The Ground Zero Mosque Controversy & Religious Freedom in a Post-9/11 America
Emotive as the discussions have been around the proposed erection of a new mosque in lower Manhattan, what has been particularly distressing is the degree to which a lot of lies and half-truths cleverly couched as facts have been perpetrated in pursuit of a range of ideological/religious agendas that are as hidden as they are insidious.
The controversy appears to have touched off an opposition to similar initiatives in other locales across the country in ways that are so virulent and unmistakably tinted with the worst expressions of fear (mostly unfounded), hate, intolerance, intimidation and violence.
In the Nashville suburb of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, fearful that the development of a new Islamic center on a 15-acre site there would later morph into a terrorist training camp for militants seeking the overthrow of the US government, detractors held several demonstrations with ignorant epithets denouncing the facility, tore down signs marking the site and announcing the center’s future arrival and subsequently dispatched hound dogs to intimidate Muslims holding prayer services there.
Same was true in Temecula, California, where opponents of a 25,000-square-foot mosque matched with dogs in protest of what they believed to be a facility that would quickly turn their “beloved” town into a haven for Islamic extremists.
And in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, a melee ensued between protesters and a Muslim group seeking to open a new mosque in a former grocery store purchased by a Muslim physician.
Otherwise known as the Cordoba Initiative, if successful, the $100 million project in New York will result in the construction of a modern multi-level complex about two blocks away from Ground Zero (the site of the World Trade Centers destroyed on 9/11) that would, among other things, house a mosque, gym, swimming pool and a world-class Islamic cultural center.
Overall, there seems to be two major areas of concern; things that appear to have elicited the most interest or generated the loudest, most poignant or celebrated controversy.
Opponents typically frown at these efforts because for a myriad of reasons, they find Islam objectionable as a religion. They feel that intrinsic to the faith is a violent, ethnocentric streak that is antithetical to the ethos of life in America as a secular, pluralistic society.
To further buttress this point, a reference is often made to recent acts of wanton, gratuitous destruction by Muslims or the status of women and other glaring assaults on individual freedom in the Middle East.
Regarding the Cordoba Initiative in particular, many (including many families of the victims of the 9/11 attacks, some members of Congress and some religious groups, view allowing a mosque to be built so close to a site so sacred as desecrative of the souls of all those who perished in the tragedy. As an adherent of this position, Sarah Palin, reportedly opined that it would be an “intolerable and tragic mistake” to grant the Initiative’s sponsors their wish.
Others question the funding source for the project fearing that a sizable portion of the earmarked sum could come from questionable foreign interests; fundamentalist Islamic groups included.
Some have even gone as far as suggesting that the Initiative must be stopped because it’s chief proponent, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, failed to publicly and categorically acknowledge Hamas as a terrorist organization!
It is difficult not to see that at the very core of the foregoing questions is the undeniable fact these efforts are being exclusively brought under a peculiar and intensely troubling level of scrutiny.
But in all fairness, how could one deny the petition to build this mosque out of concern for the lives of the victims of 9/11 without appearing to condemn Islam, instead of the known perpetrators and their co-conspirators, for the attacks?
Should Muslims in the US, most of whom also happen to be American citizens, be extended the same constitutional and/or statutory guarantees of religious freedom in this country? Is it okay for cities, municipalities or towns to process requests from Muslim groups (whose members are bonafide, law-abiding, tax-paying members of the community) for permits to erect mosques any differently than similar petitions for new churches from their Christian counterparts?
If the measure of what courtesies any one religious group deserves is the enormity of the pillage and atrocities that had been committed in the religion’s name, who really would be left standing? Wasn’t slavery, colonialism and the near annihilation of Native Americans in this hemisphere, to varying degrees, rationalized theologically? And if those now seem in our distant or faded memory, how about Jim Jones or David Koresh?
Ought we assemble an agreeable battery of questions (what one thinks of Hamas or the Papacy or the Dalai Lama, etc) that should now collectively serve as the litmus test for determining who should be allowed to erect places of worship in America?
It is indeed gratifying to see that a wide range of notable individuals and groups, including New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Jewish Leaders across the country, and thoughtful average Americans have come out forcefully in defense of the right of Muslim groups, as any others, to build new places of worship in locations of their choosing in accordance with existing local codes and stipulations.
The Cordoba House is neither the first nor would it be the last; there are well over 100 mosques in New York alone, and thousands more scattered around the country.
Regardless of how peeved, aggrieved or self-righteous one might feel about the thought processes that engendered the 9/11 calamity, or the next still lurking in the corner, allowing oneself to go down the treacherous road of denying fellow Americans constitutionally protected liberties of free speech, assembly and worship is inherently un-American.