The ongoing debate about a proposed Islamic civic center and mosque (Cordoba House) two blocks from Ground Zero is a defining moment for our country's core values and identity. The United States of America is a beacon of freedom that the world looks up to. The constitutional protections regarding religious freedom guaranteed to all citizens is unmatched in practice anywhere in the world. Our moral standing and leadership in the world squarely rests in our ability to uphold these cherished principles in all situations and at all times.

9/11 was an assault on humanity. Those impacted included people from many nationalities and backgrounds - Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and those who followed no religion. This colossal loss of life and property shocked the world that stood up with us and declared "today we are all Americans." This tragedy will forever be etched in our collective memory and will only strengthen our resolve to pursue and uphold the principles that make our country great.

Rev. Nathan Baxter, dean of the National Cathedral, perhaps sensing what some extreme elements in our country might embark upon, warned us in his September 2001 speech "As we act, let us not become the evil that we deplore." Those who seek to exploit this tragedy to gain cheap popularity, political mileage, or simply exude their unbridled hate dishonor not only the victims of 9/11, but also our country's core principles.

It is simply inane for the opponents of the cultural center to justify their behavior by the actions of countries like Saudi Arabia and others that routinely violate religious freedom and human rights. Our country stands on its own exalted principles of religious freedom. American Muslims do not answer for the actions of other countries in the world. It is a specious argument to hold American Muslims responsible for the actions of Muslims in other countries.

Opportunism and fear-mongering will tear apart the fabric of our society. The world watches closely and takes cues from us. The shrill voices of hate and bigotry are not what the world needs to hear emanating from our country. President Obama, Mayor Bloomberg, Congressman Ellison and other key political figures have not shied away from standing up for the Constitution that they have sworn to uphold. We need such principled leadership during these difficult times.

The tremendous outpouring of support from the interfaith leadership both nationally and locally is both overwhelming and reassuring. America's mainstream religious leadership's unequivocal support and statements will go a long way in strengthening our country's foundational principles. American Muslims are fortunate to have such wonderful interfaith partners.

A friend told me about one of his American Muslim friends who died on 9/11 in Tower 1 leaving behind his wife and a then 2-year-old son. Can Newt Gingrich, Tim Pawlenty, Sarah Palin and their like-minded supporters look into the eyes of this young boy and tell him that he cannot pray two blocks away from where his father died?

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American Muslims Feeling More at Home in Political Process

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The inescapable conclusion: Americans do not hate Muslims