Monday, August 23, 2010

Informed and Helpful Perspectives on the “Ground Zero Mosque” Controversy

I find the perspectives reflected in the following quotes to be informed, well-reasoned and thus very helpful in understanding the controversy around the proposed Islamic community center near Ground Zero. Accordingly, I share them this evening via The Wild Reed.


The proposed building is not a mosque; it will be a community center, akin to a YMCA, and will include a mosque – and it is not even at Ground Zero. It is two blocks away, out of view of the World Trade Center site.

Opposition to the center stems largely from anti-Muslim prejudice and fear, which like all prejudice is based on ignorance. It is hard to imagine that a proposed synagogue or cathedral in the vicinity of Ground Zero would arouse such hostility. Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin and others implicitly (and sometimes explicitly) draw a direct link between the Islamic faith and the 9/11 attacks, which claimed several dozen Muslims among their 3,000 victims, victims who hailed from more than 50 countries. This was a crime and a tragedy for the entire world.

All the major religions and their scriptures can be interpreted for peace and tolerance, or for aggression and intolerance. Under the banner of Christianity, some of history’s worst evils have been perpetrated: the trans-Atlantic slave trade, racism, colonialism, imperialism and even genocide were promoted or justified with biblical scripture.

As we all know, Islam has been usurped in recent years by cynical figures like Osama bin Laden to justify their deeds and win recruits. But fortunately, only a very small minority of the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims support or condone terrorism. In fact, violent perversions of Islam are a problem above all for Muslims. “Islamist” fanatics have always targeted fellow Muslims whom the extremists deem to be wayward.

– John Cox
The First Amendment Applies to Muslims As Well
August 22, 2010

This page has supported construction of the center, whose name, Cordoba House, is taken from the Spanish city that stood for interfaith tolerance in the Middle Ages and whose stated mission is “promoting positive interaction between the Muslim world and the West.” Anti-Defamation League leader Abraham H. Foxman and Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Wiesenthal Center, however, argue that building an Islamic center so close to ground zero would be insensitive to the victims of violence committed in the name of Islam. “If after World War II, the German government had created a German cultural center across the street from Auschwitz, it would have been vehemently opposed by families of victims because it would be too much to bear,” Wiesenthal told The Times. But the examples are not parallel. The Nazi government of Germany carried out the Holocaust. The 9/11 attacks were committed by religious fanatics with a political agenda; not all Muslims were complicit, nor should they be held responsible as a group for the atrocities.

Certainly the victims’ families — Christians, Jews and Muslims alike — should be heard and their feelings considered, but theirs are not the only voices to be taken into account. America has an interest in religious freedom, in fighting bigotry of all kinds and in seeking relationships with adherents of Islam who are committed to peace and interfaith dialogue, as the group behind the center appears to be. The center, which has been denigrated as the “ground zero mosque,” would include an auditorium, art exhibition space and bookstore, all of which present opportunities for interfaith discussions and activities.

– Editorial
‘Ground Zero Mosque’ Should Go Forward
Los Angeles Times
August 11, 2010

Over sixty percent of Americans still think an Islamic cultural center should not be built on “hallowed ground,” and vulnerable Democrats like Harry Reid are caving faster than a Massey-owned mine on the issue, which apparently erases from voters’ minds the mass joblessness that building more mosques would, in small part, ameliorate. There are even talks underway to relocate the center to a less sacred location – somewhere far far away from the strip club, McDonald’s and off track betting parlor that currently dignify Ground Zero. . . . My fellow Americans – what the hell is going on here?

Within roughly the same walking distance from this “sacred ground,” one passes strip joints, porn shops, betting parlors and dance clubs, none of which appear to have wounded the sensibilities of these patriotic defenders of the sanctity of Ground Zero. The center itself is to take the place of a dilapidated warehouse, previously the site of a Burlington Coat Factory outlet.

The real aims of those attacking the Cordoba House are not the protection of the nonexistent sanctity of Ground Zero or the shielding of the sensibilities of 9/11 victims’ families. It is a vicious attempt to foment and exploit religious bigotry, xenophobia and outright racism to drive politics ever further to the right.

