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Friday, September 10, 2010

Religious Intolerance: Muslims and Mormons and the Dilemmas We Share

Patrick Q. Mason's op-ed piece in today's Salt Lake Tribune points out that September 11 is also the anniversary date of the Mountain Meadows Massacre. Entitled, "Twin Sept. 11 tragedies created tides of religious intolerance" Mason compares public opinion towards Mormons after MMM to public opinion to Muslims after 9/11 and suggests both events can teach us lessons. MMM was used as an impetus to persecute Mormons as 9/11 is being used now against Muslims.


Mason assigns responsibility to Muslim Americans to "denounce and isolate the extremist fringe." He infers that Mormons have the same responsibility towards their own extremist fringe.
The challenge is not only to denounce and isolate the extremist fringe in every community, but to engage in robust civic education and moral formation that focuses on tolerance, pluralism and compassion. These values are both religious and secular, and represent the most effective way to defuse the hard edges of identity-based discrimination and violence.
The public at large also has a responsibility to counter the tendency towards religious intolerance by living up to our nation's founding values. 
. . . the rest of America also has a duty to live up to the principles of tolerance, pluralism and religious freedom enshrined in the nation’s founding.
Objective research done by The PEW Forum on Religion and Public Life (PEW Research Center) suggests most Muslims are middle-class mainstream moderates. A study done just after the Ford Hood massacre even established that overwhelming numbers of American Muslims reject Islamic extremism.


There is evidence that the American Muslim community is stepping up the challenge. But, in their turn, Americans have to listen. Trying to label Obama a Muslim is obviously a slur rather than a compliment and Americans are falling victim to this tactic. American animosity toward Muslims is evident from the flap over the mosque near Ground Zero and current research on American attitudes toward Islam.


But there are some bright spots as well. Today's CNN site has an article about two Muslims who traveled across America for Ramadan visiting mosques and other sites, with some trepidation of their reception. Their experiences were almost universally positive:
. . . ultimately, they discovered that America still embraces immigrants and the nation is filled with welcoming and loving people.
Ali, one of the Men summed up:
"It's a small but vocal group of Americans in this country pushing this anti-Muslim rhetoric," Ali said. "And unfortunately in our society, whomever shouts the loudest is going to get the most air time."
We don't have to listen to whomever shouts the loudest. We can choose whom we listen to.


I suspect most peoples' prejudices would be discredited if they knew more Muslims just like they are discredited when they actually know real, live Mormons. That is the point behind the profiles in the new Mormon media campaign for Mormon.org after all. The Church's statement against Koran burning is helpful but it's an institutional voice. We all have individual voices that need to be heard too.


Perhaps we can help the Muslims out by seeking to know actual Muslims ourselves. In turn, they will meet Mormons. Mason concludes his piece with:

 . . . we all have the opportunity — and the responsibility — not to repeat the mistakes of the past.
*See the Op-Ed piece in the New York Times entitled "Building on Faith" by Feisal Abdul Rauf that ran 09/07/10.

*Dr. Patrick Q. Mason
is Research Associate Professor at the Kroc Institute and Associate Director for Research of the Contending Modernities Project. He is the author of The Mormon Menace: Violence and Anti-Mormonism in the Postbellum South (Oxford University Press, forthcoming 2010).

*For more information on the Mountain Meadows Massacre the Church has issued this press information, an Ensign article as well as allowed respected historians access to all Church records in order to produce the recent comprehensive book.

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