Tuesday, August 17, 2010

There Goes the Neighborhood...

Rendering of proposed Islamic center in Manhattan that will plunge Earth into a black hole and destroy the galaxy.

The Cordoba Initiative, a moderate Muslim group, has plans for Lower Manhattan, and if you’re not living under a rock or are blissfully ignorant of the 24-hour news cycle, then you know what those plans are.

The group wants to build an Islamic community center and mosque two blocks from Ground Zero in an abandoned building that housed a Burlington Coat Factory store. The store, by the way, was struck by airplane landing gear during the September 11th attacks and closed in 2001.

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, chairman of the Cordoba Initiative, founded the American Society for Muslim Advancement as a way of bringing American Muslims and non-Muslims together through various programs. He is the Imam of a mosque that’s 12 blocks away from Ground Zero and wants to create a community center that would function as a cultural exchange for Muslims and non-Muslims.

The plans to build a “Ground Zero mosque” has morphed from a simple local zoning issue to one of great national debate, as politicians, citizens and the media duel over its significance in the aftermath of 9/11.

This backlash against the development began months ago when right wing bloggers covered the story. The issue gained momentum when a few Republican politicians, namely Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich and Rick Lazio expressed their opposition to the controversial plan.

Palin wrote, “We all know that they have the right to do it, but should they?...If those who wish to build this Ground Zero mosque are sincerely interested in encouraging positive ‘cross-cultural engagement’ and dialogue to show a moderate and tolerant face of Islam, then why haven’t they recognized that the decision to build a mosque at this particular location is doing just the opposite?”

Gingrich wrote, “there should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia.”

By the time the news media got the story, it turned into a titanic shit storm, especially after President Obama weighed in:

“Recently, attention has been focused on the construction of mosques in certain communities -- particularly New York. Now, we must all recognize and respect the sensitivities surrounding the development of Lower Manhattan. The 9/11 attacks were a deeply traumatic event for our country. And the pain and the experience of suffering by those who lost loved ones is just unimaginable. So I understand the emotions that this issue engenders. And Ground Zero is, indeed, hallowed ground.

But let me be clear. As a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country. And 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. This is America. And our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable. The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country and that they will not be treated differently by their government is essential to who we are. The writ of the Founders must endure.”

After that eloquent support for the U.S. Constitution and clarifying that it wasn’t Islam but Al Qaeda that we’re fighting against, Obama reversed himself, saying his comments referred to the right to build the community center and mosque but was not an endorsement of it.

Democratic Senator Harry Reid also affirmed the right to build the mosque, but condemned its location.

And the location makes it controversial to those who believe Ground Zero – the former site of the World Trade Center and attacks by radical Islamic terrorist group Al Qaeda where 3,000 people were killed nine years ago - is hallowed ground and to build a mosque there defiles the memory of the victims.

But there are already two mosques that exist in Lower Manhattan already: the Masjid Farah, 12 blocks from Ground Zero and the Masjid Manhattan, which is four blocks from Ground Zero and near City Hall.

Why haven’t the detractors protested these mosques? Perhaps they weren’t told of their existence for a reason.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg supports the center, calling it a true definition of American religious freedom:

“The simple fact is, this building is private property, and the owners have a right to use the building as a house of worship, and the government has no right whatsoever to deny that right. And if it were tried, the courts would almost certainly strike it down as a violation of the U.S. Constitution.

Whatever you may think of the proposed mosque and community center, lost in the heat of the debate has been a basic question: Should government attempt to deny private citizens the right to build a house of worship on private property based on their particular religion? That may happen in other countries, but we should never allow it to happen here.”

It might happen here if the people get their way.

According to the Siena College Research Institute, 61 percent of New York state residents oppose the planned community center and mosque’s location. The poll stated that 85 percent of conservatives, 52 percent of liberals and 55 percent of moderates oppose the project’s location.

According to a CNN/Opinion Research poll, 68 percent of Americans surveyed oppose the project, while 29 percent support it. If you don’t think this is a political hot potato, get this: 54 percent of Democrats support the building while 43 percent are opposed to it; 82 percent of Republicans oppose it while 17 percent support it. The poll found 70 percent of independents are against building the community center and mosque while 24 percent favor it.

Feeling the heat, the Cordoba Initiative changed the name of their proposed project to Park 51 because it was more cosmopolitan-sounding and less scary than Cordoba House.

I get that branding is important and putting a positive spin on your project is essential, but no ad campaign will win over people’s hearts to this project. No espousing the importance of religious tolerance or freedom can quell the anger felt over this proposed building.

There has to be some kind of sinister ulterior motive these Muslims have for building this community center, right?

According to the Park 51 website, the organization will “uphold respect for the diversity of expression and ideas between all people; cultivate and embrace neighborly relations between all New Yorkers, fostering a spirit of civic participation and an awareness of common needs and opportunities; encourage open discussion and dialogue on issues of relevance to New Yorkers, Americans and the international reality of our interconnected planet; commit to social justice, dignified human development and spiritual growth for all; pursue the development of American Muslim identities, engaging New York’s many and diverse Muslim communities and promoting empowerment and compassion for all…”

Well if that doesn’t sound like a recipe for world domination, I don’t know what is.

