So what can Muslims do to change how we perceive that message, one of blood lust and intolerance sent by a very vocal group? It's not as if 9-11 was the only confrontation between radical Islam and the West. We have seen plenty of embassy bombings, attacks in our own backyard (London, Madrid, among others) and we have even seen our own fellow Americans (even those with pale skin and blue eyes) converted to their cause. There is a sense that radical Islam is already inside America given the recent events so something such as a mosque planned to be built near Ground Zero or a mosque in one's local community can be seen as confrontational and another step in the confrontation. Any message sent by the Muslim community, both main stream and radical, to average American citizens will be clouded by the context of the world we live in and the experiences that we have gone through.
How do you tell these people that Islam is a lot like the other Abrahamic faiths where violence is not condoned? How do you tell people that not all Muslims are bad when they see the destruction of terrorist attacks on those they love or on people that they can really empathize with? It is hard but it doesn't mean that they shouldn't try.
I would ask Imam Rauf to look at his actions through the eyes of an American. How are your actions perceived by the public? If someone you knew or you yourself lost someone on that awful day, how would you feel about a place of worship being built near where so many people died? To complicate things, the place of worship is a Muslim prayer space. Now when you look at the surveys, 63% of Americans did not personally know a Muslim back in 2007. That percentage is now 58%. When a large percentage of Americans don't know any Muslims, what do they have to go by to judge the character of and to gauge the intent of a man like Imam Rauf? For many Americans, the face of Islam is not their local Imam's or any famous Muslim scholar. It is Osama bin Laden. It is the collage of the 19 hijacker's faces. It is the slide show of blown up embassies and mangled bodies, the masked faces of Hamas, the rifle wielding coffin carriers, Mahoud Ahmadinejad, and most importantly, it is the sight of two planes heading into the Twin Towers. To an average American, Imam Rauf's character and intent are based on what they associate with Islam.
To his credit, he has done what he claims President Bush did not do. He has addressed Americans to some extent by saying what his intentions are with the community center. His wife has addressed Americans on the behalf of him and his foundation as well. Despite this interview being conducted prior to the uproar against the mosque, Daisy Khan addressed some of the issues that would come up such as why the proximity to Ground Zero, what are your intentions, what are the ideas that drive you, your husband and the organization that you represent, and most importantly, what kind of Muslim are you? He should engage the public more openly about some of the issues that are brought up. But again, are people willing to listen or will they let their emotions and fears drive their decisions?
Are there radical Islamists in America already? Yes. Does al Qaeda continue to breed new recruits for their cause? Yes. Will there be terrorist attacks fueled by radical Islam? Yes. Is there a good percentage of Muslims who distrust and even hate America/Americans and the West/Westerners? Yes.
Does Imam Rauf, Daisy Khan or their foundation represent the core beliefs of radical Islamists? In my opinion no, although agreeing that there should be places of worship for Christianity in predominantly Muslim states is pretty radical.