-- Friedrich Nietzsche
Religion causes a fervor among men that is unparalleled in this world. The faith and beliefs in a higher power start squabbles as small as dust-ups between citizens and as big as full scale wars between nations. For the purposes of the United States, three majors religions dominate the landscape -- Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. Christianity has long since been the most prevalent of the three while Islam is perhaps the fastest growing. Jews do not actively seek converts, yet still form a significant bloc of American society.
Tensions have existed between Islam and Christianity / Judaism for centuries upon centuries but the latest accelerant came on September 11, 2001 when radical Muslims flew airplanes into both World Trade Center buildings, causing them to collapse. A wave of anti-Islamic fever swept over mainstream America and cast suspicion on anyone who even looked Arabic.
In the past nine years, the hysteria toward Muslims has ebbed but another backlash could be reignited with a controversial building project in New York City. Muslim groups in the Big Apple are in the process of attempting to build a new mosque and Islamic community center. The snag in the plan? The property is located two blocks away from Ground Zero.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich opined his thoughts in a recent New York Times article, stating,
The World Trade Center is the largest loss of American life on our soil since the Civil War ... and we have not rebuilt it, which drives people crazy. And in that setting, we are told, why don’t we have a 13-story mosque and community center? ... The average American just thinks this is a political statement. It’s not about religion, and is clearly an aggressive act that is offensive.Palin "tweeted" her thoughts, "Peace-seeking Muslims, pls [sic] understand, Ground Zero mosque is UNNECESSARY provocation; it stabs hearts. Pls [sic] reject it in interest of healing."
Those supporting Muslims' right to build include the very popular mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, who noted local government had no right to interfere with where a religious house of worship should be built. The Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR - clever, very clever) has also supported the act and noted the ADL's position served only to be more divisive.
The executive director of CAIR, Nihad Awad, that the Islamic faith and New York Muslim community "have nothing to do with 9/11 ... In fact, they have been the victims of 9/11, like anyone else. So why should we allow bigots to limit the rights of American Muslims in New York to build? On what basis? Fear-mongering? Misunderstanding? Bigotry?"
My first response wasn't really a response at all. I reacted. I believed building a mosque so close to Ground Zero was a horrible idea -- insulting, an offensive gesture. Then, I began to think more on it. In trying to examine this overarching question, several smaller questions popped into my head.
1. If the mosque is "too close" to Ground Zero, then where would it be okay to build? In all the articles I've read on this topic, no one seems to be asking this question. If two blocks isn't appropriate, where is the "line" drawn? Ten blocks? 20? Does anyone else see how ridiculous the notion of drawing some line on what's too close to Ground Zero?
2. Couldn't this set a dangerous precedent? Absolutely. Americans can't discriminate against an entire religion for the sins of a few. How many times do we become irritated when foreigners make presumptions about our citizens based on the actions of a small minority?
3. Is this a religious or political issue? Only a fool would believe religion has nothing to do with this. Americans still do not fully understand the religion of Islam and we always fear what we don't understand. When people fear -- they lash out. Average Americans are extremely skeptical of Muslims.
I haven't seen Americans become hostile when radical Christians kill abortion doctors and blame the entire religion or cast doubt on the entire religion because of fradulent "preachers" or abusive priests. Would local governments be allowed to stop the building of a Catholic church near a school?
4. What does this say about our values and society? If New York City allows this building project to be blocked, then all of our American beliefs on freedom appear to be only lip service. What good is it to have ideals and standards if we choose to ignore them because we are afraid?
The First Amendment of United States Constitution guarantees the freedom to choose to worship or not worship in any way we choose. Restricting where a house of worship could be placed is dangerous. This is the real terror inflicted upon us -- causing unrest within our society and making us doubt our very selves and give in to hate and fear. I do not support Islam and my own beliefs greatly conflict with them, but if they have the resoures and the property, then let them build. What better way could there be to live up to what we aspire to be.
Here's to hoping we don't become the monster.