Friday, July 16, 2010

A Mosque at Ground Zero

The Cordoba House is a Muslim-led project which will build a world-class facility that promotes tolerance, reflecting the rich diversity of New York City. The center will be community-driven, serving as a platform for inter-community gatherings and cooperation at all levels, providing a space for all New Yorkers to enjoy.

This proposed project is about promoting integration, tolerance of difference and community cohesion through arts and culture. Cordoba House will provide a place where individuals, regardless of their backgrounds, will find a center of learning, art and culture; and most importantly, a center guided by Islamic values in their truest form - compassion, generosity, and respect for all.

The site will contain tremendous amounts of resources that otherwise would not exist in Lower Manhattan; a 500-seat auditorium, swimming pool, art exhibition spaces, bookstores, restaurants - all these services would form a cultural nexus for a region of New York City that, as it continues to grow, requires the sort of hub that Cordoba House will provide.

Our Mission: ‘Improving Muslim-West Relations.’ Cordoba Initiative aims to achieve a tipping point in Muslim-West relations within the next decade, 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.”

So says the Cordoba House Initiative on their website, but others are saying, “a Mosque next to Ground Zero! OMG!”

While Mayor Michael Bloomberg and many others support this initiative, “OMG” is the immediate reaction from adversaries, all of whom have different reasons for their opposition.

The Cordoba House Initiative’s plan to build a one-hundred million dollar, thirteen-story mosque, just two blocks from Ground Zero, the site of the September 11, 2001 terrorists’ attacks has understandably angered the families of those who lost their lives on that dreadful day. However, some of the opponents are not survivor families and are plainly bigoted, and some, simply out of ill-begotten fear, are bathed in ignorance, who wish to paint with a wide brush all of the Islamic faith as sponsors of terrorism.

One such bigot is Mark Williams, Tea Party Express spokesman, who said, “The monument would consist of a Mosque for the worship of the terrorists' monkey-god and a "cultural center" to propagandize for the extermination of all things not approved by their cult. It is a project of American Society for Muslim Advancement and the Cordoba Initiative, essentially the same group of apologists (but under 2 different names) for terrorists and the animals who use it as a terrorist ideology. They cloak their evil with new age gibberish that suggests Islam is just misunderstood.”

I cannot read into the hearts and minds of those who had a loved one who was a victim on that day. When I was asked recently, “how would I feel if you had lost a loved one?” my response was that I did not know, but I would hope that I would have understanding and compassion for those who would be indirectly blamed and who were not complicit.

However, there always will be some, as Mark Williams who is the archetypal bigot, and is representative of all those who are, that possess an underlying xenophobia towards others whose skin color and dress are different from theirs, who have different languages and cultures, who are atheist or of different religious faith that drive their criticism.

Larry Bethune, Senior Pastor at the University Baptist Church of Austin, expressed his analogy of painting terrorist with a wide brush stroke by saying, “The Islamic extremists who did do not represent all of Islam any more than abortion clinic bombers represent all Christians.”

There seems to be a phobia for everything and anything. All of them are ill-begotten and will prevent one from living their life to the fullest. If someone is overcome by fear, they will not leave their home, cross the street, go food shopping, or even seek employment. And so it is with a fear of another culture. This fear prevents one from pursuing knowledge of that culture and forsakes their life to hate and bigotry rather than enlightenment. A 2009 Gallup poll reports that "Those who report they do not know a Muslim are twice as likely to express 'a great deal' of prejudice against Islam." .

The xenophobic craze over a Mosque at Ground Zero does more to dishonor the memory of those who died on that day, and discredit our American way of life, than does building a mosque in a country founded on religious freedom.

Yes, we need to solve the problem of Terrorism. But we don't have to give up being Americans to do that. If we cannot work out an American solution, one that respects our laws and principles, then our nation has lost its way, and we will have done it to ourselves through our bigotry, lack of compassion, thoughtlessness and ignorance.

Yes, we have a justifiable reason to closely monitoring the activities of a mosque with a concern about ties to international terrorism in the same way we have an interest in monitoring the Catholic Church for pedophilia once it was known that there have been unacceptable levels of child abuse not addressed by the church.

Joe Clifford, Pastor and head of staff, First Presbyterian Church of Dallas, said “To ban any Muslim presence from the neighborhood because of the actions of 19 terrorists is to fall into the same flawed ideology of the terrorist who label all Americans as evil.”

The presence of a mosque at Ground Zero could promote healing and interfaith tolerance. It also is a clear statement that America is what it claims to be. Critical thinking on the issue should inform anyone that, yes, the terrorists were Muslim, but that their actions were not consistent with the teachings of Islam no more than pedophilia is consistent with the teachings of Catholicism.