Monday, August 16, 2010

What's Truly at Stake in the Ground Zero Mosque Debate

The controversy over the proposed Muslim community center and mosque two blocks from Ground Zero rages on, with President Obama issuing unequivocal support Friday night on Constitutional grounds, while asserting the next day that he will not comment on the "wisdom" of the decision to build it at that location.

On the other side, shameless politicizing radical right-wing fanatics like Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich are fanning the flames of hatred with their incendiary rhetoric, comparing Muslims behind the mosque project to Nazis and serving as the self-anointed spokespeople for 9/11 victims and their families.

But the truth is, not every 9/11 family opposes the center. In fact, there's quite a large group of supporters.

"There is no simple, singular 9/11 group who really should or could speak for all 9/11 family members," said Donna Marsh O'Connor of September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, a coalition of over 250 families who support the building of the mosque. O'Connor's 29-year-old pregnant daughter was killed in one of the World Trade Center towers. "This is not a small issue, this is what America has always been -- a place where people come to escape religious persecution. I can understand people saying that this is a slap. This does hurt. But we don't change fundamentally what our nation is about because it will hurt people."

Charles Wolf of New York City lost his wife, Katherine, 56, in the attacks. He supports the mosque "100 percent."

Herb Ouida's son Todd died on 9/11, and warns against harsh tone of the opposition. He said, "What we are doing is we are saying to the world that we are at war with Islam. And we can't be. I want my grandchildren to live in a better world."

Frank Tatum's mother was killed in the attacks as well. "I think it's important not to give into the hysteria. We do have religious freedom. I know the wounds are still very open, me myself included but you have to look at the big picture. You can't practice these freedoms only when it suits us. You have to practice them all along."

First responders have also voiced their support for the mosque. Former Emergency Medical Services worker Marvin Bethea, 50, was forced to retire six years ago because of 9/11-related breathing problems. "Even though my life has changed, I don't hate the Muslims....I understand the families are hurt and lost, but how do you sit here and condemn all Muslims as being terrorists? That's just bigotry and hatred. We're a better nation than that. The diversity that we have, this is what New York is about. But we have such prejudices, some of us. We have a long way to go."

Some claim that the building of a mosque so close to Ground Zero dishonors those who died that day. But I'd like to suggest the opposite; the the mosque actually honors the dead by symbolizing the upholding of the laws and freedoms that make America great. I cringe at the thought that those who died so innocently that fateful day would condone the mass discrimination of an entire religion of people in the name of revenge. That's no honor.

We live in a nation of laws. And we live by the rule of law. And the rights guaranteed by the Constitution. We don't govern in some ad hoc, knee-jerk, arbitrary manner based on the prejudices, sensitivities or whims of a select few. We also don't govern based on majority rule. If that were the case, despicable groups like the KKK and white supremacists would not be able to march and protest in places like Selma, Ala and Skokie, Ill against the wishes of blacks, Jews and others who find such activity highly insensitive and offensive, and rightly so. But the Constitution is quite clear about the freedoms we enjoy such as freedom of religion, freedom of speech and freedom to assemble, as well as the laws that prohibit religious discrimination. Sorry, but there's no gray area here. We may not like the words or actions of some people or groups and might find them reprehensible, but that still doesn't give us the right to impose our views on the rest of society and expect decisions to be made based on those narrow judgements.

We cannot become a nation where we allow the squeakiest wheel of ignorance and intolerance to get the most grease. We also don't live in a nation where victims of a crime, or their families, get to rewrite the Constitution... no matter how sensitive we are to their pain and suffering.

It's dangerous to suggest that the entire Muslim faith--and by extension the proposed mosque or mosques in general--is fundamentally incompatible with American pluralism, and therefore poses a greater risk to our citizenry than other faiths and houses of worship. And we cannot allow the 9/11 attacks to be used as a pawn in the political and race/religion wars. Let's remember, we're at war with al Qaeda, not Islam.

