18 August 2010

Some thoughts about the "Ground Zero Mosque"

I have avoided posting anything about the "Ground Zero Mosque" on Twitter primarily for two reasons: 1) I feel as if I cannot express the breadth of my views in 140 characters, and while I could break it up into several tweets, they'll fall apart and potentially out of context; and 2) I recognize the fact that many of the people who follow me on Twitter do so for reasons other than politics and religion, and I respect that; while I do occasionally make political posts I try to keep to humorous things or lighthearted issues that don't inflame people's passions (there have been exceptions).

"Ground Zero Mosque"

So let's address a few issues right up front. I am going to refer to it as the "Ground Zero Mosque" (or GZM) or just "the mosque". I fully recognize that the mosque is not at Ground Zero, but two blocks away. I fully recognize that there are Burger Kings and Off Track Betting joints and all sorts of other things within a two block radius of GZ. So I'm not being inaccurate or insensitive to the issue when I say GZM, I'd rather just not say "the mosque two blocks from Ground Zero" every time. I also recognize that this structure is said to be a "community center," and not just a single house of worship. I think there is some significance to this, but I'll discuss this later on.

"Sacred ground"

I also recognize that this particular location has at least some significance to the 9/11 attacks. This building was the site of some damage on September 11th (landing gear from one of the planes hit the building), but I'm not going as far as to say this particular building is "sacred ground." I recognize that the damage to the building tends to extend what 9/11 families would consider sacred ground, but I just am unwilling to go that far. Did people die in this building? As far as I know, no one did.

Landmark status

I can only briefly comment on the issue of "landmark" status; while the building is said to be in the Italian Renaissance palazzo style, I don't think anyone who isn't well-versed in architectural history can really appreciate whether or not this building is deserving of a special status. So I am going to pass on this issue and say that if the Landmark Preservation Commission decided not to make this particular building a landmark, I think we should be willing to accept their decision.

Legality/Constitutionality

This, I think, is a no-brainer. Presuming that all the necessary permits and codes and so forth are met, there is no legal issue or constitutional issue that should prevent this mosque from being built. Freedom of religion is sacrosanct in my book, and laws like the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) were specifically written to make religious exercise easier, not harder.

End of story?

This is the end of the story for many people. Accepting the previous issues, they come to the reasonable conclusion that the mosque should be built. And I fully understand that view. I suspect that many of you who are reading this would agree with me on virtually all (if not all) of the previous points. The majority of Americans agree that the owners of the proposed mosque have a right to build it, even if they don't necessarily want it to be built. I agree with them; while I completely respect the right of the owners to build the mosque, I believe they just shouldn't build the mosque at that particular location. So now let me lay out my reasons why.

Córdoba

The names of the project are Park51 (the address is 45-51 Park Place) and Córdoba House. Córdoba probably doesn't set off any bells for most people, but perhaps it should. Córdoba is a city in southern Spain that was captured in 711 by the Muslims and soon became a provincial capital and later a full-fledged Caliphate. The Great Mosque of Córdoba was built there on the site of a Christian church (building mosques on the sites of conquered cities was not uncommon, see for example Jerusalem’s Temple Mount and Istanbul’s St. Sophia Basilica). While only the owners know the true reason why they chose the name Córdoba , to many it is a clear sign of Islamic triumphalism. You don't necessarily have to agree with this point, but you should at least understand that some people have issues with a mosque near Ground Zero that by name associates itself with a city and mosque whose name signifies such "conquest" issues (to be fair, the Christians later recaptured Córdoba and the building now houses the Cathedral of the diocese of Córdoba).

Community center

The GZM is not just a house of worship, but a $100 million, 13-story structure. I am truly torn about the issue of asking where the funding is coming from. On one hand, it's no one's business where the money comes from. Do we ask the source of the funding of every Catholic church or Mormon temple or Jewish tabernacle? Of course not. On the other hand, there seems to be legitimate concerns that Hamas and other organizations could be involved. Of all the issues, this is the one that I have trouble coming down on one side or another.

