Extreme views

November 29, 1994

The temptation to condemn an entire group for the acts of the extremists among them unfortunately overcame a retired Christian minister, the Rev. Richard Rodes, recently.

Speaking at a public hearing before the Howard County Planning Board, Mr. Rodes questioned whether members of the only Muslim congregation in Howard County might harbor dangerous extremists in the new mosque it wants to construct on Route 108 near Manor Lane.

Mr. Rodes is a neighbor of the proposed site, which would be the first Muslim mosque in Howard. The 200-member congregation currently meets in offices in Wilde Lake, but it had previously traveled as far as Baltimore, Washington and Laurel to attend services.

Mr. Rodes' comments were couched in various caveats, but the message was clear.

"If this were a Jewish or Christian institution, I would be saying the same thing," he began. "Every religion I know has extremists, everyone.

"Hamas [an Islamic fundamentalist group], the cult in Waco, Texas, and so forth. They're exceptions, actually rare exceptions, but they sometimes are exceedingly violent."

What Mr. Rodes wanted from the county planners was to ensure that such extremists not infiltrate the mosque, using it as a training ground for violent activities.

While we have no doubt that Rev. Rodes would condemn extremism no matter the source, we wonder whether he would have so easily assumed the worst had the congregation in question been Christian or Jewish.

Making such an assumption about a Muslim group shows a distinct lack of tolerance and fairness. Stunned, members of the planning board tried meekly to steer the testimony in another direction.

In fact, the planning board, which confines itself to land use decisions, has no power to dictate what is discussed or taught in a facility.

Despite Mr. Rodes' assertion that "none of us looks extreme, but we could be," that is not the standard by which our country determines if a group is likely to be engaged in illegal acts.

And, in the event they are, law enforcement officials have jurisdiction.

Zakia Makasa, the attorney for the Muslims planning the mosque, was justifiably insulted by Mr. Rodes' comments. He and his clients deserve an apology.

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