no matter how close to Ground Zero it was. But the fact is the sentiment here is that it is because "they" attacked us that it is "insensitive." THAT is the argument that is totally bankrupt.

          Look at what Gingrich said: he compared it to Japanese building a temple at Pearl Harbor. Well, first of all, there probably already are Japanese temples near Pearl Harbor, as Japanese-Americans are the biggest ethnic group in Hawaii. But setting that aside, the clear point here is a conflation. Japanese did, in fact, attack us at Pearl Harbor. Muslims, however, did not attack us on 9/11. It was Al Qaeda that attacked us. The conflation of the two is simple bigotry.

  22. Uncle Rocco says

    Whoa, Cochise, are you really calling yourself an Arhat? Or is that a family name or something?

  23. Marcus says

    I wouldn’t want to support the Ground Zero mosque unless I was very very very sure of what I was supporting…..

    “It is both ironic and instructive that at the very moment that the path was finally smoothed for the construction of the ground zero mosque, the Hamburg mosque that nurtured the 9/11 hijackers was shut down by the German government. No doubt there were German Muslims who felt their religious liberty was shamefully abridged. However, after a decade of treating this mosque as a monument to tolerance, the Germans were forced to admit that it was actually an incorrigible incubator of jihadism and anti-Western values.”

    – Sam Harris

    • says

      First of all, one ought to point out that the "Ground Zero Mosque" is not a mosque: it is a community center that will have an Islamic prayer room along with interfaith facilities.

      Secondly, if the so-called "mosque" really were nurturing terrorists, in what way would it make any difference at all if they built it a few blocks further away from Ground Zero? You are aware that there is *already* a mosque five blocks away, and has been for many years?

      Do you realize there are already more than a hundred mosques in New York City alone?

      Finally, Rauf, the man behind this proposed center, is not only famous for his efforts to reach out to people of different faiths, is a Sufi, but he's been praised by President Bush and others for his efforts at interfaith dialogue.

      Face it: what you're saying makes no sense at all. It's basically saying that because there's a mosque somewhere in the world that nurtures terrorism, that we must discriminate against every Muslim in America, and establish zones where they cannot operate simply because they are Muslim, and for no other rational reason. That's the definition of bigotry.

      • Marcus says

        Please read my post again. I simply said that before supporting this mosque, I'd want to be very sure of what exactly it was I was supporting and then I gave an example )one of many) of a mosque in the west that had been praised for its tolerance but eventually found to be a nurturer of jihadism. And for that you call me a bigot?

        • says

          Marcus, I'm afraid it is you who do not understand. You must unquestioningly support all mosques, everywhere (indeed, anywhere!), otherwise you are a foul bigot who hates the constitution.

          Never mind that the Muslim Brotherhood and the Saudi Wahhabists, etc, are actively involved in funding "Islamic Cultural Centers" around the world. Never mind that mosques and "cultural centers" were where 9/11 and other terrorist operations are planned, and it is where those who carry out the operations are recruited. Oh, just never mind.

        • says

          First of all, Marcus, the example you gave was of the Hamburg mosque, which was not "praised for its tolerance" as you claim. You obviously misread the article you linked to. The Hamburg mosque had always preached a radical form of Sunni Islam. If you read the article you linked to more carefully, the author was claiming (without any particular justification) that the *act of allowing the mosque to stay open* even though it preached a radical form of Sunni Islam was tantamount treating it as "a monument to tolerance" — in the German case, tolerance of radical Sunni Islam. The mosque in Hamburg was never a moderate mosque, it was always a very conservative, right-wing mosque.

          This not remotely the case for the Cordoba Initiative, which is being pushed by a moderate Islamic Sufi cleric.

          However, setting that aside, again: the entire debate here has not been, as I've already said, whether or not Rauf can build a mosque somewhere. No one as far as I know has questioned whether or not he can build a mosque (not that what is intends to build is a mosque: it is a community center an Islamic prayer room as well as interfaith facilities). The whole debate centers on WHERE he wants to build it.

          If we are to take your argument, the logical outcome is that we should scrutinize and approve in advance EVERY mosque being built, anywhere in the United States. Why does this particular facility warrant such additional scrutiny? Or are you actually suggesting that we should put Muslims (and only Muslims) through this additional scrunity, everywhere?

          Or are you saying that only Muslims should be put through this scrunity, and only if they build within five blocks of the WTC? Since there is already a mosque five blocks away, surely that's an acceptable distance for a mosque. Or do we say that 10 blocks is the radius of sensitivity, and now we ought to investigate all the mosques within that zone?

