In the Name of God, the Subtle, the Loving
On the evening of May 10, there was a small explosion and fire outside a Jacksonville, FL mosque. According to a fire department investigation and officials of the Islamic Center of Northeast Florida, worshipers heard a loud noise outside the mosque, and there was a small fire that was extinguished. The damage was described as “very minimal” by a Jacksonville Fire and Rescue spokesperson. Thank God, no one was injured in the attack. According to the Council on American Islamic Relations, mosque officials reported that an unknown white man in his 40s entered the mosque on April 4 and shouted “Stop this blaspheming.” He was chased away by worshipers, but he reportedly said, “I will be back.”
Now, it has been determined that the explosion was due to a pipe bomb, and it is being investigated as a possible act of domestic terrorism. “It was a dangerous device, and had anybody been around it they could have been seriously injured or killed,” says Special Agent James Casey. “We want to sort of emphasize the seriousness of the thing and not let people believe that this was just a match and a little bit of gasoline that was spread around.”
This should be of grave concern to all people of faith in America. One of the greatest things about this country is the fact that people can live, work, and worship in peace and without fear. Yet, this incident highlights the danger of the continuing and rabid anti-Islam hate that spews from certain elements in American society. These people do not just attack the actions of the criminals who act in Islam’s name, something which I do myself. No, they continually tie the actions of criminal elements with the entire faith of Islam, smearing all Muslims in the process. And it can lead to incidents such as the Florida mosque bombing.
It can also lead to incidents such as the recent defacement of an art exhibit at the School of the Art Institute. The exhibit featured art that highlighted the violence and racial profiling directed towards Muslims in the post 9/11 era, and someone defaced it with charicatures and text saying “Kill All Arabs.”
At this point, we do not know if the Florida mosque attacker was influenced by the words of the Islamophobes or was just a lone, disturbed individual. But, words do matter. The ugly incidents of threats and violence against members of Congress after health care reform was passed into law showed us that. So did the attempted Christmas Day and Times Square bombings as well: they were linked to the radical Muslim cleric Anwar Al Awlaki, who issues sermons calling for “jihad” against America. While I do not advocate curtailing free speech, that freedom comes with responsibility. As Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. wrote: “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic…”
Criticizing the fact that Muslims do not worship Jesus Christ as God, or that Muslims deny the crucifixion of Christ, or even taking issue with an assertion of Muslim scripture is one thing, and I would defend anyone’s right to speak thus. But, continually saying “Islam is evil,” or “Muslims should not be allowed to hold public office,” or “kill all the infidels,” or “Muslims must hate non-Muslims” crosses the line into hate speech. Hate hurts America, and it is not becoming of the beautiful country and people I know we are.