Friday, August 6, 2010
The “Ground Zero Mosque” is the latest controversy creating spirited debate in America. The controversy started when the Cordoba Initiative, a Muslim organization, wanted to get a permit to build a “community center,” including a mosque, two blocks from the site of the attacked World Trade Center. The emotional fight began and still continues over whether the initiative is an example of insensitivity to the feelings of family members of 9/11 victims, or is it a way forward to bring reconciliation and healing for post-9/11 America?
One of the biggest motives of this controversy is the image of Islam in America, and particularly how it has been perceived since September 11. For many, Islam is a religion which chiefly spreads hatred. A lot of Americans believe that Islam is an exceptionally brutal religion in which basic human rights are unimportant for especially those who belong to other faiths. Since 9/11, this chain of beliefs has gained more evidence to prove its arguments are worthy, in light of many radical Islamic terrorists blowing up innocent women or infants almost every single day.
According to the July 20 National Rasmussen polls, only 20 percent of American people favor the building of a mosque near the 9/11 Ground Zero site in New York City, and 54 percent oppose the idea.
The segment of American society which has strong reactions against Islam does not only belong to the South or Midwest part of America, places where people are traditionally more conservative and suspicious of foreign culture or religion, but a significant part of the conservative elite, politicians and writers alike, also fall into this segment of society that shares a similar negative perspective of Islam. Members of this spectrum have some knowledge of Islam, through books and discussions which are abundant in number, however many times more extremely limited in context.
The Cordoba Initiative, in its mission statement, clearly states that one of its aims is “bringing back the atmosphere of interfaith tolerance and respect that we have longed for since Muslims, Christians and Jews lived together in harmony and prosperity eight hundred years ago.”
Still, the initiative has been under heavy fire for sometime. The matter also became a hot political issue as the midterm elections are getting closer in the United States. Especially many of the Republican Party leaders are reacting strongly to the idea of the mosque, calling it a threat to American values.
One of the loudest oppositions came from the Anti-Defamation League, or ADL’s, National Director Abe Foxman. Foxman said, “Ultimately this is not a question of rights, but a question of what is right. In our judgment, building an Islamic Center in the shadow of the World Trade Center will cause some victims more pain – unnecessarily – and that is not right,” adding, “If you want to heal us, don’t do it in our cemetery.”
The Associated Press reported on Thursday that the American Center for Law and Justice, founded by the Rev. Pat Robertson, filed suit Wednesday to challenge the Landmark Preservation Committee's decision to let developers tear down a building to make way for the mosque. Therefore even though the Commission gave a green light for proceeding, the lawsuits will follow their course and produce a verdict eventually.
The liberal spectrum of the country and its intellectual community mostly argue that it would be un-American if they interfered in the establishment of a religious house, wherever the location would be. New York’s current independent mayor, Michael Bloomberg, is one of those leading politicians who has been supporting the mosque project, and last Wednesday gave an emotional speech to recall America’s founding principles and melting pot-tolerant society. Bloomberg said in his statement, “If somebody wants to build a religious house of worship, they should do it and we shouldn’t be in the business of picking which religions can and which religions can’t. We would betray our values and play into our enemies' hands if we were to treat Muslims differently than anyone else."
It is a contentious issue and both sides have some strong arguments. Nevertheless, it is still such a commendable capability for a country to discuss an event which has left such a big scar in its recent memory.
Nobody should belittle the opposition’s arguments. There is a genuine confusion in the minds of Americans in terms of understanding Islam’s true nature. Millions of American parents question everyday why their sons and daughters have to go overseas to fight with “Muslim radicals,” who hate their way of life. For them, a mosque is a place that breeds the terrorism which haunt their children at the end.
There is also a narrative discrepancy between many Americans who view the Mosques as Muslim barracks and the Domes as their helmets and the rest. In the poll taken by Quinnipiac University last month, 55 percent of New York City voters say, “Mainstream Islam is a peaceful religion," while 22 percent say Islam "encourages violence against non-Muslims."
The first narrative argues that even though the U.S. and the West have invested in the Muslim countries for their well-being, and showed respect for their religions and cultures, they receive violence in return. Many of them laud the concern of the possible effect such a mosque would have on the families of 9/11 victims, and believe that the initiative would also harm cross-cultural understanding, as opposed to what the Cordoba House argues.
The opposite narrative, which goes through many average Muslims’ minds in many Muslim countries, is that the West is repulsive, keeps humiliating Islam by invading Muslim lands and ties them up in various conflicts so it can continue exploiting them further.
Frustration with the economy, unemployment or immigration apparently does not stop the American people from spending much of their time in this particular issue. According to the Rasmussen Report, 51 percent of Americans follow the recent news reports about the mosque either “very,” or “somewhat,” closely. And it is apparent that the mosque project opened a wound that is still too raw for some to even talk about.
In the end, Americans will decide what kind of society they are aspire to hold dear and continue to build. In spite of radical rhetoric which frequently dominates discussion, there is a space for average Americans to let their feeling be heard on the issue. It is true that the American and every other public does it best when they debate.
The Muslim community in America also ought to spend more time considering New Yorkers’ sensitivities. Muslims in America must ask for freedom of religion and shall not stop working until they receive their rights fully. And the latest panel decision shows that it indeed received its rights to build. Now, maybe it is time for the Muslims to consider Americans’ opposition with respect and be open to make gestures and compromises if necessary.
The gesture could easily be to move the mosque a little further from the site.
Nothing is wrong with hearing others’ memories and opinions if the main motive on the both sides is healing.