Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Why a Mosque at Ground Zero?

The latest poll shows Americans nationwide think 70% to 25% that Muslims have the right to build a mosque and cultural center near Ground Zero, but oppose it 63% to 28% as inappropriate.  New Yorkers oppose it 51% to 41%.

The non-Muslim supporters of the proposal are upholding 1st Amendment rights and the proud US tradition of tolerance and respect for all religions.  They also think this profound gesture of inclusiveness will mitigate ill feelings towards the US.  It is remarkable to see NY Mayor Bloomberg, a Jew and till recently a Republican, buck public opinion as a high profile and vocal supporter, at the cost of a steep drop in his popularity.  New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is similarly facing heat from within his own Republican Party for implied support by cautioning against an overreaction.

I appreciate such principled stands and my respect for Mayor Bloomberg has gone up immensely.  I also think a lot better of Gov. Christie whom I had regarded as a poor choice by NJ voters to replace Democrat Jon Corzine.

Still, I hold a different view, in line with most Americans who have a gut feeling about this.  I am opposed to the present location of the mosque for the following reasons:
  • Why here?  The site was deliberately chosen right next to Ground Zero.  The decision to locate the mosque here is not in spite of the tragedy at Ground Zero, but because of it. In other words, if there had been no 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center, there would not have been any plans for the mosque right here.
  • The stated intent behind building the mosque here is not believable.  The planners claim to want to foster better relations between others and Islam, and to help people have a better understanding of this faith.  How can they not have anticipated the adverse reaction?  They say they are surprised by it, and Imam Rauf claims had they known this would happen they wouldn't have proposed this.  Even assuming that is true, now that they do, they should look elsewhere.  Rauf a couple of days back said he opposes this as it would create a violent Muslim backlash round the world.  That reasoning again sounds false.  What's the religious significance of Ground Zero for Islam, that its proponents insist on building right here?
  • Sensitivities to a mosque next door have a subtle aspect.  They go beyond the fact that the 9/11 attackers all happened to be Muslims.  It's that they committed this act in the name of Islam.  Of course the vast majority of Muslims found this to be reprehensible, but they will empathize and won't mind if the mosque is a located a few blocks further away. 
  • Erecting a mosque here is unlikely to discourage terrorism, and could arguably work the opposite way.  Who said the jihadists and religious terrorists are perfectly reasonable, rational people?  The planners say the gesture of allowing a mosque here would weaken or win over radicals because the US would be seen as Islam-friendly.  That could certainly be the way many Islamists may see it.  But jihadist recruiters could also feed religious fanatics the line that the "sacrifices" of the 9/11 attackers led to this mosque being built, and more of such "pious" acts are needed to help spread Islam.
Where do we go from here?  Laws are imperfect, and the mosque planners seem to have taken advantage of this and US freedoms in an affront to the 9/11 victims and their families. The solution can be to fix or modify the laws as situations like this arise.

The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission could have nipped the controversy in the bud if they had given landmark status to Ground Zero, instead of unanimously turning it down.  Then they could have done something like barring all new religious buildings within a half mile radius.  Perhaps a measure with similar consequences can now be passed by some other body.  This may be needed even though the planners and Rauf now show signs of backing away.  This is because other mischief mongers could take their place, if for no other reason than to yank peoples' chains, or because this issue attracts so much publicity.

Still, we should reassure Muslims of equal treatment of their religion and their needs.  To this end I saw this interesting proposal to even have a Muslim place of worship within a Ground Zero building.  The difference?  It will presumably be one of the several places of worship for people of different faiths, stressing respect and equality for all.  It will also be under the overall control of a centralized management not associated with any particular religion.



Anonymous said...

Thanks for the piece on the mosque, yet there's no peace on the issue. You have made some excellent points, including the one that says that terrorism will not abate if the building goes ahead. While I harbor no ill-will against Islam I just think it's bad taste.

I wouldn't want a Japanese Shinto shrine placed in Pearl Harbor or the killing fields of Nanking either. Nor a Catholic nunnery in Auschwitz. It's just bad taste, and, when radical elements would attempt to desecrate the monument, who would blame them?


Sandip Madan said...

I fully agree. We will always find people with bad taste, and some like the mosque planners may refuse to change course in the face of a public outcry.

In that case when appealing to the good sense of the planners is futile the government or other public body will have to act to disallow such construction.

Anonymous said...

While burning the Koran and building a mosque on Ground Zero are both in bad taste, why does Obama condemn the burning but say the mosque is okay? This Prez has forgotten he's an American. Or is he?


Sandip Madan said...

Burning a Koran is a far more direct and crude insult. Though I suppose both acts show that just because you can legally do something doesn't by any stretch mean you should do it.

I'm sure Obama is American and I'm no birther. He has been more ambivalent than Bloomberg, and sending mixed messages by saying he is "not commenting on the wisdom" of the mosque proposal. At the same time he does not want to lose Muslim support ahead of the mid term elections that look very rough for the Democrats.