America's 300 million citizens represent just about every walk of life on our planet. We lead the world in technology, business, and innovation. We lead the world in creating and preserving every type of freedom possible, and we live our daily lives under the most stable form of government ever devised by man.
We are – simply put – free. Free to criticize our political leaders when they go astray. Free to criticize our fellow citizens when we don't like what they do. Free to vote for change in governance when the system doesn't work anymore – even free to tell our Muslim neighbors they can't build a mosque in our backyard when it offends our sensitivities.
A land of bigots and fools?
But what does it say about our freedoms when a small town preacher with 50 people in his congregation stands ready to burn Korans so he can symbolize America's anger of the moment as Muslims campaign across our great land for their right to build an Islamic center near Ground Zero? Is this the first look at America's dawning reality – that Muslims are no longer welcome here? Is America really that bludgeoned by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 that we allow one man in a rural church to hijack the entire nation's image around the world and recast our great society as a land of bigots and fools?
On streets from Islamabad to Jakarta, America is being branded as intolerant and racist, fearful and cowardly – a country of false ideals no longer with a reliable moral compass. Burning Korans does nothing to heal our national anger at the Islamofascism that murdered nearly 3,000 of our fellow citizens 9 years ago.
If a book burning, even of Korans, could be encapsulated as an isolated incident in one moment of time – one whose consequences would not overflow beyond the township borders of Gainesville, Fla. – perhaps we could write it off as the necessary evil in a free society responding to the type of horror inflicted upon us on that day in infamy.
Don't give Zawahiri what he wants
But the fundamental nature of religion and its place in the national psyche of any country makes it impossible to control the cascading effects – Christians will burn Muslim Korans today, Muslims will burn their churches down tomorrow – then, before we know it, America's terrorism problem will become a mostly homegrown affair, exactly as Al Qaeda leaders planned it nearly two decades ago. Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al Qaeda's No. 2, often schemed of destroying America from within, first financially, then politically, and finally religiously. Events in Florida planned for this weekend show just how prescient this terror master was.
As Muslims must police their own fanatics from within – however miserably we have failed to do so thus far – so must America's Christians purge their own ranks of a type of fanaticism that has every possibility of turning into a death spiral for America's pluralist identity. Stop burning books and start building bridges.
We write from two starkly differing points of view to agree on the fundamental conclusion – that nothing short of America's identity is at risk in the increasing hostility being shown toward Muslims.
A dangerous tipping point
A broad range of American public figures, including Gen. David Petraeus, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Sarah Palin have already denounced the planned burning, calling it “disgraceful” and “idiotic.” That’s a critical first step. But they must go further to prevent this event from becoming a dangerous tipping point in the West’s relations with Muslims.
Neither one of us is a Muslim apologist – we've both spent a lifetime doing everything we could to modernize Islam's form and function in America while holding its fanatical fringe accountable to mainstream Muslim thought. Both of us are fiercely loyal Americans who made our respective fortunes in this great land the hard way – one dollar at a time. We know why the model of America is good for the rest of the world to emulate – and why it is important that we not let that all go wrong.
Our commitment to America
I, Seeme Hasan, am an immigrant mother of three who founded Muslims for Bush. I’ve donated more than a million dollars to Republican Party causes for the past ten years. I’ve earned acclaim for community service in Colorado. My story embodies the American dream, and yet today I live with almost daily threats to personal, family, and community safety and security for taking up such a public stance in favor of Cordoba House, the Islamic center near ground zero. I’ve supported Cordoba House because I’m trying to hold Americans true to their constitutional beliefs that freedoms enshrined in our founding documents are not subject to the emotional sensitivities of our time.
And I, Mansoor Ijaz, was born in America. I was Bill Clinton's largest American Muslim supporter in the 1996 presidential campaign, raising or donating over a million dollars to Democratic Party causes for nearly seven years before and after the election. I negotiated Sudan's offer of counterterrorism assistance to the US government on Osama Bin Laden and the sprouting Al Qaeda terrorist network in the mid 1990s. Yet I live with the daily condemnation of my fellow American Muslims for being an outspoken critic of the “ground zero mosque” – for arguing that America's Muslims must first demonstrate fealty to this country's founding vision of pluralism and secular identity before enjoying the religious freedoms enshrined in its founding articles.
Despite our differences, we couldn’t agree more that burning Korans in America would not just be a national disgrace or dangerous for our troops abroad; it could set fire to the very fabric that makes our country strong and righteous.
A time for healing
We call on the living presidents, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H. W. Bush, and Jimmy Carter, to go to that church in Florida this weekend as an act of national unity and healing. They should talk to each one of those 50 congregants and persuade them that their anger can be dispersed in much more intelligent ways than burning the religious books of their fellow citizens who believe differently.
We must lead by example if we are to heal the internal divisions that are beginning to fracture America. If we are to remain united, we must each decide on our own – one individual at a time – to walk in the same direction with the person next to us, irrespective of their race, color, creed, or religious belief, down that American road whose horizon remains liberty, freedom, and justice for all.
We can honorably disagree, debate, and argue over anything in our midst – that is the great calling of America – but we must never aspire to tear each other down in a desperate bid to hold up false ideals that never existed. America's greatness is in its resilience. The issue is no longer about Islam, mosques, Korans, or Muslim beliefs taking root in our soil. The issue is our national identity. We must stand now to reclaim it – together.
Seeme Hasan is founder of Muslims for America and Muslims for Bush. Mansoor Ijaz is chairman of Aquarius Global Partners, a private equity investment group.