Friday, June 4, 2010

New York City Mosque Protest, Islam, and Religious Freedom

New York City Mosque Protest, Islam, and Religious Freedom
By Jeffrey Imm • on June 3, 2010
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We stand in support of our universal human rights of freedom of religion, freedom of conscience, and freedom of worship for all people.

The “Stop Islamization of America” (SIOA) group has organized a June 6 protest in New York City against stopping a future “ground zero mosque.” While there have been plenty of angry editorials and petitions on this subject, the specifics of the actual “mosque” in New York City and the human rights impact of protesting a house of worship has received limited reporting. Moreover, few seem to realize that this “mosque” has already been in place as an active worship center since at least December 2009. This article will address five connected topics: (1) the reality of the “ground zero mosque,” (2) the priority of our universal human rights, (3) why denial of human rights affects everyone, (4) the plank of hate in our own eye, and (5) the important choices facing Americans.

I share this information not to criticize those who are concerned about this issue, but to ask them to seriously reflect on the consequences of protesting a place of worship in America, and the message that it sends to the world. As human beings, we are all imperfect and have made choices and mistakes that we regret, as I have and we all have. But the grand message of the human experience is not only in where we have been, but most importantly where we are going to – and this is where our choices continue to allow us to shape our destiny, our future, and define our responsibility for equality and liberty.

The Reality of the “Ground Zero Mosque”

In December 2009, I first read about the July 2009 purchase of the former Burlington Coat Factory building on 45 Park Place in New York City by the Cordoba Initiative, led by Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and his wife Daisy Khan. Both the New York Times and Der Spiegel reported in December 2009 how Imam Feisel Abdul Rauf had purchased the aged building and told the NYC mayor in September 2009 that they planned to convert it to a worship center and a cultural center. According to the NY Daily News, the idea that Feisal Abdul Rauf has is to renovate the building based on a NYC YMCA style structure. But the idea is not some “new” development. Cordoba has owned the building for nearly a year, and the NYC mayor has known about this for 10 months. NYC Muslims have already been holding worship services there for 6 months and presumably continue to do so today. So the idea of NYC protests to “stop” Muslims from having worship services is about 6 months too late.

Back in December 2009 (and presumably today), the former Burlington Coat Factory was nothing more than an outwardly grimy and dilapidated building, where some NYC Muslim worshipers (including street vendors) go during the day to pray. In all of the dramatic Photoshop “graphics” of what this mosque and cultural center might look like someday, there has been very little reporting on what it actually is today. So I have prepared a collage of some actual photographs, not graphic sketches, of what it actually looks like (based on published photographs in the NYC and world media from December 2009). It is certainly possible some changes may have been made in 6 months, but as 45 Park Place has not yet been renovated, these photographs should essentially represent the reality today. Americans deserve to know all of the facts to make balanced decisions.

– Photos of the entrance

NYC: 45 Park Place – the “Ground Zero Mosque” Photos of the Entrance – (Photo 1 and 3: Spiegel, Photo 2: NYT)– Photos of the interior

Photos of Interior of “Ground Zero Mosque” (Photos 1 & 2: Spiegel, Photos 3 & 4: NYT)– Photos of the building

NYC: 45 Park Place – the Reality (Left – Photo AP) and Idea (Right)To those who plan to protest this on June 6 – is this really what you want to be protesting?

Do you want the world to see Americans protesting against what is today a dilapidated old building where some NYC Muslims have already been praying for the past 6 months? Is this how you plan to honor yourself, your freedoms, and your country?

With the world watching, it is essential for Americans to use their resources and time to publicly demonstrate their commitment to our universal human rights – not to show the world that Americans are just as willing to deny such human rights of freedom of religion religion as others.

To those who are wondering where is “Ground Zero” in any these photographs, that’s a good question. It’s not there, because the fact is that 45 Park Place is a good two blocks away from “Ground Zero,” or as one person has calculated about 600 feet (that’s roughly about two American football fields). In the dense concrete jungle of New York City, two blocks might as well be a mile away in terms of visibility. In terms of “hallowed ground,” it is a fact that a piece of landing gear from one of the 9/11 jets fell on 45 Park Place. But in terms of preventing Muslims from praying in that area, the fact that Muslims have been praying there since December 2009 already shows that it really is impractical to decide where someone has the right to pray or worship. Even if 45 Park Place was taken away from the Cordoba Initiative who would prevent Muslims from praying anywhere else in the area, even in cabs, as they go by the Ground Zero area?

