"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
Thomas Jefferson's words -- echoed by silhouettes of Americans from different walks of life, from diverse ethnicities, sexes and religions -- flowed rhythmically from the screen inside the Hall of Presidents attraction at Disney World to raise the hair on my back last April.
A Saudi Arabian national, I was profoundly touched as I was let in more on quite a unique American story.
Yet, of late, I have been left to live in a state of bafflement -- to put it mildly -- in the wake of growing controversy over plans to establish a Muslim community center in lower Manhattan.
Overheated and sensational rhetoric, political posturing, inflaming sensibilities of 9/11 victims' family and friends, and prevarication about the center and its leaders have been but a few tactics employed, while not exclusively, by the political right to blow the issue out of all proportions and demonize Muslim Americans.
Sarah Palin was the first to speak out against the idea, calling on "peace-loving Muslims" to intervene and impede the "unnecessary provocation" that is the community center because "it stabs hearts."
The seemingly well-intentioned statement managed to incite the hearts and provoke the sentiments of hundreds of thousands of originally insouciant Americans from sea to shining sea into protest.
But former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who just like many other top Republicans has a distinguished history of exploiting the unhealed wounds of 9/11 for political gains time and time again, grabs the lion's share of the incessant efforts to kill the new facility proposal.
"The folks who want to build this mosque -- who are really radical Islamists who want to triumphally prove that they can build a mosque right next to a place where 3,000 Americans were killed by radical Islamists," he said.
Mr. Gingrich at first cited the center's name -- Cordoba, which he claims depicts Muslim conquest in Spain and subjugation of the West -- as the reason this community center epitomized Islamic "triumphalism."
Today, even after the center's leaders have compromised and replaced the name with a New York-sounding one, he still holds his ground about the imagined notion of triumphalism.
And did it ever occur to Mr. Gingrich that it is indeed in the pursuit of the American Dream that this project sees the light since it would be a slap in the face to, not 9/11 victims, but, rather, the terrorists that Americans still relish liberty and equality for all? That the Bill of Rights did not perish together with the World Trade Center, but to this day endures?
Some voiced concerns the congregation's location is too close to Ground Zero. But then how far isn't "too close"?
And who is to decide if freedom of religion is embodied in the U.S. Constitution? And, by the way, doesn't it defy common sense that Muslim Americans should pay the price exclusively because the 19 hijackers happened to pray in the same direction?
Several talk show hosts and pundits have even taken a crack at tying the center leader -- Imam Fiesal Abdul Rauf, a moderate who has been the head of a mosque located 12 blocks away from Ground Zero since 1983 -- to terrorist groups.
Well, if someone has a shred of evidence connecting the imam to questionable groups, then perhaps he/she shouldn't wait any longer before turning it in to the FBI. But if any such thing existed it definitely would have emerged sometime in the previous three decades.
Others went even a step further to express fears that the center would be a terrorist command post to plan attacks against the U.S. But in light of the open declarations of war on Islam in talk radio and TV shows, the anti-mosque protests sweeping the country, the plans to desecrate and burn the Quran, and the ever increasing number of hate crimes against Muslims (a recent one of which is a bomb going off at a Florida mosque), as a bystander, I believe Muslim Americans have more to fear from their fellow Americans than the other way around.
Sensing the forgetfulness pervading today's America of the words written by the founding fathers, President Barack Obama stepped to weigh in on the debate. Addressing a gathering of Muslims at a White House Ramadan dinner, the president said he believes that "Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country. That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in Lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances."
In every story there are those running on an endless fuel of bigotry and scaremongering. America should not lend them an ear because it has nothing to fear but fear itself. Nor should it lose sight of the core values and ideals on which it was founded such as religious liberty.
And, yes, America should wholeheartedly endorse the Islamic center near Ground Zero if for no other reason than to affirm to itself and to the world that the American story still lives on.
Zaki Safar is a Colorado State University graduate and former president of CSU's Muslim Student Association.