This mosque is said to be an Islamic community center, and there seems to be a concerted effort to references about inter-faith dialog. I also read one article (of which I can't find yet) that stated that anyone who paid the dues would have access to this facility. Well, parts of it, perhaps. There is some debate as to whether or not non-Muslims are allowed inside a mosque. I do know that non-Muslims cannot even enter the city of Mecca, and that some mosques are closed to non-Muslims, but it is said that mosques in Europe and the United States in particular may be more lax. Can anyone answer this question? Can a non-Muslim simply walk into a mosque as anyone could do in (most) Christian churches? Can a non-Muslim enter if permission is granted?

The larger issue to me is not so much the United States, but abroad. In Saudi Arabia, for example, there is no inter-faith dialog between Islam and other religions, because other religions can't build churches there. Religious freedom as we know it here in the United States does not exist in much of the Muslim world. I'm not suggesting that we should apply their standard to this situation, but I am suspect of the concept of inter-faith dialog from a religion that does not practice it when it is the majority religion.

There are also some issues surrounding Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and some of the comments he has made:
  • he said that the United States was "an accessory to the crime" (in reference to 9/11);
  • He has refused to say whether he agrees with the U.S. State Department's designation of Hamas as a terrorist organization
Muslim criticism

Some Muslims have criticized the decision to build the mosque so close to Ground Zero as insensitive. While I am not an expert on Islam and the Koran, it is intriguing to me that, for example, Raheel Raza and Tarek Fatah, board members of the Muslim Canadian Congress, said:
We Muslims know the ... mosque is meant to be a deliberate provocation, to thumb our noses at the infidel. The proposal has been made in bad faith, ... as "Fitna," meaning "mischief-making" that is clearly forbidden in the Koran.... As Muslims we are dismayed that our co-religionists have such little consideration for their fellow citizens, and wish to rub salt in their wounds and pretend they are applying a balm to sooth the pain. (1)
Is that argument not worth some weight in this debate? There are other such arguments as well. (2) and (3)

Sensitivity

Lastly, to me the issue comes down to sensitivity, or perhaps the lack of it. This area is largely a commercial district. It's not as if this particular location is the epicenter of Islam in New York. But this area clearly has significance to New Yorkers, who by majorities who oppose the mosque, and by nearly all 9/11 families, to whom this area (if not this exact building) is sacred ground. Surely, the builders understand this issue, yet they continue to push to build at this site. I have clearly and unequivocally said they have ever right to do so. To me, the issue is not can they, but should they. If the owners were to decide to build elsewhere, this issue would disappear. But at the current location, I suspect there will be more discord than dialog.

Racism / Intolerance / Etc.

I hope from talking about these concerns that is it possible to understand that from my perspective, it is perfectly acceptable to be opposed to the GZM without being racist, or intolerant, or dismissive of Muslims' freedom of religion. Disagreeing with particular tenets of a religious group does not mean I am intolerant of their religion. Quite the opposite. I consider myself a non-denominational Christian, precisely because I have issues with various sects/denominations and their interpretations of Biblical issues. Likewise, I have issues with Catholicism, and Mormonism, and many other groups, but I respect their right to practice their religion as they see fit, just like I support people to practice no religion if they so choose.

Opposed

I stated early on that legally speaking, there appears to be nothing stopping the building of the GZM. And I have a difficult time imagining how any such legal opposition could be realistically mounted. On the other hand, many of the circumstances surrounding the mosque suggest to me that the owners decide to build elsewhere. If tolerance is a staple of Islam, the owners, on their own accord, ought to practice some sensitivity and show respect not only to the 9/11 families, but to public opinion in general and build the mosque elsewhere. As Peter Kirsanow of NRO has said: "Merely because I have a right to do something doesn’t mean it should be done. Neither does it mean that my exercise of the right must be insulated from dissuasion or criticism."(4)

There are so many issues surround the GZM and I know I have only touched on a few. But I hope I have been able to demonstrate why I think there is legitimate opposition to building it. You may not and don't have to agree with it, but I think you should be willing to accept that it is legitimate to oppose the mosque without being the subject of ridicule for being racist, bigoted, or intolerant.

In the end, if the owners decide to "say tough luck, we're building it anyway," then that's something we have to live with. And while I will disagree with it, I'll accept it.
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