The truth is that our universal human rights of freedom of religion, freedom of worship, and freedom of conscience not only apply to everyone, they apply everywhere – whether some like it or not. Moreover, as people in nations around the world including Communist China, Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and increasingly in the UK and Europe continue to find out – there is no way to prevent people from truly exercising their freedom of conscience – such universal human rights will exist no matter how others try to stop them.

The SIOA has a different picture of the area, one based on graphics artistry, rather than actual photography, designed to show the future plans for the 45 Park Place building with a backdrop of the attack on the World Trade Center buildings. Now that you have seen the actual photographs as well as the planned redesign for 45 Park Place, let’s look at the SIOA graphic. Apparently, according to the image by the SIOA graphic designers, the message they seek to convey is that people at the top floors on what the SIOA calls the future “monster mosque” at 45 Park Place will be able to look down upon the wreckage of the World Trade Center when they pray. Let’s ignore the obvious point that the World Trade Center is supposed to be rebuilt, and let’s set aside the question of whether (and when) people praying at a rebuilt 45 Park Place would be able to “look down” on any WTC wreckage two NYC blocks away. For the moment, let’s assume the SIOA is correct on all of the points of their argument.

If Americans “stop” Muslims from praying at 45 Park Place, what is to prevent them from praying at any other place in the “Ground Zero” area, or looking down on “Ground Zero” from any other part of the nearby NYC area buildings? The answer is obvious. There is nothing to prevent Muslims from praying anywhere at any time, or to prevent them from doing so in the sight of any part of “Ground Zero,” just like Muslims have already been praying at 45 Park Place for the past 6 months (without protest).

SIOA Graphic Dramatizing 45 Park Place with Graphic of WTC Attack - NOT showing it is Two Blocks Away
So what exactly is SIOA protesting to stop? Muslim worship services that have been taking place? If the SIOA is only protesting that a larger mosque and cultural center is planned on being built, does that mean that they have been fine with the Muslim worship services that have already been taking place (and presumably continue to take place) since December 2009? Or is it all of New York City that some seek to ban the building of mosques and Muslim worship, indeed all of America? The reality is that extremist views on seeking to deny religious freedom ultimately break down into an absurd rejection of our universal human freedoms that even a totalitarian nation such as Communist China is ultimately incapable of consistently enforcing.

This demonstrates the lack of logic in protesting against others exercising our universal human rights, including our right to freedom of religion and freedom of worship, whether such protests take place in Indonesia, Pakistan, the United Kingdom, or the United States of America.

The facts are that no matter how much some protest, we cannot and we have no right to tell others how, where – and to who – they will pray. Those who reject, disrespect, and defy such unqualified, universal human rights do not change the rights of all people, everywhere to such universal human rights.

Where Our Universal Human Rights Apply...
Our Strongest Weapon in the War of Ideas – Our Universal Human Rights

You don’t sacrifice what is important for what is not. If we are ever to honor the losses of Americans with diverse races, religions, and backgrounds who died on 9/11, we must stay focused on undermining the tactics of terrorism by unflinchingly staying on the front lines of the war of ideas. Our fallen Americans deserve such commitment by us on the issues that really matter.

There are those who think that we will successfully struggle against terrorist tactics only by tactics of our own, whether they are military, law enforcement, immigration, foreign policy measures, or counterterrorism; such individuals continue to be unable to see the larger picture and the strategy that requires our consistent defense of our universal human rights and pluralism in a global war of ideas. We cannot fight our way out of this global ideological struggle simply by bombing terrorist compounds, arresting criminals, deporting individuals, and appeasing religious supremacists for counterterrorist intelligence. We can’t negotiate our way out of this with those who play double-games with us and the enemies of freedom. This existential struggle requires more than anger, muscle, or even cunning; it requires compassion, thinking, and our hearts. It is that serious. We can’t afford to keep bungling around with nonsense tactics while we continue to lose the war of ideas in America and around the world more and more every day. Our world is at war, not just militarily, not just with terrorism, but the world is at war over the very idea of human freedom and human rights itself.

