Be careful not to turn on one another
Rita Papazian
Norwalk-Citizen News
Published: Monday, September 20, 2010

During the summer I spent a few days with a childhood friend who now owns her parents' Cape Cod house. The past few years she has invited me to spend a few days on the Cape. One evening during my most recent visit, we were watching the news when a news report gave the latest update of the ground zero mosque controversy.

My friend asked me what I thought about it. I said I didn't have a problem with it. I agree with many that the proposed plan to build the Mosque community center at Park Place two blocks from Ground Zero represents the freedoms for which our forefathers fought so gallantly.

My friend, a devout Catholic, extreme Right Wing conservative who would never dream of reading the New York Times or watching a cable show spewed this philosophy of anti-Islam that shocked me. However, as I have come to learn with any political, social, religious issue we may head into, I told my friend I did not want to discuss the issue any further. My friend does not debate. She does not look at issues and discuss them with any intellectualism. She bases her arguments solely on her religious beliefs. She asked if I had read the Koran. I have not. She says she has read it and Islams want to wipe out Christianity.

It saddens me that this friendship of more than a half century continues to disintegrate. Our conversations have been reduced to talking about the grandchildren and art. How sad, considering my friend is a graduate of Barnard College.

However, I was buoyed recently when I heard Col. Colin Powell discuss the ground zero mosque community center controversy on "The View." I also felt better when I read Samuel G. Freedman's recent "On Religion" column in The New York Times.

Powell noted that there is a mosque inside the Pentagon where many people lost their lives when one of the 9/11 planes crashed into the building. He said there is also a mosque at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where many injured returning war soldiers come to heal their wounds.

In his column, Times reporter Freedman addresses the fact that there had been a Muslim prayer room on the 17th floor of the south tower, where he had come to learn, on any given day "financial analysts, carpenters, receptionists, secretaries and ironworkers," would gather to pray. Freedman also notes that not only were "Muslims peacefully worshiping in the Twin Towers long before the attacks, but even after the 1993 bombing of one tower by a Muslim radical, Ramzi Yousef, their religious observance generated no opposition."

Col. Powell blames the recent hysteria about the proposed mosque community center and the Florida pastor's rant to burn the Koran on the recent anniversary of 9/11 on what he calls, "media industrial complex." The proposed mosque community center had been in the planning stage for a very long time before it has become the center of controversy. The Florida pastor was an unknown, except maybe to his less than 50 parishioners before he became the "must get" of the morning talk shows.

I have to agree with Powell; we all seem to be getting pulled into the "media industrial complex." Powell urges people "to count to 10 before we leap on these things."

I recall last year during my college class's discussion of segregation and Martin Luther King, one of my students, a young woman from India, talked about how uncomfortable she has come to feel in this country, especially when she goes through security at airports. This feeling of discomfort can only increase as people continue to pay attention to zealots like the Florida pastor who in his threats managed to get the attention of high government officials, both here and abroad.

In view of the controversy about Islam and Muslims, President Barack Obama noted that people have to be careful not to turn on one another. I found his words very significant given the upheaval of the 60's that this country experienced. Are we heading towards repeating our mistakes?

I think back at sitting in my friend's living room in her summer Cape Cod house. I think back to the fond memories we have of our friendship through the years. We have shared so much; summer vacations on the Cape and the Jersey Shore; graduations; marriages, births and marriages of our children and subsequent grandchildren. I am saddened by the division in our friendship. It is not sudden. Through the years we have come to notice the changes in our thinking and philosophy about life. But her opposition to Islam and Muslims makes me wonder, where and how did she come to this thinking and how many out there are sharing her feelings?

Rita Papazian is a freelance writer who has covered Norwalk extensively.

Copyright 2011 Rita Papazian All rights reserved.