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Thursday, October 25, 2007

God Bless America! (My God, Not Yours)

The residents of the quiet town of Walkersville, MD, have found themselves at the center of a now widely publicized controversy. A Muslim group, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA, based in Silver Spring, MD, would like to buy 224-acres of land to build a mosque and meeting center in Walkersville. The plan met so much resistance from the local community that a town commissioner drafted a zoning amendment that would prohibit the building of places of worship, schools and private clubs on land zoned for agriculture.

In an attempt to win over the community, the group’s leaders have gone door to door talking to residents. In an interview, Syed Ahmad, a Federal economist who is working on the Walkersville project for the group spoke of the understanding he has for the town’s apprehension, ''They hear 'Muslims,' and they don't know anything beyond that. To me, it's natural until they get a chance to ask questions what our beliefs are -- and then they realize these are good people.''

Over 200 people showed up to the town hall meeting to support the amendment that would keep the group from going forward with their plans to build. The group says they will not go where they are not wanted. One resident spoke for his community saying, “We don’t know too much about these Muslims, but we know they did 9/11 and we’re kind of not sure they’re the right kind of people for our community”.

The really ironic part is that Ahmadiyya Muslims have been, and in some parts of the world continue to be, severely persecuted by OTHER MUSLIMS because of their belief that there was another prophet who came after Muhammad.

I honestly don’t know what to say about this one. In general at the GTB, we try to keep things hilarious or at least fired up, but this just makes me sad. Not angry, not surprised, just sad and frankly disappointed. This is where America is today. It is 2007 and it is ok for 200 people to attend a town hall meeting where they don’t feel the slightest pressure to veil their bigotry, no need to hide the fact that they are gathered there specifically to discriminate against a particular group based solely on that group’s religion, and no moment of pause to consider if their words or actions towards their fellow human beings are right or fair or just. Probably not really the direction our Forefathers were aiming for.

It has only been 6 years since 9/11. Americans are still healing and that part will take time, probably longer than I'll be around, but I can't imagine that a path paved with bigotry and intolerance is the best way to get there.

I am disheartened, but since this is the GOOD Times Blog, I’m going to buck up and suggest we play a game of “How far can YOU paint with a broad brushstroke of prejudice?” What group HASN’T had some bad ideas or some bad eggs (think the Crusades or the Trail of Tears or the KKK)? I’ll start! If all Muslims are terrorists, all white males are serial killers and all Catholics are child molesters. Wait, I’m Catholic! I seem to have gotten some of that paint on myself. I guess that’s what they mean by that thing about glass houses.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Long post, please forgive me. I must start by saying that I completely agree with you that the town is being incredibly stupid and bigoted and I was just as outraged and saddened when I heard this story. That being said, the nit-picky side of my character wants to come to the defense of the aforementioned “one resident.” I must have heard a longer version than you did, and I hope it will at least temper your sadness to learn that Mr. One Resident’s comment has been taken out of context. He was actually speaking on behalf of the Muslim community, though, as I gathered at least, not Muslim himself. He stood up holding a copy of “Islam For Dummies,” prefaced that pulled quote with, I paraphrase, some version of “This is what I perceive the other side of this debate to be thinking” and ended with “I urge you all to actually try to learn about this religion, and you will more than likely change your mind.” So, yes, most of the town are bigoted idiots, but that one quoted guy was quoted out of context, which means there is at least one non-Muslim non-idiot in Walkersville, which is a very slim, but existent, silver lining.

Two happy thoughts to cheer you up:
I’ve recently learned of a non-profit dedicated to “de-stupid-fying” (my word not theirs) people on the subject of religious freedom: The Council for America’s First Freedom. They educate people of the value of a person’s right to exercise freely his/her chosen religion (including the choice not to exercise any).

The second is this lovely excerpt from Thomas Jefferson’s autobiography:

"[When] the [Virginia] bill for establishing religious freedom... was finally passed,... a singular proposition proved that its protection of opinion was meant to be universal. Where the preamble declares that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word "Jesus Christ," so that it should read "a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion." The insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend within the mantle of its protection the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo and infidel of every denomination." --Thomas Jefferson: Autobiography, 1821. ME 1:67

1:07 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Howlingjay, you are correct. That was a pull quote. The part I heard started with "What I have gotten out of talking to people around here..." but ended where I ended it. I certainly don't want to misrepresent the man who they quoted. However, he was stating what his neighbors I will shift the onus from him to them. Props to that guy for picking up a book.

Also, thank you for the quote since it is often argued that our forefathers said religious freedom, but they meant freedom to be Christian.

1:15 PM


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