When the news broke that a loose-knit group planned to stage a protest against a planned mosque in Temecula, we feared an outbreak of Islamophobia in Riverside County. Several said they opposed the mosque because they feared the coming of jihad, terrorism and Sharia law. Particularly offensive was the suggestion by organizers of the protest that people bring dogs to the event as a way to show disrespect for Islam; many Muslims believe dogs are unclean.
That's why it was encouraging to see that four times as many people turned out to support the Islamic Center of Temecula Valley last Friday as did to oppose it. The supporters upheld the right of the area's small Muslim community to worship as it chooses — a right that should be defended by all who cherish core American principles — but they did more than that. They countered fear-mongering with a show of friendship.
The controversy in Temecula is part of a recent spate of anti-mosque and anti-Muslim events, the most prominent of which is the opposition to Cordoba House, the interfaith community center that has been proposed near the former World Trade Center site in New York City. There are dozens of such cases across the nation, though it's hard to tell whether bigotry is actually spreading or whether a small but vocal group of bigots is simply getting louder.
Once, the construction of mosques was fought mainly at zoning boards, where neighbors raised legitimate concerns about traffic and noise. These days, opposition routinely includes statements of fear, anger and hatred. A church in Florida, for example, plans to mark Sept. 11 with a Koran-burning ceremony. On its website, Dove World Outreach Center says it opposes the building of new mosques and wants Islamic schools to be closed. It also mentions that "Islam is of the Devil" and is the new "Nazism." The church's hate-espousing pastor was interviewed on CNN.
What can counter this lunacy? Stalwart gestures of support such as occurred on Friday, and leadership such as that demonstrated by President George W. Bush in the days following the 9/11 attacks. Regarding animosity toward Muslims, he said:
"Those who feel like they can intimidate our fellow citizens to take out their anger don't represent the best of America. They represent the worst of humankind. And they should be ashamed of that kind of behavior."