The far-reaching implications of this campaign entail an assault on the First Amendment of the US Constitution, guaranteeing freedom of speech and religion and barring the government from establishing a state religion or lending preference to one religion over another. This includes the right of Muslims, or any other religious minority, to worship how and where they choose, without the interference of the government or other religious institutions. The “Ground Zero mosque” campaign is consciously directed at mobilizing elements of the religious right that reject this principle.

It is entirely in sync with a parallel attempt to foment mass hysteria over immigration, portraying immigrants as a criminal class responsible for the loss of jobs and social services. Increasingly, this campaign has embraced the demand for the repeal of the US Constitution’s 14th Amendment—which guarantees citizenship to every person born in the US—in order to clear the way for the deportation of millions of children born in the US to undocumented immigrants. This amendment is the constitutional foundation of equal protection under the law.

In both cases, the assault on core constitutional principles and democratic rights has been coupled with venomous rhetoric that serves as an incitement to violence against immigrants, racial minorities and Muslims.

– Editorial
The ‘Ground Zero Mosque’: Obama Cowers Before Right-Wing Hysteria
World Socialist Web Site
August 18, 2010

It is true that more Muslims around the world than one might wish sympathize with some of Osama bin Laden’s thinking, view America as an aggressor nation, and accept as justified some of what Americans view as terrorism. But it’s also true that many more Muslims reject such thinking, see Islam as a fundamentally peaceful religion and view al-Qaeda as foreign and repugnant. As Muslims struggle with how to adapt their religion to the challenges of modernity, Americans should be showing respect for those in the second camp, not lumping them together with the terrorists and their supporters.

And if the Muslims who want to build a community center are no more responsible for, or supportive of, the attacks of Sept. 11 than any other Americans, how can their plans be “insensitive”? The hurt feelings must reflect misunderstanding or prejudice on the part of the objectors, and the right response to misunderstanding and prejudice is education, not appeasement.

– Editorial
Where are the Republicans Who Will Reject Pandering and Prejudice?
Washington Post
August 19, 2010

[Those who object to the Islamic Center say that its construction near Ground Zero] is insensitivity. But it’s not about sensitivity or insensitivity. . . . It’s about the legality of the situation. It is about our rights as Americans. We are protected under the Constitution. There is freedom of religion. You know, if it’s one faith today [that’s being targeted], it’s going to be another faith tomorrow. That is scary. And to scapegoat the Muslims for the acts of a foreign terrorist, that is — that is hatred. That is wrong. Because if we go by that argument . . . then, by that token, Timothy McVeigh’s actions also makes all Christians terrorists.

. . . Muslims are as equal members, citizens, as any other faith in this country. They died on 9/11. They were the first responders. They also died after helping. Their children are on the frontlines . . . in Afghanistan and Iraq. Muslims are fighting, too [against Islamic extremists] . [Yet] we are being told, “You are a terrorist,” which is very wrong. . . . And this stoking the fear that all these politicians are jumping in on the bandwagon and trying to make it exploit, the tragedy of all those 3,000 people killed for their own political expediency, it’s disgraceful.

– Talat Hamdani, whose son died
at the World Trade Center in the 9/11 attacks.
Democacy Now!
August 18, 2010

By supporting this project, we directly undermine and counteract the narrative of the transnational terrorists who claim that America is at war with Islam. America is not at war with Islam. And all we have to do to demonstrate that is to stand on our Constitution, which guarantees the freedom of worship for all Americans. So . . . while [some] are trying to argue that the United States is against Islam, America has a Constitution, and hopefully a majority of its population which still believes in religious freedom and tolerance.

It is the constitutional right of all Americans to worship as they see fit. And if this project is turned back, it will embolden elements not only in New York, but all over the country, that are trying to stop mosques literally all over the country. . . . The very root elements of this country are in freedom of faith. And I’m worried that, as we see in Europe, you know, minarets being banned, we see hijabs being banned, that this is a pernicious development, and we should hold fast to our heritage of religious tolerance in the United States.