If we want to show respect to those who died on 9/11, we must understand that terrorist attacks continue to happen around the world every day to someone else, somewhere else in the world. Such terrorist attacks are not a series of random, disconnected “isolated incidents,” as our tacticians would have us believe. No matter who is the terrorist actor, such attacks are consistent in one important way – they are all based on hatred, and they are all based on defiance of our unqualified, universal human rights. But whether it is a Christian church burned in Malaysia or a Muslim mosque burned in America, hate is hate, and those who defy our universal human rights seek the same ends – to force others to deny their freedoms. Freedom of religion is not “a luxury,” it is a part of our strongest weapon of universal human rights in a world war of ideas – and in too many parts of the world, it is a defining human right that differentiates us from the enemies of our human rights.

If hate and denial of our universal human rights is the consistent message of our enemies, then if we choose hate and denial of our universal human rights for others here in America, we become no different than they are. We become what we are fighting against.

Church Burned Down in Malaysia, Mosque Burned Down in United States
What we can’t afford is to is throw away our strongest weapon in this war of ideas – our universal human rights that guarantees freedom of expression, that ensures freedom of the press, that demands equal rights for women, and that insists on freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, and yes, freedom of worship – not just for those like us and those we like – but for all people, not just in America – but everywhere.

To Americans, these are not “just” universal human rights, these are the very definition of America itself – “we hold these truths to be self-evident” that all men are created equal and that our inalienable human rights include life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That is what it means to be an American; it is the declaration of our identity. If we want to do something about 9/11, if we want to effect change in the world, the first place to show that change is with ourselves and our lives. We must live to show that we not only hold these truths to be self-evident, but that we will defend such truths of our universal human rights, and that our lives will show that we are responsible for equality and liberty – not just for some people, but for all people.

If we want to honor the 9/11 fallen, then it is our obligation to stay on the front lines of this struggle to consistently defend such universal human rights, and not allow ourselves to succumb to the weaknesses of fear and hate. We must be stronger than that, we must be more American than that.

United We Must Stand – not only in our national defense of America’s homeland, but also in the defense of America’s identity and in defense of the rights that are inherent in our identity as human beings.

Denying Human Rights for One, Denies Human Rights for Us All

One might read this thus far and believe that I completely agree with Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and Daisy Khan, who are behind the Cordoba Initiative’s efforts to renovate 45 Park Place. In fact, I don’t agree with them on a number of key issues.

But when it comes to their universal human rights, it simply doesn’t matter. That’s the point – one that all Americans and those who respect our universal human rights should understand. Our basic human rights, as Americans and as human beings, extend to all of our fellow Americans and human beings – whether we agree with them or not. When seek to support denial of universal human rights to some, including freedom of worship, we deny such universal human rights to all. That is the point of “universal” human rights. We can’t think that we can select who does and does not have such rights, without undermining such rights for everyone.

Perhaps next time it might be you and your faith that someone disagrees with and seeks to deny your freedom of worship, as we see in many parts of the world today. If we support universal human rights, but we can’t set an example to defend them, who will?

For those who will inevitably ask, I have a number of disagreements and concerns with Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and Daisy Khan. Self-criticism and willingness to consistently defy religious supremacists is essential in any meaningful interfaith dialogue, especially one that involves the red-hot topic of Islam. Such self-criticism of our views with which we seek to shape the world is not a weakness; it is our greatest strength in building relationships with our fellow human beings. Such defiance against religious supremacists is not a treason to our religions, but it is the foundational building blocks in a pluralist society. If they seek interfaith relations, we need to see such self-criticism of Muslim views and defiance to religious supremacists more often from Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and Daisy Khan.

In too much of the world, people’s human rights are suffering under Muslim religious supremacists’ interpretation of “Sharia,” which in the Qur’an simply refers to choosing the “right path.” “Sharia” is open to the interpretation of Muslim religious scholars and “students” from the Taliban (which means “students”) to those Muslims promoting secular democracy and human rights. But when we hear about those who seek to implement “strict Sharia” invariably we hear from those who seek to deny our universal human rights. This global issue between some Muslims’ religious practices and our universal human rights is an issue that all Muslim clerics and scholars should be addressing as their top priority. In April 2009, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf wrote a short article for the Washington Post trying to clarify it, but briefly dismissed the interpretation of Sharia by the Taliban and too many others in the world in one sentence as merely the views of ” ‘firebrand’ clerics.” He then went on to explain how Sharia is comparable to the U.S. Declaration of Independence and is something that we should not fear.

If Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is serious about “reforming” Sharia (my word), which may be one of the critical problems for Muslims in America and the world in terms of interfaith relations and addressing human rights, then this should be a focus of his. Instead, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf dismisses the endless reports of human rights abuses rationalized by those under Sharia, with a very brief statement which essentially states “trust us” on what is likely the largest issue in interfaith relations in the world. Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf ’s “trust me” approach on Sharia is not enough in a world where violence and oppression continues every day rationalized by Sharia, nor is “trust me” enough in his calls for a “religious” solution in Afghanistan, where women continue to be oppressed by religious supremacists and where Christians and other religious minorities are persecuted, including a reported recent call by an Afghan parliamentarian to kill Christians converts.

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf has also stated that we must understand how terrorists think, and has blamed Christians as ones who have been responsible for mass causality attacks, stating: “The Islamic method of waging war is not to kill innocent civilians. But it was Christians in World War II who bombed civilians in Dresden and Hiroshima, neither of which were military targets.” If Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is concerned about building interfaith relations and respect for Muslims in America and around the world, he should be less defensive and less focused on what type of “methods of war” is blamed on different religions, and more focused on the methods of peace and human rights that we can all achieve together. There are those in every religion that have been involved in war and violence. There are those in every religion that have been involved in denying human rights. But the question we must ask as human beings is where are we going in the future together in peace and in human rights?

Those promoting tolerance must reject a defensive style of appearing to appease those who would deny human rights and reject freedom. Tolerance and pluralism is based on our shared, unqualified, universal human rights. In September 2008, I wrote about the U.S.-Muslim Engagement Project, whose study results called for American engagement with the Muslim Brotherhood (whose motto is “jihad is our way”), whose study called for “engagement with political representatives of armed and activist movements,” whose study called for U.S. engagement with the FTOs Hamas and Hezbollah, and whose study stated that the U.S. should not expect that governments based on Sharia law would have limitations in human rights. This study was endorsed and promoted by Republican and Democratic leaders of Congress, during the Bush administration. Members of the leadership group that developed the recommendations for this study, included Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and his wife Daisy Khan, along with 32 others from various religions, political views, and professions. But in September 2008 as today, there has been little concern or debate on this study, its conclusions, or its bipartisan endorsement.

Daisy Khan also leads the American Society for Muslim Advancement (ASMA), founded by Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, whose mission is “building bridges between Muslims and the American public.” So in January 2009, it surprised me when I saw Daisy Khan’s summary of ASMA’s Muslim Leaders of Tomorrow (MLT) meeting to include the following poll results: “Are there Islamic values that are in fundamental conflict with Western Values? 61% – Yes.” How is publishing this promoting bridges between Muslims and the American public? In January 2009, the CSM had a follow-up news report on the ASMA MLT meeting where MLT members told the news media comments such as “it’s not an Islamic value to have absolute freedom. Islam puts boundaries on you,” and “It is freedom not to submit [to God's will] that gives value to submission itself.” While every religion puts “boundaries” on our activities, are these the types of message that Muslims want to send to the world on freedom – especially from its future leaders?

The same news report also reported ASMA’s Daisy Khan’s comments on the Muslim response to 9/11 as: “ASMA’s Khan said that after 9/11, Americans wanted to know why Muslims’ denunciations of the terrorist attacks were so muted. Although hundreds of Islamic religious leaders did condemn the attacks, they were not heard clearly because Islam has no central leadership, like Roman Catholicism’s Vatican.” Is this an effective response to too many of those who distrust Muslims in America and around the world? Rather than bemoan the lack of a “Vatican” for those of the Islamic faith in America, doesn’t it make more sense to call for build a responsible group of Muslims in America whose voice and leaders consistently reject violence, hate, and those attacking our universal human rights?

