Marc Gopin

Director, CRDC George Mason Uinversity

The battle against Islamophobia in America will be a long, hard fought battle that will leave Muslims quite weary, but it has been engaged before and successfully won. Just ask Catholics a hundred years ago, or Jews two hundred years ago. This will require persistence, coalition building, compromise, honesty, an evolution in communication skills, and patience above all. But I believe that history demonstrates that Americans of common sense generally win in the long run. I believe we are just witnessing the second wave of organized hatred that comes from political opportunists (who often wear religious garb). It will exhaust itself in embarrassment as it reaches absurd limits. Critics of Islam with legitimate gripes about problems with extremism will begin to distance themselves from hateful opposition to the Mosque in New York that they did not intend to unleash, as everyone learns, in every generation unfortunately, that nothing good comes of hate, and the mob is not controllable.

What looks like interfaith conflict, not only today but throughout history, is often really other conflicts, political conflicts. Wedge issues between power groups, ethnic conflicts go back thousands of years. The Crusades look like they were a religious conflict, but the Crusaders killed Christians just as much as they killed Muslims. Often politics masquerades as religion

When you have a wedge issue and you are intending to regain Congress or regain the White House you want to stimulate the most religiously Fundamentalist people in the country, or the most extreme Christians in the country to do crazy things. So, you want there to be a Church somewhere in Florida that takes upon itself to burn the Qur’an on September 11th. You want to protest a mosque in Manhattan even though New York voted to allow it. That’s a good wedge issue. You’re going to get the Christian vote out, in a certain sense. And you don’t want the Christian vote that votes for Obama, you want the Christian vote that hates Obama.

These are opportunities of politics. This is the kind of thing that tore apart Iraq, this is the kind of thing that tears apart Pakistan. This is very common as to how militancy and the thirst and lust for power of men, this is how they gain power. In this country we don’t have, fortunately, armies going up against each other on this, but we have virtual armies in politics.

Rationality is something we aspire to and we occasionally reach, but it’s not something that anybody lives by day and night. We’re all non-rational, we’re all driven by symbols, we just have different symbols. When I see a beautiful, old, academic campus, I start to drool a little. I’m very attached to Ivy League universities, I’m very attached to books. When I see a big library, I go numb a little. I want to be there. Why? Because I’m attached to it.

We’re all driven by emotions and it’s important to exercise the positive emotions, the emotions of trust, the emotions of hope, the emotions of inspiration. You need a John Kennedy, and you need a Bobby Kennedy, and you need a Ted Kennedy to counteract a Joe McCarthy. You need somebody inspiring, somebody who has a vision of an America that you can believe in, not just some sort of rational tract.

When it comes to the Islamic Center in Manhattan, and it comes to this particular event, it’s the same issue, people are driven by fear and they need to be driven by hope. And you need to devise clever ways in which you can inspire.

I think, frankly, Imam Rauf and many other Muslims and Jews and others have to become more creative in moving this forward. And we don’t know what’s going to play itself out. It may be that they’ve lost public opinion and public opinion is turning against the Mosque, which would be really unfortunate. We’ll have to see what New Yorkers, in the end, decide.

Dr. Marc Gopin
James H. Laue Professor,
Director of the Center for World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution
Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, George Mason University