16 August 2010

Why I Support The Ground Zero Mosque

I wish I didn't have to make a point to say that freedom of religion, more so than any other principle, represents the reason America came to be in the first place. But as the Ground Zero mosque (or Park51 now apparently) debate shows, there are those who don't think this fundamental right matters when it comes to certain religions building certain structures near certain places. Even worse, Republican congressional leaders and 2012 presidential contenders are turning the Park51 issue into an all-out attack on Islam. We know fear rallies the base, especially when you're in the minority, but this has gone too far. The calculated Republican response to the proposed mosque and Muslim cultural center a few blocks from where the World Trade Center once stood has been shameful and is contrary to America's founding principles.

It would be one thing if Rauf's Dharma Cordoba Initiative behind the proposed mosque/cultural center was in some way connected to Al Qaeda or any other known terrorist group. If that were the case, and if it ever is found to be in the future, I will be first in line calling for its demise. But until then, I (and the Constitution) support the project and the group behind it, the mission of which is to bridge the gap of cultural understanding between Muslims and westerners. Their location choice obviously stirs the pot, but it's no reason to prevent them from worshipping where they choose. Anyone who opposes this project on anything other than charges of insensitivity is either misinformed, anti-Islamic by nature or so desperate for political gain they are willing to slap the Constitution in the face.

9/11 was horrible. The wound is still fresh. It is insensitive of the Cordoba Initiative to make such a public and politicized, borderline stubborn, defense of where they build. NY's Gov. Paterson even reportedly offered them some prime real estate on the other side of the city, but they turned it down. Clearly, they don't have to continue building where they are proposing. However it is well within their constitutional rights to do so. I mean, it would be a nice gesture if they relocated a few dozen blocks away as a courtesy to this country and the almost 3000 who died that day. That would make quite a statement about their intentions to "bridge the gap." But, as Americans, we must be willing to accept and respect the decision of any legitimate religious organization when it comes to where they want to practice their religion in accordance with the law. There must be no exception, even for 9/11. As long as they obey the law, who are we to tell them where they can and cannot worship? It's not easy, but it's the stuff America is made of - being the bigger man even when it hurts like hell.

I applaud President Obama's defense of Park51. He's obviously swimming against the tide of public opinion...last time I checked, 70% of the country opposes the project. I guess I do too, on a reactionary gut level. But the issue requires more thought than just going with our initial emotional response. Obama is doing what he feels is right and constitutionally defended. Sure, he was speaking to a group of Muslims and got a little flowery with his language, but so did Thomas Jefferson when he entertained a Tunisian envoy for iftar in 1805 (as our current president so duly noted).

It wasn't an especially thoughtful or intelligent choice, but I support the Cordoba Initiative's right to build an institution dedicated to the practice of their faith and promoting cultural understanding, even if it's near an open wound. It's the definition of the American way. While I understand the public's emotional opposition, I don't agree with Republicans using 9/11 and the mosque issue as a way to whip up anti-Muslim, anti-Obama hysteria just before elections. It's predictably childish and deconstructive, not to mention far from patriotic.

All I know is many of the guys in opposition to this project, the same ones who love to spew Revolutionary era soundbites with vitriolic, Glenn Beck-esque fervor, would find themselves between a rock and a hard place if they could hear some of our founding fathers' thoughts on Park51.