Friday, August 20, 2010

You Want to Build What Where?

It's the first part of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..." A right guaranteed before freedoms of speech, press, and assembly.

So I'll start by saying that from a Constitutional, and patriotically American standpoint, you can build a mosque wherever you want.

But I'll also provide some free advice and say that you might be asking for drama if you're not careful.

Barack recently said: "Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone 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."

While I agree with Barack, the two words that struck me were "lower Manhattan." The conceivers and proponents of the proposed mosque at 51 Park Place didn't just want to build a community center in "lower Manhattan." They deliberately selected a location only 600 feet from 6 World Trade Center. So for Barack to use words like "lower Manhattan," instead of "2 blocks from Ground Zero," is a slight misnomer. And an intentionally slight misnomer.

The location was chosen specifically to be near the WTC. It wasn't just a lower Manhattan mosque that coincidentally was also close to the WTC.

They chose the location with benevolence. They don't want to make a pro-terrorist statement. They're trying to make a pro-Islam statement. One of the mosque's biggest sponsors is Feisal Abdul Rauf, who seems to think that building the mosque can help strengthen the bond between Islam and the West.

But this is a foolish and stupid way to try to accomplish such a goal.

Unlike Bill Maher, I don't blame religion for what people do with their religious beliefs. Not all Muslims are terrorists. Most aren't. Some people are monstrous on their own, and they use religion, nationalism, anything, in order to psychologically justify their wrongdoing by painting it with a brush of morality. They often use words like "cleansing," and "purifying." When leaders use terms like that, it's time to worry. That's why Billy Mays infomercials always freaked me out.

Some have described the building of this mosque as "arrogant." As a "slap to the face." As "insensitive." I think it's essentially innocent. I'd classify it as misguided.

If guys like Rauf are trying to unite Islam and the West, then this is an incorrect way to go about it. Somebody made the comparison to a German culture center built adjacent to a concentration camp. And that's not too dissimilar. German culture is not inherently bad or good. Germans don't, by definition, hate Jews. But many of them did, and they did something horrible with that hatred, in the name of German culture. To paraphrase the NRA, cultures don't kill people, people kill people.

But I don't this mosque would be, as Newt Gingrich described: "like putting a Nazi sign next to the Holocaust Museum."

It's called a Swastika, Newt, and everyone knows that. And it's not quite that directly provocative. This is merely ignorant hyperbole.

A better way to unite Islam and the West would be to build a memorial to the innocent Muslims killed in the 9/11 attacks. And there were a few dozen, including police cadet and paramedic Mohammed Salman Hamdani, whose remains were found in the rubble of the North Tower, next to his medical bag.

We forget that the 9/11 terrorists indiscriminately murdered Muslims on September 11th. If we remember things like that, "us" and "them" will become "we."

If you want to unite (what you see as) two cultures, you have to treat them as one. And if you want to improve relationships between those two cultures, then you have to consider the perspectives of both. About 2/3 of Americans oppose this idea. More than half of New York City residents oppose it. So far, this mosque has done more dividing than unifying. Even the 1/3 of Americans and slightly less than half of New Yorkers who don't have a problem with the mosque, probably aren't feeling more unified by it.

It's ridiculous that people in Oregon are being polled for their opinions regarding a proposed religious building in Manhattan. Then again, it's ridiculous to want to build a mosque 600 feet from Ground Zero. Or at the very least, it's provocative, in that it's meant to provoke some sort of reaction.

I for one don't particularly care, except that it seems like everyone else cares. I started caring when the President of the United States once again chimed in on an issue that should be handled by city-level government.

All the defenders of this mosque, at least the ones I've heard and read, have been quoting the Constitution and citing precedents of religious freedom. And while that is all true, and is why the mosque can be built. Very few people have discussed why it should be built. What is trying to be achieved, by intentionally selecting such an interesting location? What are the goals of this mosque? We've heard overtures and vague sentiments, but I've yet to hear the explicit reasons for selecting this location.

I've read some defenders argue that two blocks is hardly next door. "do you have any concept of how far two blocks is in a city like New York" asked Joyce Pines of the Kalamazoo Gazette. It's slightly over one tenth of a mile, or 600 feet, or less than a minute walk away. That's close. And the building that will be replaced by the mosque was struck by United 175's landing gear after it plowed through the South Tower. That's close.

In one poll, 68% of Americans opposed this mosque. But 61% also felt as though it had a right to exist. We as Americans have the right to build mosques pretty much wherever we want. And we also have the right to disagree with the building of a mosque. And all these rights, opinions, and freedoms are part of what the 9/11 hijackers hated about us.

I'm afraid as an instrument of unification and connection, this mosque has failed. It'll sadly be the target of vandalism and scorn by an ignorant minority. And that will further deepen the sense of separation. So I think this mosque most certainly has the right to exist and operate. But it will divide what it's trying to unify. Rather, it already has.

No comments: