Posted by on September 08, 2011 in Blog

The approaching tenth anniversary of September 11, 2001 warrants reflection on our reaction to the worst terrorist attack in our nation’s history on American soil. This is a time to consider whether or not we are in fact safer than ten years ago, to determine which steps taken after 9/11 were appropriate, and to reevaluate those steps that have done more harm than good. Of all the radical changes in our country, however, few are as misguided as the increased level of suspicion and scrutiny cast on American mosques.

The suspicion of American mosques and Islamic cultural centers is based on the notion that they ostensibly play a role in the radicalization of American Muslims. The post-9/11 scrutiny of these institutions has taken many forms, produced by a variety of U.S. government agencies, politicians, pundits, and private citizens. The FBI has engaged in surveillance of mosques and cultural centers around the country, most notably in the Islamic Center of Irvine, where the FBI’s actions have brought about an ACLU lawsuit. The New York Police Department has become one of the nation's most aggressive domestic intelligence agencies, receiving extensive help from the CIA to establish a network of informants, known as "mosque crawlers," who are charged with the task of monitoring sermons even in the absence of any evidence of wrongdoing. The rhetoric of politicians regarding American mosques has been equally imprudent and damaging. While Islamophobic rhetoric abounds in this year’s presidential race, candidate Herman Cain has gone so far as to say that towns should have the right to deny mosques from being built in their communities.

The most illustrative example of the extent of suspicion cast on mosques is undoubtedly the hearings conducted last March by Congressman Peter King (R-FL). These hearings questioned the role of mosques and religiosity in radicalizing the Muslim population of the United States, devolving quickly to little more than a complete farce, serving only to demonstrate the lack of evidence supporting the Congressman’s radicalization paranoia. Those who would subject American mosques to scrutiny have been fundamentally unable to provide any evidence to support their unsubstantiated suspicions, and many of their paranoiac charges actually ignore a preponderance of evidence that precisely the opposite effect occurs through active mosque participation.

A large nationwide survey of the American Muslim population recently found that involvement with a mosque increases civic engagement and support for American democratic values. The Muslim American Public Opinion Survey (MAPOS), completed in 2008, interviewed a large sample of American Muslims on issues of religion and levels of civic engagement. The empirical findings of MAPOS suggest that an association exists between higher levels of involvement in mosque-related activities and participation in American politics. Thus, mosques serve a similar role to churches and synagogues, which have historically been associated with a higher level of civic engagement. The MAPOS study finds that Muslims who report greater involvement in their mosque also report more active involvement in American politics. On a range of political activities, individuals with no connection or involvement to the mosque report 1.7 average acts of political participation per year, while those who say they are very involved with the mosque report 2.6 civic acts per year. This amounts to an impressive 53% increase in civic engagement. 

The evidence clearly shows that mosques play an instrumental role in integrating Muslims into mainstream American political life. The actions of the FBI, CIA, and politicians like Rep. King regarding American mosques have been morally reprehensible. Yet the evidence provided by MAPOS shows that the increased scrutiny of mosques not only runs contrary to American values, but also has no basis in reality. Unfortunately the media has paid infinitely more attention to the baseless charges against American Islamic institutions rather than their role in fostering the core values of the American political system. Both parties have long encouraged religiosity and church attendance as key mechanisms for building support. Mosques are institutions that should likewise be encouraged to function as centers of political integration in America. Ungrounded fears about radicalization and unwarranted scrutiny of American mosques reflect attitudes and practices that run contrary to both our logic and our values. Ten years after the September 11th attacks, putting aside such dangerous prejudices should be among our top resolutions for how we, as a nation, confront terrorism in the next decade.

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