Moreover, I can understand the concerns of those who are worried about Saudi funds in a rebuilt 45 Park Place, especially given the history of the Saudi government in funding mosques that quietly spread extremism. I can understand how other Muslims, such as M. Zuhdi Jasser, can question the wisdom of building a planned future 13 story cultural center in area sure to be a target for criticism. Moreover, I would ask Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf to consider in the interests of the national healing between non-Muslims and Muslims, if it really makes sense to plan to announce the rebuilt Islamic cultural center at 45 Park Place, on a day when the nation is mourning an act of war two blocks away, and if respectful modesty might build more bridges than giving the appearance of ignoring the feelings of those who continue to be wounded by the 9/11 attacks.

As I have pointed out, there are plenty of areas where I disagree with Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and Daisy Khan. But whether I agree with them or not (and whether or not they agree with me), I respect them as my brothers and sisters in humanity. I will defend their universal human rights, just like we must defend the universal human rights of all of our fellow human beings, including the right to freedom of worship.

I have summarized the points in the preceding paragraphs — not primarily to catalog how I disagree with Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and Daisy Khan — but to publicly demonstrate how we can disagree with others, while still defending their universal human rights, including and especially their right to freedom of religion, freedom of conscience, and freedom of worship.

I don’t have to agree with others to respect their religious freedoms and their right to worship. Whether I agree with them or not, whether or not I share their religious views, whether I am critical of their positions or not — all of these have nothing to do with defending their universal human rights. They have a right to their religious center at 45 Park Place, whether I like it or not, whether I agree with them or not, and they have the same religious freedoms as every other American and every other human being.

In April 2010, I saw Muslim leader Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser appear in a conference on diversity and human rights at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC. Dr. Jasser spoke of his background and his experiences in America, but also about his commitment to challenging what he calls “political Islam.” Dr. Jasser spoke of his commitment to challenging those who believe Islamic religious views should be imposed on governments and legal systems. Dr. Jasser leads the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD) whose mission is “building the the future of Islam through liberty and freedom.” His group is not the only one in the United States. Other groups include the American Islamic Congress (AIC) that champions women’s rights, religious freedom and pluralism, and the Center for Islamic Pluralism.

To those who believe that Americans can start calling for the banning of mosques and who plan to protest against the building of mosques, I assert that we can’t afford to deny such universal human rights to American Muslims. What next, will some call for banning the religious freedom of other Muslims such as Dr. Jasser, AIC leaders, and the CIP leaders? And who has the right to decide what Muslims’ house of worship, we will call to ban and those we will not?

When we starting denying freedom of worship for some, we start denying freedom of worship for all. There are 1.3 billion Muslims in the world who are watching to see how Americans will act on this. In the global war of ideas, we need to show that we stand behind the courage of our convictions in our human rights and freedoms. We must demonstrate that those of us committed to such human rights will stand with our Muslim brothers and sisters in defending their right to freedom of religion and worship.

Washington DC: Muslim Mohamed Yahya and Christian Jeffrey Imm Stand in Solidarity to Challenge Genocide and Support Our Universal Human Rights
The Plank in Our Own Eye

While some are anxious to criticize Cordoba and its Muslim leaders for its plans at 45 Park Place in NYC, there is plenty of shame and disgrace among non-Muslims that we must not be silent about.

To begin with, there are the comments of hate and derision against Islam by political leader Mark Williams, who stated that Muslims worship a “monkey-god.” We have no place for such raw and vulgar hatred in American politics, but Mr. Williams has decided that this is his way of disagreeing with the 45 Park Place renovation.

I have seen similar comments of hatred in blogs and by anonymous posters, including one comment (still there) on a New York Post news story on its web site by a poster “Truthful” who states that “I say let them build it and when that expensive beautiful building is built, someone should blow it up… 9when it is filled with people… What a fitting tribute to 9-11.” Nor has such blatant hate and open calls for terrorism been restricted to cranks and anonymous Internet posters.

On May 26, 2010, on American radio station KPRC-950 AM, radio broadcaster Michael Berry said regarding 45 Park Place, “I’ll tell you this — if you do build a mosque, I hope somebody blows it up,” and then restated this again, “I hope the mosque isn’t built, and if it is, I hope it’s blown up, and I mean that.” (audio file). What type of nation is America becoming when open calls for terrorist attacks on houses of worship are being treated as unimportant? Promotion of hatred has consequences.

A steady stream of anti-Muslim hatred throughout America has continued to inspire violence and bombings against Muslims and their mosques. In May 2010, a Michigan mosque was vandalized twice in one week, and in Jacksonville, Florida, a terrorist sought to attack a mosque with 60 people inside with a pipe bomb and gasoline. In Tennessee, there has been “pro-Christian” vandalism of one mosque, and another mosque has been burned to the ground.

