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As an openly gay man and progressive elected official, I am weary of anything that smacks of fundamentalism or other form of extremism. That is why I thought carefully about the reasons I support the Islamic center near the World Trade Center site.
I did not find anything in the building of the Islamic center or the people behind it that indicated extremism or insensitivity. The city has a wonderful opportunity to lead the world on interfaith dialogue and understanding. From the Flushing Remonstrance to one of the first woman-led Islamic prayer services in modern times, New York has been the site of many milestones in the history of religious freedom.
Muslims died that terrible day in 2001, seared forever in our memories. Their families suffer just as much as every other family affected. To say one family’s grief is more worthy of public recognition and deference shows insensitivity and, more troubling, a failure to recognize our neighbors’ pain simply because of their religion.
We mourn with Muslims. We remember with Muslims. We work with Muslims to make sure this never happens again. That is why I welcome the Islamic center and any other effort to strengthen the freedoms that make our country great.
With the historical memory of nations ripped apart by religious strife, the Founding Fathers drafted our Constitution, including the First Amendment protections of religion. Like those bloody European conflicts, a violent interpretation of religious text and tradition provided the ideological ammunition on Sept. 11. The proof of the wisdom of the First Amendment is the myriad of religions in this country that have co-existed with a harmony barely imaginable more than 200 years ago.
As many disagreements we might have with certain adherents and leaders, we can never deny them the right to worship how they please.
One of the most transformative moments I have witnessed in my life happened on the campaign trail last year as I was running for City Council. A young Muslim woman wearing a hijab attended a candidates night in our local synagogue. She enthusiastically greeted my responses to questions posed by the moderator and audience members.
While I appreciated the support as a political candidate, I thought about how proud I was to be a New Yorker. Here I was, the founder of Queens LGBT Pride being cheered on by a hijab-wearing Muslim woman in a Jewish place of worship!
The dialogue that will move all of us forward begins in such moments. The healing that so many Muslims and non-Muslims crave begins in such moments. For me, healing after 9/11 means celebrating and learning about difference, but also drawing together around a common humanity. Wouldn’t this irk the Taliban and Al Qaeda more than anything?
Such a clarion vision is not simply pie-in-the-sky idealism. Practically speaking, such healing is necessary to reduce the real threat that radicalization poses. Muslim places of worship that reach out to the wider community are not the threat — quite the opposite. They are critical to the healing that can begin here and spread to the corners of the globe where they are so desperately needed.
Immigration Committee Chairman
©2010 Community Newspaper Group
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