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Islam needs more tolerance, not more mosques

One has to wonder how long the U.S. will continue to tip toe around its relationship with Islam and Muslims. There seems to be so many situations in which anything to do with Islam is treated with kid gloves by politicians and the politically correct in fear of offending

its members. If it had been Jewish terrorists who had attacked the twin Towers, would the building of a synagogue at the site even be in anyone's fantasy? I strongly doubt it. Yet, when Muslims are involved in terrorism, so many of our politicians want to pretend Islam had nothing to do with it. They need to wake up and listen to what the terrorists and their hate filled are saying.

Religious fundamentalism, the view that my religion is the only "right" one and everyone else must believe like me, has been the cause of hatred and violence in the name of religion for millennia. Although the justification for violence against nonbelievers has
rarely if ever been a majority worldview of any religion, its destructiveness has far outweighed its numbers. Throughout much of the history of the last two thousand years, Christians and Muslims have been the primary perpetrators of a violent fundamentalist world view. Each has seen goodness only identified with itself and thus has justified its raping, pillaging, and destruction of other peoples and cultures all over the world. Their hatred has not only been directed at non-believers but at members of their own traditions who disagree with their narrow belief systems.

Yet, when fundamentalists have been criticized, they have typically shown very thin skin and have often reacted violently. In some ways, fundamentalist Christians and Muslims have historically acted like spoiled children who always have to have their own way. Unfortunately, unlike spoiled children, religious fundamentalists cannot be put on "time out" or sent to bed early. Instead, throughout much of their respective histories, fundamentalists of both religions have sought annihilate all other religious worldviews and their adherents as well.

During the last few centuries, fundamentalist Christians have, for the most part, removed overt violence from their approach to the rest of the world. Although their narrow mindedness has remained, most now use words instead of weapons to push their beliefs, and most other Christians adhere to a much more tolerant and reasoned view of others. Moreover, many Christians today are active promoters of peace and tolerance all over the world. At the same time, however, Muslim fundamentalists have increased their use of violence in both rhetoric and action, while moderate Muslims are rarely heard, either because of fear of or sympathy with their fundamentalist brethren. The responses by much of the world during the past few decades to this increased level of violence have been to attempt to assuage Muslim terrorism by giving its fundamentalist perpetrators what they want. The general approach of many U.S. politicians has followed suit. Acting in this manner is like trying to extinguish a fire by throwing wood on it.

Religious tolerance in the U.S. has increased a great deal over the decades, but as long as Islam continues to be treated differently than other religions, and fundamentalists are given a pass, most Americans will want to have little or nothing to do with the religion or its
members. There are those who say that we are the ones at fault, we need to better understand Muslims and Islam, and the planned center and mosque near Ground Zero will help in that process. Actually, our politicians need to stop making excuses for the violence fundamentalist Islam supports, and its perpetrators need to start making room for the rest of the world in their currently narrow and hate filled version of reality. Those who say Americans need to better understand Islam need to rethink the problem. They should direct their efforts instead to attempting to teach fundamentalist Muslims the concept of tolerance of others first, since they are the source of the problem. That would be the best way to begin to inspire non-Muslims in the U.S. and the rest of the world to change their view of the tradition and to see beyond its violence for the good it can hopefully offer the rest of the world.

Ramdas Lamb

Hindu monk in India from 1969-1978. Professor, University of Hawai’i, world religions and contemporary American religion

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