Zealots have no trouble attracting followers

Islam, the religion of more than 1.2 billion people around the world, does not frighten me.

I also have no fear of Muslims, those followers of the teachings of the prophet Muhammad who call God “Allah.”

What does scare me in these perilous times are the bigots, many of them zealots wrapped in religion and flag, who find it easy to spew their venomous hatred toward any person or group that is different from them. Even more disturbing is that these peddlers of prejudice, urged on by those self-proclaimed and self-indulgent opinion makers who dominate significant parts of today’s media, have no trouble recruiting misguided, eager followers.

The controversy over a proposed mosque and community center near the site of the fallen World Trade Center towers in New York City has evolved into a textbook demonstration of intolerance, exhibitions of false patriotism and political demagoguery.

Since the hijackers who flew airplanes into the twin towers on Sept. 11, 2001, were Muslims, there are those who feel the construction of an Islamic house of worship near “Ground Zero” somehow would taint this hallowed spot and smear the memories of all who died there at the hands of terrorists. Several groups, including some family members of victims, current and former politicians and conservative advocates, have opposed building the mosque and have done everything in their power to stop it.

Opponents hoped that the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission would declare “landmark status” for the current building on the site, meaning it could not be torn down to make way for the new mosque.

The commission voted unanimously that the 152-year-old structure did not qualify as a landmark.

Some vowed to sue in an effort to halt the $100 million development of the property which, in addition to the mosque, would include an auditorium, basketball court, swimming pool and culinary school.

It is not surprising that in this political season the politicians are preying on the fears of gullible people by creating enemies whom they can rail against and from whom they can defend us.

Noting that Muslims also were murdered on 9-11 and that the first responders to the terrorist attacks died defending the Constitution, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said, “In rushing into those buildings, no one asked, “What god do you pray to? What beliefs do you hold?” We do not honor their lives by denying the very constitutional rights they died protecting.”

Put aside your prejudices and reflect on the Founding Fathers whom so many like to quote these days.

Bob Ray Sanders, a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, can be reached at bobray@star-telegram.com.