. . . No president, no congressman, should be urging or trying to advocate for the erection of a religious institution or the defeat of the building of that same institution. It’s our job to protect people’s rights. It’s not our job to tell people where to put a synagogue or where to put a Buddhist temple or where to put a church or a mosque. The President is correct. He should not be in the business of advocating the construction of a religious institution. What he should be doing is saying that everybody has a right to pursue their rights and that he is going to uphold and defend the Constitution, which means he’s going to guarantee their right to do it. And that includes not creating a hostile atmosphere so that people are afraid or inhibited or chilled from exercising their rights, as politicians like Peter King and many others have done. So I don’t think the President’s wrong.

– Congressman Keith Ellison, Democrat from Minnesota,
the first Muslim elected to Congress.
Democacy Now!
August 18, 2010

I had two friends who died in the World Trade Center. I was very involved in this for a long time. And to be able to use the sensitivities of people to really — to really stoke fear, there’s something very cynical about that. And there isn’t such a thing as the sensitivities of 9/11 families. There are a lot of different 9/11 families, and there are not only 9/11 families who lost directly people, but there are 9/11 families who were forced out of their homes for years in the neighborhood. So, what do we mean by the "the feelings of 9/11 families"? These are abstractions used to actually stoke fear in the country.

– Rabbi Irwin Kula, president of the
National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership
Democacy Now!
August 18, 2010

Islamophobia runs very deep. . . . And the reality of it is, it’s like any form of racism. We need to call a spade a spade and address it head-on. If we don’t, this will simply continue to spread.

– John Esposito, Professor of
Religion & International Affairs
and of
Islamic Studies at Georgetown University.

Democacy Now!
August 18, 2010

Recommended Off-site Links:
Archbishop Offers Mediation for Islamic Center – Javier C. Hernandez (New York Times, August 18, 2010).
Lone Man Stands in Middle of Park51 Debate – Literally – Erik Badia and Corky Siemaszko (New York Daily News, August 23, 2010).
Rallies Over Mosque at Ground Zero Get Heated – Verena Dobnik (Associated Press, August 23, 2010).
For Strippers Near Ground Zero, It's Business as Usual Amidst Mosque Uproar – David Freedlander (New York Observer, August 20, 2010).
Violent "Muslims" Distort the Tradition – John Esposito (Washington Post, July 14, 2010).
Liberal Defenders of "Mosque" Get It Wrong – Aisha Ghani (Religion Dispatches, August 24, 2010).
Islamophobia Watch

NY Mayor: Stopping Mosque Compromises Terror Fight – Cristian Salazar (Associated Press, August 25, 2010).
Poll: Public Doubts Islam More Prone to Violence Associated Press (August 24, 2010).
Why Are So Many Americans Hostile to Islam? – Margaret Talev (McClatchy Newspapers, August 27, 2010).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
What Muslims Want
Irene Khan: Shaking Things Up Down Under
Richard Flanagan Wants a “Gentler, More Generous” Australia
The Real Fascist Threat in Europe
A Dangerous Medieval Conviction
The Blood-Soaked Thread

Opening Image: Mosque supporters Abdul Malik, 26, from Philadelphia, and Matt Sky, 26, from the East Village, converse with mosque opponent Lori Taverna, 68, from Midtown. Protesters and supporters of the controversial Park51 Islamic center, the so called “Ground Zero Mosque” gathered at 51 Park Place for separate rallies on August 22, 2010. (Jeanne Noonan, New York Daily News)


Clarence said...

The building of a mosque on this site is probably one of the most powerful gestures toward creating an air of reconciliation. It is the builders' contribution to the healing that needs to take place there--and will have to continue for a generation.

Philip said...

Opponents of the Islamic cultural center claim that this is not about religious freedom, but rather about showing respect the memory of those who died in the tragedy of 9-11. Not that I believe that, but if that is indeed the case, then why aren't any of them decrying the Bush administration? For eight years, George Bush and his cronies used the tragedy of 9-11 to justify every ludicrous action they undertook, from the invasion of Iraq to tax cuts.

I, like most reasonable people, am led to the inexorable conclusion that this is a fight about religious freedom, and that opponents of the Mosque are motivated primarily by bigotry and ignorance of the Islamic faith.