Let us get one thing straight: Barring difficulties in fund-raising, the Park51 project, the so-called "Ground Zero mosque" will be built. Despite the fact that roughly 70% of the American people oppose it, U.S. laws ensure that not even the project's most bitter foes will be able to stop it.
That's the reason why the question of whether America is "Islamophobic" - now bandied about so casually, as though opposition to the mosque has revealed a nasty strain in the American psyche, akin to the terrible racism or anti-Semitism that once ran wild - is so deeply offensive. This loathsome term is nothing more than a thought-terminating cliche conceived in the bowels of Muslim think tanks for the purpose of beating down critics.
Muslims are everywhere in this country, doing practically everything. There are Muslim doctors, lawyers and businessmen - like Park51 developer Sharif El-Gamal, who went from waiting tables just a few years ago to being a multimillionaire. There are Muslim soldiers and CIA agents.
Could this be possible if America were Islamophobic?
Muslims have approximately 2,000 mosques across America, of which many have adjoining schools. Muslim children often receive the most elite educations this country has to offer. (My thoughts here go to convicted terrorist supporter Sami Al-Arian. Al-Arian railed against America from a cushy teaching position in Florida; his daughter later earned a master's degree from Columbia, and his son is working toward a Ph.D. from Georgetown.)
Surveys have shown that Muslims in this country are above average in both education and living standards. They are living the American Dream. Nothing and no one can (or should) legally bar them from what Abraham Lincoln called "the right to rise."
Given all this, how did the narrative of "oppression" and so called "Islamophobia" take root so strongly among American Muslims?
It began when Muslims began coming to this country in large numbers in the mid-1960s, after civil rights legislation opened the borders to Muslim countries. Like all new arrivals, they sought to find their footing in the new land and to locate allies. To that end, they immediately developed a close relationship with African-American Muslim leadership, some of whom had earlier come through the Black Muslim movement. They saw great advantage in attaching themselves to this movement's cultural icons - including personalities like Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X.
The term "Muslim-American" was created and put into use in order to racialize Muslims. (Indeed, where are the "Buddhist Americans" or "Hindu-Americans"? There may be "Jewish-Americans," but this term is used far more rarely.) This term gave many different groups of Muslims - Arabs, Pakistanis, Bosnians, etc. - a common "race" around which to bond.
This sense of victimization has now reached a point - especially given the consistent rhetoric of groups like the Council on American-Islamic Relations - that many rank-and-file Muslims now genuinely believe that they are a persecuted and oppressed group.
Has there been some ugly anti-Muslim rhetoric, particularly surrounding the Park51 project? Certainly. Are there some abhorrent, though exceedingly rare, acts of violence against Muslim people on the basis of their religion? Yes. Are some Americans ignorant of Islam and concerned about extremists in their midst? Yes.
But is there any consistent pattern of systemic discrimination akin to what other groups have seen at other periods in American history? Absolutely not.
Black Muslim leadership has foisted an ideology of victimization on immigrant Muslims, and it has stuck. Now we see these same leaders, fearing they have outlived their usefulness to the immigrant Muslim establishment, announcing the formation of a "Coalition of African American Muslims" that supports the mosque. It includes anti-Semitic race-baiter Louis Farrakhan and Siraj Wahhaj, who has defended the 1993 WTC bomb plotters and called the FBI and CIA the "real terrorists."
Critics of the Park51 project should see this for what it is: an attempt to conflate all opposition to this particular mosque with blanket hatred of the Muslim religion.
That's a devious tactic, and it must not succeed.
Abdur-Rahman Muhammad is a Washington, D.C.-based writer who was once the Imam of a mosque. Though still a Muslim, he now works to combat Islamic extremism in the American Muslim community.