Hate in America: Florida Mosque Being Attacked by Bomber (L), Tennessee Mosque Burned Down by Terrorist (R)

Tennessee: Hate in America defacing Mosque with "Christian" symbols and hate message (Photos: The Tennesseean)
Is this type of cowardly hatred, what we will tolerate in the land of the free and the home of the brave?

Or will we say “enough” to hate? Will we say “enough” to attacks on houses of worship?

In the 21st century, an important way for us to speak out is via the unregulated Internet. We must recognize that some are using the Internet to promote hate and violence against all of our fellow human beings. Such antagonism begins with the consistent promotion of intolerance of those of various religions, races, and other identity groups on too many web sites.

Regarding Islam, in September 2009, I wrote about the Stop Islamization of America (SIOA) group and international media reports in September 2009 of SIOA plans to disrupt a public worship service on the Capitol grounds in Washington DC. I am not surprised to see the SIOA leading the June 6 protest against the 45 Park Place Muslim worship center, given its history of intolerance towards and rejection of Islam in totality. Regardless of the words it uses, the message that SIOA has conveyed has been clear, it has not simply sought to challenge “supremacists” among Muslims, it has been against all of Islam. The current SIOA website shows its sister organizations, including the Stop Islamization of Europe (SIOE), which has a history of protesting against mosques in the United Kingdom and Europe. At a recent SIOE protest chanting “no mosques in our streets,” a Nazi organization joined the SIOE march against a Danish mosque, and it wasn’t until the Nazi group went to raise a banner with a Nazi swastika on it in front of a photographer, that the SIOE broke off the march in Denmark. This same SIOE leader will be one of the speakers at the June 6 NYC protest against the 45 Park Place mosque.

Human rights issues cannot be addressed by promoting intolerance. Intolerance attracts more of the same, not those who care about human rights.

The plank in our eye also includes other houses of worship in America that openly promote intolerance and hate. We have reported on the “Christian Identity movement” and its efforts to promote resurgent racism, including in houses of worship such as the Abundant Life Fellowship Church in Indiana.

We have reported on the Kansas Westboro Baptist Church that regularly promotes hate against Jews, promotes Holocaust Denial, and that protests Jewish synagogues, that praises the murder and shooting of police officers, that praises terrorist bombings against mosques, and that even praises terrorist bombings against fellow Christians.

But there is no one calling for closing these houses of worship, and even these houses of worship are protected with their universal human rights of freedom of religion, freedom of conscience, and freedom of worship.

The Florida-based Dove World Outreach center church, which formed an alliance with the Kansas Westboro Baptist Church, also has such universal human rights and freedom of worship. While the Dove World Outreach center enjoys such freedom of religion and worship, it seeks to deny the same rights to Muslims and has led a nationwide campaign that “Islam is of the Devil” in high schools, churches, protest events, and a large sign that states “Islam is of the Devil” in front of its church.

This same Dove World Outreach center was part of a November 2009 protest event, in Columbus, Ohio led by the current Executive Director of the SIOA who is leading the June 6 protest in New York City. At first, I thought that Dove World Outreach’s involvement was a random group that sought to gain publicity from the November Columbus event, until I saw their photographs posted on the website of the current Executive Director of the SIOA.

Dove World Outreach at November 2009 Columbus Protest Led by Current Executive Director of the SIOA (Photo 2: AtlasShrugs)
I then later saw appeals for funding for this same Dove World Outreach Center on the SIOA Facebook web site, and then further discovered that the Dove World Outreach Center was a supporter of the SIOA since its founding in 2009.

But we must defend the universal human rights of freedom of religion, freedom of conscience, and freedom of worship even of those houses of worship that are a “plank in our eye” as well. While I may disagree with the racist views of the Abundant Faith Fellowship or the “Christian Identity,” I may disagree with the anti-Semitism and praise of violence by the Westboro Baptist Church, and I may disagree with anti-Muslim hate of the Dove World Outreach Center — my disagreement with their views does NOT give me or anyone else the right to deny their universal human rights — whether it is freedom of expression or freedom of religion and worship.

