I'm sorry if I'm a bit late to the discussion. I've been meaning to write this for Thursday's post, but for the past few nights, I've fallen asleep way before my usual bedtime. That is, falling asleep before I wrote my blog post for the following day.
The controversy over the proposed Muslim community center in lower Manhattan seems to have reached a fever pitch in the past week, with outrage from conservatives claiming to hold the best interest of the victims of 9/11 in their hearts. President Obama weighed in, during a meeting with Muslims, but then seemed to backtrack when it didn't play well in the news. Mayor Michael Bloomberg praised Obama's opinion regarding the right of Muslims to build a community center on a piece of property they happened to own. Yes, its a couple blocks north of the former World Trade Center site, but listening to the ranting on the news, you would think that the Muslims were wanting to build a Mosque directly on top of the World Trade Center site, as they did with the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem by building it on the very site of the Jewish Temple that was destroyed in 70 A.D.
Surprisingly, Dr. Howard Dean weighed in on the controversy and came down on the...conservative side?!? His argument was about being sensitive to the families of those who perished in the World Trade Center on 9/11/2001. If they don't want a "mosque" near the "sacred site", then by golly, we should just listen to them and do what they say! I hate to say it, but I'm gonna have to disagree with the good Dr. Dean on this one. My view is with Mayor Michael Bloomberg. If the Mayor of America's largest and most diverse city doesn't see a problem with it, why do red-state conservatives have to get all up in arms about it? Before 9/11, these were the same people who called New York City and Los Angeles "Sodom and Gomorrah"! A couple devastating terrorist attacks later, they claim to love NY and only have its best interest at heart.
The above photo is of the location of the proposed community center. It was formerly the home of Burlington Coat Factory, but due to some structural damage from 9/11's events, it has been empty for many years. Empty and for sale. A Muslim group bought the property to develop. They already have a place in lower Manhattan. They actually meet in the basement of some other building. The new facility would contain a community center and a prayer room. It is not a full scale mosque. Even if it was, with the appropriate architecture featuring minarets and intricate lace designs, so what? I say, BUILD IT!
I'm not understanding what the controversy is. Islam has well over a billion people who consider themselves Muslim. 19 hijackers from Saudi Arabia and Egypt supposedly carried out 9/11's horrible events under orders from terrorist Osama bin Laden. So, we're going to let 19 misguided souls speak for 1 billion people? Does that mean the non-Christians throughout the world can base their view of Christianity on the likes of Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell or Fred Phelps?
Maybe I'm just too universalist in my thinking to be bothered by this plan. I honestly do not see any problem with it. In fact, I think its a great idea. By allowing Muslims to develop the property that they own, like any other business or organization or church in America, we are showing the world how great our country is. It would send a positive signal to the rest of the world, as people are baffled by our tolerance and forgiving nature. In the Middle East, they fight back and forth over petty and trivial issues. Tit-for-tat. Eye for an eye. A never ending vicious cycle of violence. America has been lucky and I don't think its an accident. From the beginning, our country decided to not have an official church (i.e. Church of America). The wall of separation between church and state has been pretty solid, despite recent attempts to chip away at it. This wall is a good thing (despite evangelical protests) because it allowed so many religions to flourish. Churches don't need government sanction to function. Churches that want government assistance, though, generally want it at the expense of a rival religion or church. That's not "The American Way."
I know its hard for conservatives to understand, but their claims that a Muslim community center near ground zero would be tantamount to victory for the 9/11 terrorists is absurd. The terrorists come from impoverished developing world countries in the Middle East, where there are few job prospects (as much as 50% unemployment exists). Many are trained or brainwashed in madrassas in isolated areas. If there are any "home grown terrorist cells" in the United States, so far, they've been pretty quiet. Maybe there aren't any, because people who live in the U.S. really do appreciate our freedom of religion. Many Muslim countries are authoritarian police states. Given the opportunity, I think life in the U.S. for many Muslims is much better than in a Muslim country, thus why we haven't seen any homegrown Muslim terrorists (yet).
This could change, though. If people want to be petty and deny them the right to develop the property that they own in the way that they wish, it will likely create a backlash. Even worse, there is a religious group in Florida, which uses the word "dove" in their name (the dove being the symbol of peace), that plans to burn copies of the Qu'ran this September 11th, despite their permit being denied by the local fire department. When I read this bit of news, I was stunned. Doing this is practically an engraved invitation or a double dare to Muslims around the world to sign up for suicide missions and once again strike the U.S. Maybe that's what this Christian group wants, so that conservatives can rejoice at President Obama's "failure" to keep America safe.
In thinking over what this community center means, I just don't understand why anyone would get so worked up about it. Maybe my thinking is so different. I see this as a great outreach tool. A symbolic gesture that in America, we are religiously tolerant and forgiving. People in the Muslim world would be impressed that Americans allowed people of their faith to build a community center so near a place of tragedy. Its not a victory for the terrorists, but a victory for the forces of tolerance and good will. A cynic might even argue that its good from the standpoint of being an insurance policy against possible future attacks at the site (whenever a memorial actually gets built). If terrorists dare strike again, they might unintentionally take out a community center of their supposed religion.
The map above shows the location of a few landmarks in lower Manhattan. As one can see, this community center is not on the World Trade Center site. One cannot even see the site from the community center (due to New York's famous skyscrapers). People simply need to chill!
My impression is that this controversy is a smokescreen for something else. A proxy argument for a deeply rooted issue that people don't want to talk about. Conservative media keeps claiming that President Obama is really a Muslim. While I don't see a problem with that if it were true (in fact, I think it would be awesome if we had a non-Christian president for once), I think this whisper campaign is truly cynical and unbecoming anyone who claims to believe in the Ten Commandments (one of which is: "Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness"!).
I believe there is an ulterior motive behind it all. There is an ongoing push by conservatives to plant into the minds of their un-critical-thinking sheeple that President Obama is an "illegitimate president" because he was supposedly born in Kenya as a Muslim admirer of Pol Pot who represents al-Qaeda's secret plan to destroy America from within!!! I hate to break it to you Fox Propaganda subjects, but your beloved Bush did just fine destroying America on his own. Obama is just cleaning up the mess, like that soda shop custodian in the Back to the Future movie who ends up becoming mayor of the town thirty years later.
I've been having some intense debates with brainless Fox viewers and Glenn Beck fans on various Facebook walls. Its baffling the amount of ignorance that is spewed from their mouths. No one tends to think of themselves as "ignorant" and it has become a charged word for many people, but how else to explain the preference for propaganda and lies that have no basis in reality or fact? I simply do not understand why so many people prefer to be lied to than to know the truth. Is their narrow view of the world that important to them? Don't they understand that the Soviet Union collapsed because of the ideological blindness of communists? Being blind to ideology means that you cannot see when something is no longer working because you are deeply invested in its outcome. The world does not work in ideology. That is the hidden hand of egotism. How many arrogant giants must fall before people wake up their eyes? Gloating that communism was doomed to fail while believing that unregulated capitalism will continue gaining market share and increase profits forever is just as blind a political philosophy as any other.
Facts matter. Sideshow trivia only keeps people trapped in ignorance. Why would anyone want to be masters of their own enslavement? The rightwing paranoia machine knows how to manipulate the gullible views of Fox and Beck. They have old ladies scared of an extremist black man with a strange name from a foreign land who somehow got elected as our nation's leader. Who knows where this paranoia will go? During my internship in D.C., the worst aspect of my job was dealing with the crazies who called in and said some pretty strange shit. The "aliens are zapping my brain!" or "government is controlling me with a remote" variety of loony tune. I am not comfortable around OCD people who engage in wacky paranoid fantasies that the government is out to get them with Black Hawk helicopters. I really fear that some demagogues like Rush or Beck or O'Reilly or Hannity is practically daring a crazy person to pick up a gun and go Taxi Driver on our president. And no, I hope I ain't "talkin' to you"!
My comment on my extremist uncle's Facebook page about the illogical belief that Obama was born in Kenya caused him to de-friend me. Well, maybe it could have been some other comments I had made regarding my interest in the Hindu religion and the joke that I "worship" the sacred cow (by not eating them). My uncle and his wife have gotten so far right, its actually surprising. This was the couple who showed up at my 7th grade play for Speaking and Listening class wearing Harley-Davidson T-shirts and black leather pants and jacket. At some point, they traded in their Harley-Davidson obsession for religion and it has gotten more intense over the years. The good news is that their daughters are rebellious. Neither one of them seems interested in their parents church. Even more interesting, this uncle is the most conservative member of the family, yet his daughters smoke, drink, hang out at bars, had children out of wedlock, gotten divorced. My father is the most liberal of the brothers and both my sister and I have college degrees, are pretty stable, not into smoking or drinking, and attend church regularly. Oh, the irony! Gotta love it!!!
As for Islam, I have my own problems with it. Let's just say that its not my favourite of the religions out there. I could never be a Muslim, but I am able to appreciate some of it. I love the architecture of the mosque, particularly minarets. I have a copy of the Qu'ran, which I hope to read someday. I also have a Muslim prayer carpet that I bought in Alexandria, Egypt for $25 and sometimes use when I pray. Even if I am not particularly fond of a religion's tenets, though, I have no problem being friends with Muslims, having conversations about religion with them, or even attending a service with them. I think they should be allowed to develop the property they own for whatever they want, within the zoning laws of Manhattan. This is the essence of tolerance. This is what makes America a great country. You don't have to like someone else's religion, but they should be afforded the same rights that you have. And the respect should be mutual (i.e. I won't burn your Qu'ran if you won't burn my Bible). If such intolerant actions are allowed (making the Muslim group sell their property and establish a community center elsewhere; burning Qu'rans on the 9th anniversary of 9/11), I fear for our country. In fact, we shouldn't be surprised if our intolerant actions result in another terrorist attack on our soil. However, we should not do the right thing out of some fear of the possibility of an attack. We should do the right thing because it IS THE RIGHT THING to do.