To be sure, some will find the mosque's location a 'slap in the face' and an act of supreme insensitivity to the families of those who died on that horrific day. But where do we draw that line in deciding the who/what/where of this community center? Is two blocks too close? Should it be three? Five? Ten? Should we also shut down the area's other mosques, Muslim prayer centers which have existed peacefully in the community for many years prior to 9/11? What about the area's strip clubs? Do we close them down too because some might find them offensive and a 'slap' as well? And who gets to decide all this? Clearly, there's strong, passionate views on both sides of this issue, and especially from the 9/11 families. Which is why Constitutional law should be the engine that drives this debate and not the very personal, subjective views of some.


Anonymous said...

"Let's remember, we're at war with al Qaeda, not Islam."

With that one sentence, you completely negated the rest of your oped!

Did you ever stop and ask yourself why "we're at war with al Qaeda"?

It's not because "they hate our freedoms." It's because they hate our freedom to commit immoral, illegal, imperialist, genocidal, ecocidal, war profiteering wars OF terror so we can steal their natural resources, as well as steal our tax dollars.

If we didn't prop up brutal regimes with our U.S. brand of terrorism, al Qaeda would not exist. But WE make it impossible for them to live peaceably, so they have no other choice but to return the favor and fight back against us any way they know how.

We have met the terrorists, and they are US!

Besides, al Qaeda did not cause 9/11, our own U.S. government did, under the direction of dick Cheney, the greatest global terrorist since Adolph Hitler, and that is no exaggeration.

Kevin Schmidt

Anonymous said...

What is above and beyond this debate is the outrage that ths site of 9-11 is not honored as the hallowed ground even the President said it was, and a memorial/shrine be put there to commomorate this tragedy to our country.

I do not live in New York. I am an outraged and hurt American that this has not been done.

P.R. Jr. said...

Given that the entire controversy is manufactured with no actual plans to build a Mosque, what's actually at stake might be a little different than you postulate here.

A Mossad propaganda operation turned an Islamic community center in a warehouse blocks away into a false "Hate The Muslims because THEY'RE the ones behind 9/11. Really. Trust Us! An we need to bomb Iran, too!!" BS media frenzy. When the reality of the situation became known, the media just added in the Community Center along with the imaginary Mosque instead of correcting the story.

Perhaps what's really at stake here is the very future of concept of Freedom. Both sides of this controversy are players in a puppet show, nothing more, no matter how sincere their feelings might be.

Anonymous said...

So, I guess you have to be for banning the Confederate flag too. Remember, the Confederates attacked us, caused hundreds of thousands of death, and were guilty of treason and sedition. You may have a right to fly the Confederate flag, but is it wise to do so?

Farnsworth68 said...

It was Baby Doc Bush who said that "they" attacked us because they "hate our freedoms". So obviously the Bushco answer was to systematically dismantle those very freedoms. Why? So they would "like" us again? Don't think so...
That dismantling continues apace, even though the Bush Crime Family is out of the limelight (but obviously not out of power).
These frothing-at-the-mouth a**holes of the right are still in thrall to the Darth Cheney Evil Empire, and this whole blown-out-of-all-proportion "controversy" has all the earmarks of a Willie Horton for the next generation. You know, "lookie lookie a bad man, and pay no attention to the man behind the curtain".
The more things change...etc.

Anonymous said...

You also have a right to burn a Confederate flag at a Teabagger Kool-Aid rally, but is it wise to do so?

Answer: It depends on how many flag burners there are!

Meanwhile, this is another stupid little nonfinancial wedge issue used by the upper 1% to divide and conquer the middle class with another bogus distraction while they loot and plunder us, again.

Kevin Schmidt

kateshira said...

Kevin Schmidt, please correct me if I am wrong, but did you really just say that Al Qaeda "ha(s) no other choice but to return the favor and fight back against us any way they know how" ? Really? Al Qaeda has no choice but to resort to extreme terrorist actions? I think you're idiotic for saying that. As far as I'm concerned, there are always two choices. Always.

WDRussell said...

Sure, I think it is a bad idea, but I have to support their right to build it.

Another example of the GOP wanting to rewrite the Constitution.

Anonymous said...

The Islamic population in the US is 0.6%. In Hawaii, 12.6% of the population is Shinto/Japanese and 7.4% German.

I suppose people who defend the ground zero mosque would also support a Shinto temple or Nazi war shrine next door to the Arizona war memorial at Pearl Harbor.

If not, why not?

Anonymous said...

Kevin -

If half or more of Americans pay no tax how can they be plundered?