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Remembering 9/11: The good, the bad and the ugly

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Charles C. Haynes
September 9, 2010

It won’t generate headlines—or make “breaking news” on cable networks—but on Sept. 11 tens of thousands of Americans will fan out into their communities to run food drives, repair schools, refurbish neighborhoods and perform many other acts of service to honor those who lost their lives on 9/11.


All of these volunteer efforts are part of the National Day of Service and Remembrance proclaimed annually by the president, as authorized by Congress in 2009 at the urging of 9/11 families and first responders.


Sadly, acts of service meant to unify the nation may be overshadowed by acts of intolerance intended to divide. What the news will highlight on 9/11—and the world will watch—will be an anti-mosque protest in New York and the planned burning of the Quran by a church in Florida.


Just as al-Qaida and other extremist groups speak for only a small fraction of the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims, so too do fringe groups in the United States seeking to demonize Islam represent a minority of Americans. But in the current climate of fear and distrust, extreme voices get most of the attention.


It’s both ironic and dangerous that the “Stop Islamization of America” crowd sponsoring the rally in lower Manhattan is co-opting the 9/11 anniversary to convince Americans that al-Qaida is right: America is at war with Islam.


The New York event planned for 9/11 will feature speakers like Geert Wilders, a virulently anti-Islam Dutch lawmaker who says “there is no such thing as ‘moderate Islam’” and calls for banning the Quran—which he labels a “fascist book.”


Meanwhile, in Gainesville, Fla., the Dove World Outreach Center would desecrate the 9/11 anniversary by actually burning copies of the Quran—an action designed to proclaim the church’s message that “Islam is of the devil” and must be stamped out in America.


Dove World pastor Terry Jones revels in the publicity and greets all critics, including religious leaders of many faiths, with scorn. This week he appeared to shrug off a warning from Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, that burning the Quran would be used by extremists to incite violence against U.S. troops and other Americans worldwide.


Not surprisingly, many American Muslims view these developments with fear and trepidation—especially since the anti-Islam events planned for 9/11 come after a summer of anti-mosque protests and vandalism around the country.


To complicate matters further, the 9/11 anniversary coincides this year with Eid al-Fitr, a major Islamic holiday marking the end of Ramadan. (Because the holiday is set according to the lunar calendar, the date changes each year.)


Many Islamic centers are anticipating this convergence of events by increasing security and planning muted Eid al-Fitr observances. Meanwhile, American Muslim organizations are running ads this week featuring Muslim citizens talking about their loyalty to this country. And large numbers of Muslims are signing up with Muslim Serve, a nationwide initiative sponsoring community-service projects.


It’s a sad day for religious freedom in the United States when so many Americans feel unsafe to practice their faith—and are compelled to defend their right to be here. But such are the times: terrorists killing in the name of Islam around the world and extremists burning the Muslim holy book in the name of Christianity here at home.


On this ninth anniversary of 9/11, Americans of goodwill can only hope that quiet acts of compassion will ultimately eclipse loud expressions of hate.


Charles C. Haynes is director of the Religious Freedom Education Project at theNewseum, 555 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20001. Web: firstamendmentcenter.org. E-mail: chaynes@freedomforum.org.

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