Kind of Red

August 31, 2010

On What Grounds

Filed under: Uncategorized — The Painted One @ 9:47 pm

Nearly a month ago New York’s Landmarks Preservation Commission voted unanimously against granting historic protection to 45-47 Park Place, the site in Lower Manhattan set aside for a controversial Islamic Cultural Center two blocks away from Ground Zero.   The announcement of plans to build the $100 million Center sparked a bitter, protracted national debate regarding religious freedom in the United States.  The Commission’s vote allows for the construction of the Islamic Cultural Center slated to house a mosque, 500-seat auditorium, gymnasium, restaurant and culinary school, childcare facilities, a library, an indoor pool and September 11th memorial.   The Center has received notable support from prominent figures, including New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who remarked on how the controversy fits neatly into the ongoing struggle for religious freedom in New York, and likened the struggle of Muslims in present day New York to the plight of Jews and Catholics during previous times.  The construction has also produced notable objections, yet much of it has been subsumed by nagging culture wars, misconceptions and xenophobia.

For example, with looming mid-term elections, numerous political candidates have used the planned construction of the Center as a rallying cry to galvanize their base and “demonize” the iman behind the plans despite remaining silent when the plans for the Center were first announced.  It is difficult to intuit other reasons for such vehement opposition at this present juncture when the announcement of the plans first surfaced in December of last year to little fanfare.   As Salon reporter Justin Elliott commented on WHYY’s Radiotimes recently, it is as though these political figures and their constituents did not know they were supposed to be outraged until little over a month ago.  Nevertheless, they are outraged indeed.

For example, Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich argued against the proposed Center by declaring. “Nazis don’t have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust museum in Washington.”   Kevin Calvey, a Republican running for Congress in Oklahoma added, “ Some of the Muslim leaders associated with the mosque “are clearly terrorist sympathizers.”  Additionally, Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R. – Florida) and Peter King (R. – New York) issued a statement that reads, “This is a terrible choice to be one of the faces of our country overseas.”  Rick Scott, a Republican candidate in the Florida gubernatorial race criticized the center and President Obama by stating, “Mr. President, ground zero is the wrong place for a mosque.”

In sum, the Center and the debate regarding its propriety has become a sharp point of contention.  With all the disparaging remarks and anger strewn about, it has proven difficult to voice legitimate opposition to the Center’s construction without entering into a shouting match.  It has proven more difficult for one to have an honest discussion about the Center’s construction and express concerns, as I do, due to the misconceptions that continue to seep into the discussion.  Notably, it is quite telling how opponents have molded misleading rhetoric into public discourse to frame the language of the debate. Many opponents deride the Center as the “Ground Zero Mosque” as if the plans for the Center were to erect an enormous mosque on the site of the September 11th terrorist attacks.  No such plans have ever emerged.  The Center has a mosque, but the Center is not a mosque; there is a difference.  It is not at Ground Zero, and cannot be seen from Ground Zero.  These are facts, facts which are often overlooked to further drive opposition to the Center’s construction while it remains politically expedient.  As Senator Harry Reid astutely remarked, “If [Republican lawmakers] are being sincere, they would help us pass this long overdue bill to help the first responders whose health and livelihoods have been devastated because of their bravery on 911, rather than continuing to block this much –needed legislation.”  Senator Reid highlighted a key observation; many who oppose the construction of the Center due to their stated desire to pay proper respect to those who lost their lives on September 11th, should be equally concerned with the welfare of the first responders who risked their lives to attempt to save people trapped in the Towers.  No such health coverage is coming because a recent bill designed to provide first responders with health coverage was defeated in Congress.  Moreover, opponents to the Center also seem to have little problem with the fact that Muslims routinely pray in the Pentagon less than eighty feet away from where the terrorists struck on September 11th.  Such facts lead one to believe the source of the anger expressed by the Center’s opponents comes from something other than concern for preserving the legacy of Ground Zero.  True opposition should find its home in the truth, not deliberately misleading rhetoric.

It goes without saying those responsible for the September 11th attacks based the majority (if not all) of their justification for their erratic act of terror on their religious fervor.   Moreover, confirmed reports have established that this religious fervor was grounded in extremist interpretations of Islam.  Notwithstanding, the terrorists responsible for the attacks on September 11th were not the first to commit an act of violence in the name of religion.  In fact, countless individuals representing all religious faiths, have perpetrated horrendous acts of violence in the name of God throughout the span of human history, even if such acts contradict the very faith to which they blindly adhere.  Our nation’s history bears no lack of exceptions, which should teach us to more readily dissociate the actions of several extremists from the actions of adherents of an entire faith.  Particularly, I do not expect anyone to associate the terrorists responsible for September 11th with the entire Islamic faith any more than I expect one to associate the actions of the Ku Klux Klan, Timothy James McVeigh or David Koresh with all of Christianity.

One would assume in the “nation under God,” we would strive to discuss our differences more amicably.  One should also assume that those who oppose the construction of the Islamic Cultural Center on the basis of their Christian faith could find better ways to do so than by burning Qu’rans and burning mosques. One would believe that we Christians could express our differences to Islam, by showing the love of Christ, revealing His power and preaching sound doctrine.  That is how scripture commands us to handle such disagreements.

The public outcry to move the Islamic Cultural Center sets a dangerous precedent for people of all faiths.  The day the general public (or the government) may pressure citizens not to exercise the legitimate dictates of their faith, or may pressure private citizens to worship in a more “suitable” location is the day that births future religious persecution and all its progeny.  The day we tell Muslims where they can pray and sponsor other faith-based activities establishes a precedent for others telling other groups where and when they can pray and exercise their faith.  Such restrictions are perfectly permissible in theocracies and dictatorships, but problematic in democracies.

Christians and Jews alike celebrate the depth of Daniel’s convictions when he “kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime,” notwithstanding the king’s decree that would land him in the lions’ den for thirty days if he did so.  Daniel’s faith was put to the ultimate test in part because his nation’s decrees restricted his worship.  As I have written before, there will come a day, were Christianity will longer be the faith du jour in the United States.  My prayer is simply that I have the courage to continue in the faith when such a day arrives.  In the interim, I pray I love my neighbors as myself, even when I do not share their beliefs.  I have plenty of grounds to do so.

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