          As I've said before, I'm all in favor of the CIA or FBI investigating whatever leads they might have on terrorist activity anywhere in the United States. That's obviously what they ought to do. And in doing so they may well focus their attention on some mosques, particularly those which preach a radical form of Islam (as Rauf absolutely does not). But in that case, the location of the mosque shouldn't matter. And that's what the whole "Ground Zero Mosque" debate has been about.

  24. Marcus says

    "If we are to take your argument, the logical outcome is that we should scrutinize and approve in advance EVERY mosque being built, anywhere in the United States."

    Well, yes, I would support that. Of course every new mosque should be approved in advance. Of course.

    Do you not understand the concerns of ordinary people? Okay, 99% of Muslims are not terrorists, but 99% of terrorists, from the religious cleansing being carried out in the south of Thailand to the London underground bombings, are Muslim.

    And every single Friday, in mosques across Saudi Arabia, imams preach hated and jihad and anti-Christianity and anti-Americanism and subjugation of gays and oppression of women and anti-democracy etc etc – and then this same country is the biggest financial supporter of mosques in the west.

    So should the west approve new mosques in advance? Of course.

    • says

      Ideological groups espousing Islamism should be subjected to the most thorough possible scrutiny. If such groups are involved with mosques, imams, community centers, etc, then, yes, absolutely, those mosques, imams, community centers, etc, must be thoroughly investigated.

      Daisy Khan (Imam Rauf's wife) has herself publicly stated that Islam has been "hijacked" by the extremists. Let us then systematically determine who are the hijackers, who are the ones who have been hijacked, and who are the ones actively engaged in fighting the hijackers. Those who insist loudly that we must not blame "all Muslims" for the acts of the extremists should surely realize the importance of making such distinctions!

      And shouldn't those Muslims who are sincerely committed to fighting against extremism ALREADY, VOLUNTARILY be helping to sort out where the money is coming from and where it is going — and who is on which side?

      How else are we to fight against Islamic extremists?

  25. says

    Marcus, we're talking about two separate things here. The primary issue in the debate over the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque" is that it is "insensitive" for Muslims to build anything close to Ground Zero, even if it is two blocks away and around the corner in an abandoned Burlington Coat Factory, even if it is run by avowedly non-extremist Muslims, even if it is run by Sufis who even the anti-Islamic Lama Ole Nydhal thinks are hunky dory, even if isn't a mosque but a community center that will have an Islamic prayer room as well as Christian, Jewish, and other interfaith rooms, and the whole thing would be solved by just "moving" the mosque a few blocks away. This notion that all Muslims ought to be treated differently, simply because they are Muslim, is what is un-American and which both we as Buddhists and we as Americans and human beings ought to stand against.

    Regarding your idea that every mosque in America ought to be scrutinized and pre-approved, so to speak: this is an even more extreme point of view which really gets to the heart of a couple of issues.

    The first is this notion of protecting ourselves. One of the strange psychological facts is that we as human beings are poor judges of relative risk. That is to say, we tend to focus on things like airplane crashes and terrorist attacks, and psychologically we go way out of our way to avoid such things because they are big, spectacular, rare events. Right after 9/11, for example, millions of people avoided air travel for a while, and instead they went by car. However, car travel, per mile, is much more dangerous than air travel, even with the threat of the occasional plane crash or terrorist attack. As a result, in the time after 9/11, so many more people drove that it's estimated another 2,000 – 3,000 additional people died on the highways who would otherwise have survived because they decided to drive instead of fly — nearly as many people as died in the 9/11 attack itself.

    In other words, there is a cost to everything we do to protect ourselves. For example, we could dispense with due process and put in prison or execute everyone we suspect is guilty of murder. Surely that would put a lot more guilty people in prison who might otherwise go free. The cost would be we would also execute many more innocent people. As it turns out, the Innocence Project has managed to prove that over 250 people who were previously convicted of crimes like rape and murder "beyond a reasonable doubt" were innocent on the basis of more modern DNA testing. So, even with careful controls, we have put on death row and imprisoned for decades completely, totally innocent people. Isn't that a cost of protecting ourselves we have to face as a society?

    Of course law enforcement should investigate actual extremist groups who spread intolerance and hatred. They should investigate Muslim groups who do this, Christian groups, atheist groups, every group that is a potential threat. And I'm sure they do so already, as well they should. I can't think of anyone who would be opposed to this.

    But it is just not true that 99% of terrorists are Muslim. Timothy McVeigh was a Christian, and prior to 9/11 he committed the most horrific terrorist act in the United States. I suspect that if this community center is built, there will be such hatred against it that I would be surprised if there weren't a few wackos who will try to bomb it. And certainly the FBI ought to do everything they can to stop them.

    Consider this breakdown of terrorist attacks in the United States which shows that 94% of terrorist attacks here were not committed by Muslims:

    Or this, which shows that 99.6% of terrorist attacks in Europe were not committed by Muslims:

    There have been terrorist attacks by rightists, leftists, Basque separatists, IRA, Tamils (who invented suicide bombing by the way), and on and on. Yes, terrorism ought to be something we protect ourselves against. Demonizing one ethnic group is also something we should speak out against and protect against as well. So yes, Apuleius, for once I agree with you: extremist Islamic groups should, of course, be scrutinized by law enforcement. But treat all Muslims as guilty before proven innocent? No.

  26. Marcus says

    "The primary issue in the debate over the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque" is that it is "insensitive" for Muslims to build anything close to Ground Zero, even if it is two blocks away and around the corner in an abandoned Burlington Coat Factory…"

    Okay, sticking to the 'primary issue' – parts of the landing gear of one of the planes crashed through the roof of this building. The site of this mosque (and it is a mosque) isn't just near Ground Zero – it IS Ground Zero.

  27. says

    So we shouldn't allow any Christian churches near the FBI building in Oklahoma City because Tim McVeigh was partly inspired by the right-wing Christian Identity movement?

    Your argument conflates all Muslims with the terrorists who attacked us. The same way racists are suspicious of all black people because some are criminals, the same way Hutus and Tutsis demonized each other in Rwanda, or Croats and Serbs massacred each other in Yugoslavia and on and on.

    You are simply engaging in the latest version of this same, all too human, reaction.

    Go out and meet some real life Muslims. Get to know them. They are normal human beings. Open your heart and your mind and you might learn something new about both them and yourself.

  28. Marcus says

    My final post here.

    Mitsu, your arrogance is astounding. I suggest that one ought to be careful (in the light of previous examples of mosques in the west supporting Jihad) of what one supports and you call me a bigot. I address your 'primary issue' of whether or not the mega-mosque is at Ground Zero (it is) and you assume that I don't know any Muslims!

    Anyway, you are wrong to suppose that I have no Muslim friends, workmates and neigbours. Besides which, I don't for a minute think that the problem comes from ordinary Muslims, but from the ideologies of Islamicism and Jihad which are, sadly, rife in the Muslim world and whcih moderate Musims have yet to find ways of effectively countering.

    Thank you for the discussion.

  29. says

    I apologize for the miscommunication, Marcus, because clearly I was not sufficiently clear as you've misunderstood me. The "primary issue" I was referring to above was the entire sentence I posted, not simply the question of the location of "Ground Zero." Those who oppose the so-called "mosque" (and again, it is NOT a "mega-mosque" — the only "mosque" aspect of it is a single prayer room, the rest of it will simply be a community center open to everyone, and it will have rooms for people of other faiths as well) are not simply saying, as you seem to be, that we should "be careful" that the builders of the center are not extremists — they are saying that ANY Muslims whether extremist or moderate or pacifist should not build near Ground Zero because "they" attacked us on 9/11.

    Of course the FBI and CIA should be on the lookout for extremist Muslims. And extremist Christians and extremist atheists and so on. But that's not what the whole debate has been about. The debate has been whether all Muslims, any Muslims, should not build near Ground Zero because "they" attacked us on 9/11, not whether the FBI should carefully monitor extremist Muslims. Who could object to the FBI investigating extremist Muslims or extremists of any sort? That's their job. If it is extremists you're concerned about, their location, whether at Ground Zero or elsewhere, shouldn't matter, because they're a threat no matter where they build.

  30. Mark Rogow says

    Do you mean besides the Muslims destroying Buddhism in India along with the Rajputs and killing twenty million Buddhists? Am I an islamaphobe? Since I'm not afraid of Indra and Brahma, why should I be afraid of Allah? The Hindus too treat their own people with contempt, do you think they have any love lost for Buddhists? I'm a realist who sees the potential for history to repeat itself. Better we convert the Muslims, Christians, Jews, and Hindus to Buddhism than promote interfaith.

  31. Mark Rogow says

    It is exactly the same errant views, misunderstanding of the Buddha's and Islamic teachings that led to the murder of millions of Buddhists in India and Buddhism's subsequent decline there. In the future too, such thinking will lead to the murder of many millions more. Read the Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra and take the Buddha's words to heart. Better yet, chant Namu Myoho renge kyo with the same conviction as Nichiren Daishonin.