Martha note: Essayist Sarah O'Connor sent me this fine piece written in response to last week's verbal fracas on The View that I thought you would enjoy reading as well.
When the talk show The View hosted Fox News Channel host Bill O’Reilly on October 14th, a shouting match broke out over the so-called Ground Zero mosque. O’Reilly said 70 percent of Americans oppose the mosque. Show host Whoopi Goldberg asked why, since 70 Muslims died in the World Trade Center attack on 9/11. O’Reilly said, “Because Muslims killed us on 9/11, that’s why!” After a heated exchange, Goldberg and host Joy Behar walked out. Barbara Walters told O’Reilly he needed to apologize. “It was extremists,” she said. “You cannot take a whole religion and demean them.” Eventually, O’Reilly did apologize and the show went on, but this exchange highlights the very point of misunderstanding for many Americans.
Equating all Muslims with extremist Muslims is like equating members of the First Presbyterian Church on Main Street in Harrisonburg, VA, with a fanatical Christian group that is stockpiling explosives in order to blow up government buildings because they are both Christian. Or like equating the Dayton Mennonite Church in Dayton, VA, with the 50-member Dove World Outreach church run by Pastor Terry Jones, who threatened to burn the Koran on the anniversary of 9/11. A National Geographic Today article titled “Koran a Book of Peace Not War” said, “For most Muslims, the callous and indiscriminate taking of human life violates Allah's wishes. It defies the Koran's central message and undermines the peace that Islam promises to deliver to all people.”
Infants can make distinctions between their mother’s face and the face of a stranger. Two-year-olds can sort objects by one feature, such as big or small. Seven-year-olds can sort unlike objects into logical groups by more than one feature and children by 11 are capable of abstract thought. If this is true, then why can’t we as adults start making distinctions between mainstream religion and extremist religion?
Although it is still a minuscule percentage of the total population, the Muslim population of the Valley has grown steadily over the past 10 years. These are our neighbors, our fellow workers, our children’s friends. Many are now full citizens. The distinctions Bill O’Reilly and other inflammatory media figures seem unable to make are the distinctions that are essential for community to exist.
-- Sarah O'Connor teaches Writing, Rhetoric and Technical Communication at JMU