Our universal human rights apply to everyone, everywhere. That remains the heart of our argument in the world war of ideas with supremacists and those who seek to deny our human freedoms – no matter what their religion is.

We can’t fight hate with hate. We can’t fight intolerance with intolerance. We can’t address human rights abuses by denying human rights for others. Two wrongs don’t make a right. This is something we all logically realize. But we need to know this more than an surface level, this knowledge must be internalized into who we are and how we live our lives – responsible for equality and liberty.

The Choice to be Responsible and Uncompromising on Our Human Rights

There are important choices for Americans and our other fellow human beings on these issues. To those who are frustrated by the seeming lack of defiance to supremacist views and the apparent lack of action on those who defy our universal human rights, there are actions that you can take. Activist groups regularly have events and volunteer opportunities were our passions can be productively challenged to help change our world and educate our fellow human beings.

But the most important choice to effect change doesn’t begin with reaching someone else – it begins within ourselves.

The crisis point in the world war of ideas attacking freedom and human rights demands that we make a decision about ourselves as individuals. Will we surrender to fear and hate, and seek to find “security” by denying others the rights that help define our very humanity? Will we avoid such responsibilities as human citizens and simply hope that someone else does our job for us? Or will we choose to stand up for our universal human rights – for all people – to demonstrate to the world what freedom is really about?

Our world, our fellow human beings, our future cries out for all of us to stand up and choose to be responsible for equality and liberty. Our destiny as a human race demands that we recognize that there is no future in compromising on our unqualified, universal human rights. We cannot compromise on our freedom of religion, freedom of conscience, and freedom of worship – no matter how much it might make some feel temporarily satisfied.

We will never be empowered by denying our fellow human beings their universal human rights, because what we take away from them, we also take away from ourselves. We must not compromise on such human rights.

Living in Washington DC, I have seen more than my share of people compromising on our universal human rights, while the city has many monuments with marble inscriptions promoting such human rights. The assumption that many people make is that such people who compromise on human rights are “bad guys.” But that’s not true. Many are decent individuals, even well-meaning individuals, who started off by making one compromise, then another, then another, and after a while, they came to believe that compromising on human rights was the way things got done. Some believe that being uncompromising on universal human rights is not “practical.” Some have even come to believe that compromising on human rights is the only way to lead and the only way to be popular.

But New Yorkers and all of us can choose another path. While the 9/11 terrorist attacks still traumatize New Yorkers (as they have Washingtonians), and destroyed a symbol in New York’s skyline, another symbol of NYC’s skyline still stands proudly – the Statue of Liberty. It is a symbol of liberty that stands for all people, of all ethnic backgrounds, all races, all genders, and ALL religions. It is a symbol of our universal human rights that stands as a beacon and as an invitation to the world.

When you come to America, the first symbol you see is not crossed swords, but these outstretched, open arms of equality and liberty for all. This is the America that so many of us are struggling to protect and defend. Never forget that this is what we are really fighting for – not just American economic needs, not just American political or territorial needs – but the very truths that we hold self-evident that all human beings are created equal, with the universal human rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Yes we lost the World Trade Center and 3,000 of our fellow Americans to hate and intolerance, and we mourn their loss. But let’s not also lose the symbol of freedom to the world, and let’s not lose the war of ideas against our human rights and freedom that defines not just who we are, but also who we will be.

The heart of the world war of ideas is a challenge by those who seek deny such unqualified, universal human rights, and instead seek to promote “relativism” of freedom of religion, “relativism” of freedom of conscience, and “relativism” of freedom to worship. This struggle of ideas against religious supremacists seeks to deny such universal human rights and inalienable human freedoms for all people around the world. We can never defeat those who seek to only offer “relative” human rights, by only offering “relative” human rights to others ourselves.

The world is watching to see if we really have the courage of our convictions on human freedom, or if our support for universal human rights is nothing more than lofty “words.” In this war of ideas, never forget that history will not just judge those who fought against our universal human rights in other parts of the world and from supremacist thinking, but history will also judge those of us who were too possessed by hate and by fear to defend our universal human rights and who knew better.

We must show the world that we will not live controlled by fear and hate.

We must show the world that we will choose love, not hate.

We must show the world that yes, we will stand fearlessly, with the courage that only compassion can inspire, as individuals responsible for equality and liberty.

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