Muslims and Catholics vs. Banzhaf
There are those who would learn that Catholic University of America, a private, Catholic institution, has doubled its Muslim student enrollment in just four years, and think happy thoughts about interfaith cooperation and growing religious harmony.
Then there are those who see potential lawsuits, dollar signs, and fame.
John Banzhaf is among the latter. Despite not having a single Muslim student complaint to his case, Banzhaf has filed a case with D.C.’s Office of Human Rights for alleged discrimination against Muslims students, claiming that Muslim students are refused rooms to pray that are devoid of Catholic images. He also alleges that Muslim students, unlike Jewish students, cannot form student groups on campus. Whatever the truth of these claims, what stands out is that the students themselves are not complaining–but Banzhaf is.
Banzhaf, who recently brought another lawsuit against the university for gender discrimination over the school’s decision to return to same-sex dormitories, hardly seems concerned about Muslim rights. He is merely using Muslims as his shield in his battle against conservative religious values, not caring that he is subjecting these students and the American Muslim community as a whole to more resentment in a time when resentment is already high and authentic respect is hard-earned.
Rather than praise an interesting phenomenon of growing Muslim enrollment at a Catholic school, a bright spot of interfaith cooperation and respect in a culture marked by tension, Banzhaf has chosen to exacerbate those tensions and play into everyone’s paranoia –namely, the notions that Muslims cannot tolerate any religion but their own and that Catholicism is rigid and oppressive.
And Muslims are paying for it. News commentators such as Sean Hannity were quick to turn the issue into a media circus. In a panel on Fox News last Thursday, Hannity started the discussion on the case by asking about the alleged Muslim complaints, “So, is it a holy war that is being waged in our nation’s capital?”
Banzhaf should find better ways to occupy his time than chasing paper crusades and stirring animosity between religious communities that were otherwise in détente.
Asma T. Uddin is a legal fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding and the founder and editor-in-chief of altmuslimah.com.
This article was published by the Washington Post OnFaith blog on November 2, 2011.