Okay, I’m being facetious.

It’s hard not to be skeptical of this group. They seem too good to be true. Like Dick Cheney telling the American people that the American forces invading Iraq in 2003 would be heralded as heroes and have flowers thrown at them by grateful Iraqis.

According to the Park 51 website, the group will be “dedicated to pluralism, service, arts and culture, education and empowerment, appreciation for our city and a deep respect for our planet.”

Just what exactly will be constructed a stone’s throw away from sacred, hallowed ground?

The Park 51 website said the proposed community center will contain: “outstanding recreation spaces and fitness facilities (swimming pool, gym, basketball court); a 500-seat auditorium; a restaurant and culinary school; cultural amenities including exhibitions; education programs; a library; reading room and art studios, childcare services; a mosque, intended to be run separately from Park 51 but open to and accessible to all members, visitors and our New York community; and a September 11th memorial and quiet contemplation space, open to all.”

So it’s not just a community center like some are claiming and a portion of it will be a mosque. But according to Park 51, it would be run separately from their organization, which could throw up a red flag of concern for those who think Glenn Beck is some kind of doomsday prophet and wise soothsayer.

What’s even stranger is a proposed September 11th memorial planned for the site, a fact that all the right wing pundits and talking heads seem to be conveniently omitting.

There's a missed opportunity here. Instead of meeting the group half way and welcoming the community center and mosque, Americans are proving themselves to be the closed-minded yokels the Muslim world thinks we already are. That can’t be good for relations that are already strained. Many Americans view Islam with suspicion and a jaundiced eye. The religion is equivocated with terrorism and violence. Critics have charged that if Islam were a peaceful religion, then why, immediately following 9/11, didn’t the Islamic community rise up and condemn the attacks?

Politicians are using this wedge issue to their advantage. Republicans see it as a golden opportunity to ride the angry wave and create a backlash against Obama and the Democrats. The Democrats are also plugging into this issue to show they can be just as patriotic and xenophobic as conservatives.

Other politicians are asking Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf be called onto the carpet for denying Hamas is a terrorist organization and questioning where the $100 million funding will come from to build the mosque.

Just playing devil’s advocate here, but if a Catholic priest or Protestant reverend were held to the same scrutiny and witch hunts, would the public support the politicians or the concept of religious freedom?

Critics claim that this is all part of some dubious Islamic plan to gloat over the mass casualties of 9/11, that this building will be a triumphant edifice Muslims can rally around and cheer the demise of the West. Maybe they can use the community center to host couscous and kebab night while secretly plotting ways to kill more Americans. Maybe they’ll have macramé and jihad classes.

One opponent of the project held up a sign that read “Islam builds mosques at the sites of their conquests and victories.”

America does the same thing, except we don’t build mosques. We build McDonald’s, Starbucks and 7-Elevens. Capitalism is our religion, and we spread that throughout the globe, much to the chagrin of other nations. When foreigners complain another American franchise is going up in their historic neighborhoods, we balk and say it’s progress and that corporations have the right to expand.

That’s what’s so troubling about this stupid mosque issue. It’s just a non-story that’s garnered so much attention has become part of our national dialog and fodder for the mid-term elections.

Islam didn’t murder 3,000 people nine years ago. A group of Islamic fundamentalists whose warped religious views and anger at the United States’ support of Israel killed those people. There’s a difference between condemning a religion and condemning members of that religion with their own agenda.

If we equivocate Islam with evil, if we treat Muslims like the Catholics and Jews were treated by the Protestant majority 100 years ago, we fail to bridge the divide between them and the West. This creates more tension, prejudice and violence.

If we believe what the Cordoba Initiative tells us, then the center will be used as a place of understanding and learning and not an indoctrination factory worthy of Osama bin Laden’s endorsement.

I cannot help but see a population persuaded by the media and political leaders transform itself into an intolerant, dangerous mob. They are sheep led by manipulative shepherds, fed on a diet of false patriotism and outrage and willing to destroy their sacred American freedoms without really understanding how precious they are. They're gleefully ignorant of their past and volatile to the core. This is not so much a national debate than it is a national tantrum, one where fury trumps logic and fear beats courage.

I think we’re better than that. Freedom is not just a buzzword you put on a bumper sticker. It has to be a living, breathing entity.

“Liberty and justice for all.”

Not for some. For all, even if a religion is misunderstood or unpopular.

The First Amendment must be preserved, lest we lose something that makes us quintessentially American.

Then we run the risk of being the very monsters we’re fighting against.


Zardoz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Zardoz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Zardoz said...

i agree 100%! The sad truth is we are letting the terrorists win because our own fear, hatred & prejudice is exactly what helps them recruit new members. accepting them with open arms and allowing muslims to see that we don't judge them all by the actions of a few radical fringe groups is the best way to defeat terrorism.