Respect, protect rights

Until local and federal investigators have finished their work, it will be premature to conclude that the burning of a mosque in west Wichita was an act of religious hatred. But the mere possibility of it should alarm a community that so highly values faith and liberty.

It’s bad enough that earlier this year, according to a leader of the Islamic Association of Mid Kansas at 3406 W. Taft, the mosque received about eight letters variously criticizing Islam, mocking the Prophet Muhammad and blaming Islam for the Sept. 11 attacks. And that in the past month, someone had been harassing the mosque by turning on an outside water faucet at night.

If that hate and intolerance led to a torching of the mosque early Monday, causing an estimated $130,000 in damage, Kansas will join Oregon, Tennessee, Texas and Michigan on the list of places where arsonists have targeted mosques or mosque construction sites in the past year.

And those responsible will deserve the very worst that the justice system can deliver to them.

They also will deserve the Wichita community’s condemnation, because such acts risk tarnishing and diminishing the places in which they occur.

Wichita is home to more than 5,000 Muslims, who deserve to know that their right to practice their religion is as respected and protected as that of any other Wichitan.

So it was encouraging to see the east-side Islamic Society of Wichita thanking the community on its website Wednesday “for the outpouring of support” received in response to the fire. The statement continued: “We have received numerous phone calls and e-mails from individuals and churches offering kind words, support, services and space to aid the Muslim community in Wichita. We are truly grateful to be a part of such a giving community and for each and every person who has reached out to us.”

That’s the spirit — stirring memories of the time in 1998 when 60 people from Wichita churches came together to paint over the swastikas and religious epithets that had been spray-painted on a local synagogue.

What President Bush, who’ll address the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce annual meeting tonight, said so well in 2002 about our nation applies within its communities and neighborhoods: “Every faith is practiced and protected here, because we are one country. Every immigrant can be fully and equally American, because we’re one country. Race and color should not divide us, because America is one country.”