Several years ago, the church where I belong was bursting at the seams. The original site was land bound within a neighborhood and there was no way to expand there. The search began and many large parcels were considered based on price, feasibility and of course, location. We wanted to be on a major road, unlike the original site. We wanted to remain close to the location where we started so that we could best continue to serve those who were members and friends of the congregation. Sometime during the search process a parcel of land was donated to the church. It wasn't clear if building there was a possibility. The location was fair. It was in the same zip-code, but a differently named section of town. It was also "on the wrong side of the tracks" in a more rundown area that had some criminal incidents most likely due to the biker and other bars within feet of what could very well become the new church home. When it became time to truly consider building there, members of the building task force went door to door to both community residents and the owners of business establishments, including the seedy bars, one of which shared our property line. Thank goodness the community did not have strong objections to our building a church there. If they had, we would have sold the parcel that was donated to us and continued the search for a new location. Why? Because if the church cannot respect the wishes of the community, what kind of example would that set to its members and society as a whole?
So what is up with the Cordoba Initiative's Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf wanting to build an Islamic community center and mosque within feet of Ground Zero? How is this idea even remotely respectful to the community? It is fact and not speculation that a group of radical Islamics carried out the terror of September 11, 2001. That is not very long ago. The wound still festers and mourning continues. Americans are savvy enough to know that wackos exist in all groups and not to prejudge an entire group by the few. That is the larger message of the civil rights movement. We get that. We, who oppose this locale are asking for a little deference to a national tragedy. Not even half a generation has passed.
There are concerns too about Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and possible ties to radical Islamics. There are questions regarding the sources of funding for this 100 million dollar edifice. Even the name of his organization, the Cordoba Initiative has multiple layers of meaning which can be interpreted as either benign or antagonistically. One blogger (see the Ridgewood Blog link below) insists that building the mosque at Ground Zero is a symbolic way for Rauf, his followers and those who fund him to "thumb their noses at the infidel," that it is a statement of their superiority, and that it is an act of "fitma" or mischief. Fitmas are forbidden by Allah.
Building a mosque at 51 Park Place, less than 600 feet from where the World Trade Center once stood, and a place that was damaged by airplane fuselage on 9/11 is the moral equivalent of:
- Building a neo-Nazi meeting hall outside the gates of Auschwitz-Birkenau or Dachau
- Turning John Wayne Gacy's former home (or any murderous pedophile's place of crime) into a NAMBLA meeting place
- Putting a museum touting nuclear weapons or displaying a replica of the Enola Gay at Hiroshima or Nagasaki
- Erecting a Kool-Aid factory at Jonestown
Would those be OK? I think not. They are counter to all sensibilities.
For the record, nobody I know of or have spoken to regarding this issue are trying to usurp religious freedom here. Furthermore, no one is arguing the legality of the location on which they propose to build. What is being questioned here is the wisdom of the decision, the lack of respect that the decision shows and a complete lack of community sensitivity which happens to be mandated by Islam. Questioning and voicing concerns is neither intolerant nor racist. In fact, I have heard no Islamophobic language or lack of tolerance for Islam to be practiced in NYC. I have read different sources siting numbers upwards of 30 mosques already present on Manhattan and over 100 in all of NYC. So tolerance is not the issue either. What is the issue? Location! Location! Location! Practice your religion! Build a mosque! Seek to build tolerance and find those bridges of common ground on which to strengthen communal ties that go beyond religious differences. All of that is good and is encouraged. What is being asked is that you move the location another 8 - 10 blocks north. It is really not too much to ask. Is it?
Wikipedia (well referenced) entry on the Cordoba Initiative Mosque at Ground Zero
Blog written by Muslim presenting reasons for Mosque
Cordoba Initiative's 2008 Anti- Free Speech conference
Over the weekend, the debate on this issue has heated up even more and so have my research efforts. I have now found an interview with Imam Rauf that he did with 60 Minutes where he blames the United States as an accessory to the crime of the attacks of September 11, 2001 and states that Osama Bin Laden is "made in America." (Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf on 60 Minutes) This is unconscionable. As in our personal lives, we are responsible for our own actions and others are responsible for theirs. America has made some poor choices and mistakes in its history. Name a nation that has not. Even though our foreign policies attempt to promote liberty across the globe, we have fallen short. We are not perfect by any stretch and I do not deny that.
Here are two links providing a comprehensive look at the history of the controversy:
Hannity Overview of the Ground Zero Mosque Controversy
Hannity on Imam Rauf
In the second of these two links, Rauf insists he is a bridge builder. If that is the case, then the very second the outcry began he should have apologized, admitted bad judgement and chosen a site that was a more appropriate distance from Ground Zero, yet still considered lower Manhattan. Refusing to back down and instead deny or ignore the will of the community in which he is supposedly building bridges is completely contrary.