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America’s Promise Meant For Everyone

Eboo Patel is the author of Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation. He is the founder and Executive Director of the Interfaith Youth Core, an international nonprofit building the interfaith youth movement. He was appointed by President Obama to the Advisory Council of the White House Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and serves on the Religious Advisory Committee of the Council on Foreign Relations. Patel writes "The Faith Divide" blog for The Washington Post, where this post originally appeared.

Book cover for Acts of FaithCan you believe that, at one point, women couldn't vote in America? That Japanese American citizens were put in detention camps because of the actions of the Imperial Japanese Navy? That Jackie Robinson was spat upon on the baseball diamond because of the color of his skin? That there were quotas on Jews at Ivy League Universities? That mosques were opposed across the country and a shocking number of people suggested a Muslim should be disqualified from the Supreme Court or the Presidency because of his religion?

Oh yeah, that last one is still happening. But one day, I promise you, we will be as ashamed of the way American Muslims are viewed and treated in 2010 as we are of Japanese internment and Jim Crow. America's promise is meant for everyone or we are not America.

But the tide is turning. Several articles over this past week are shining a spotlight on the forces of division that manufactured the "ground zero mosque" controversy. The pieces reveal a small cabal of professional Muslim haters who gleefully found an issue that resonated with a larger public.

The visionaries behind Park51, Imam Feisal and Daisy Khan, have a long track record of interfaith cooperation and peace building (Nick Kristof and Rev. Jim Wallis are the most recent in a long line of distinguished people vouching for them - Kristof calls them "the real thing" in his Sunday column, and Wallis writes American Muslims are Not Responsible for 9/11.) The forces of division have a long track record of spreading vitriol and conspiracy theories about Muslims. It's shocking to think so many in the media have treated Imam Feisal and Daisy as if they're criminals and given the forces of intolerance a free ride.

My sense is that free ride is coming to an end. With these recent articles, journalists worth their title are going to start asking questions like, "This isn't really about a Muslim community center in lower Manhattan is it? You've been writing negative things - in fact ridiculous and hateful things - about Muslims for years. Isn't this more about your long efforts to prevent American Muslims from living lives of full dignity and freedom in this country?"

It may even be that some of the more self-aware members of the hate-machine are getting a little nervous. The overwhelming success of their "Ground Zero mosque" campaign has generated astonishing, if ephemeral, vitriol against Muslims in America. And now that the prejudice is apparent for everyone to see, the better angels of America will start to go into action. Universities will make interfaith cooperation a higher priority on campus. Educators will include appreciative knowledge of Islam in the curriculum. Foundations will increase investments in religious pluralism. Corporations will add Muslims into diversity training seminars. Pastors and Rabbis will begin preaching sermons on common ground Christians, Jews and Muslims share. Publishers will seek new manuscripts humanizing Muslims and illuminating Islam.

American history is an arc toward freedom, dignity and inclusiveness for all. That will include Muslims, sooner or later. Everyone knows you can't stop that arc. And everyone knows that those who try to throw the arc off-course are recorded and held up in history books years later as an example to kids of who not to be like. They are the demons of American history.

Remember this picture of a hateful white girl screaming at a dignified black student as she tries to enter Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957. "Hate assailing grace," is how the Arkansas Democrat Gazette referred to Hazel Bryan Massery's treatment of Elizabeth Eckford. Guess which part the anti-Muslim cabal is trying out for?

At the 40th Anniversary Celebration of Integration at Central High, Hazel asked forgiveness of Elizabeth. And Elizabeth, ever dignified, forgave.

Such a story of transformation and reconciliation is also deeply American.

We are entering into the second ten days of Ramadan - the days devoted to forgiveness.

Will America be America to its Muslim inhabitants? I have no doubt.

Will any of the members of the hate machine against Muslims one day have a change of heart and seek our forgiveness? I believe in God, so I believe in miracles.

Will Muslims forgive? I begin my spiritual preparation for that possibility now.