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Kadner: Here’s a ‘thank you’ to Orland Park Library

The pond with wall windows thgive patrons view from inside OrlPark Public Library OrlPark Illinois Wednesday September 12 2012. |

The pond with a wall of windows that give patrons a view from inside the Orland Park Public Library in Orland Park, Illinois, Wednesday, September 12, 2012. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: September 30, 2013 2:05PM



As I write this, it looks like the U.S. is about to launch a military action in Syria, which follows our military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

These are Muslim nations that most of us know little about. And there are many Americans who don’t want to know. They don’t understand the history of these countries, their cultures or their religions.

Last week, the Orland Park Library attempted to provide some insight through a panel discussion featuring three Muslims from academia. What resulted was negative publicity caused by a group of people who showed up intent on insulting the panel members and their religion.

The protesters demanded that the Pledge of Allegiance be said, probably knowing that some Muslims feel prohibited from taking such an oath. So do Jehovah’s Witnesses, who consider saluting the flag a form of idolatry.

I’ve seen this sort of attempt to force the pledge down peoples’ throats before and always marvel that self-professed patriots can say the words “... with liberty and justice for all” while mocking their very meaning.

It is important to have public forums on controversial topics. It is the only way people can learn about the views of others.

I congratulate Mary Weimar, director of the Orland Park Library, and her staff for providing an educational program about a subject, Islam, that has become a focal point of our daily lives.

According to the news stories about last week’s incident, the disruptive element in the audience wanted an explanation for the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

The three Muslim speakers — an administrator from the University of Chicago Center for Middle Eastern Studies, a doctoral student on Near Eastern languages from the University of Chicago and a student in sociology at Northwestern University — were not members of any terrorist organization.

The suggestion from some audience members was that, as Muslims, they should be able to provide some sort of explanation for terrorism by other Muslims.

I am a white man. I cannot explain the lynchings of black men by white men in the South during the early part of the 20th century to the satisfaction of anyone.

I would not expect any Protestant to provide an explanation for cross burning nor would I hold every Catholic responsible for those who have attacked abortion clinic doctors and nurses.

That said, the questions raised by those intent on disrupting the forum in Orland Park still need to be addressed because there are many people out there looking for answers.

What exactly is Sharia law? Does it mean the same to every Muslim? Is it practiced the same way in every country or taught in the same manner in every mosque?

I don’t know. But my guess would be “no.” Why? Because I know that the Bible, both the Old and the New testaments, means different things to different people. Different religions, different ministers and priests and rabbis within those religions, emphasize different things.

How can people who follow the Ten Commandments and vow not to kill drop bombs and launch missiles at foreign countries? How can political leaders claim they are religious men and then cheat on their wives and lie to the voters?

How is it that some religious people in this country defend a woman’s right to have an abortion and others who worship the same God say it is a sin?

These are difficult questions that are not easily answered, yet we are very familiar with the arguments and the religions from which they spring.

Still, the debate goes on as it should because the issues are worthy of discussion. And that’s why, even though at first glance it looks as if the Orland Park Library’s effort was a failure, it was a success.

Weimar notes that most of the people who came to the panel discussion were interested in what the speakers had to say. Most were not disrespectful. And some urged the outspoken, confrontational members of the audience to display more courtesy.

That doesn’t suggest to me that each of these people were necessarily in sympathy with the panelists or apologists for Islam, but that they wanted to learn about a religion they know little about. We all should.

There are an estimated 2.6 million Muslims living in the United States, and that number is expected to grow to 6.2 million over the next 20 years.

There are thousands of Muslims who live in Orland Park. That alone should be sufficient reason for us to learn more about their religion and culture.

But our military and political involvement in the Middle East, this nation’s efforts to combat the terrorist threat, make it imperative that people of good conscience try to educate themselves about a religion practiced by 21 percent of the world’s population.

America was founded on the ideal that all religious beliefs and all people are equal.

Those who are suspicious of Muslims seem to forget that the people who initially protected religious liberty in this country understood what it was like to be persecuted because their beliefs, whether Puritans or Catholics, had been viewed as evil by dominant religions in other lands.

Saying the Pledge of Allegiance doesn’t make you a better American or a more loyal one.

Thomas E.R. McGuire, associate director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Chicago, spoke at the Orland Park forum and said he would do so again.

His intent is to explain to people how, as an American, he practices his Muslim faith. He would have liked the opportunity to explain how most Muslims appreciate the freedoms granted them under the American Constitution and would not impose their beliefs on others, just as he would hope others would not attempt to impose their beliefs on him.

McGuire was quick to point out that he does not speak for the entire Muslim population of America. He was only trying to share his story.

I hope Orland Park Library officials continue their attempts to educate and inform the public. That is not always a simple task. But I want to stress it is not a thankless one.



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