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Saturday, August 7, 2010

Cordoba Community Center Censorship

The persistent issue in New York for the past few weeks has been the misleadingly named “ground zero mosque,” It’s a misnomer because 1) it’s not at ground zero and 2) it’s not a mosque. Technically, it has been a prayer center/mosque already since it had been purchased and the plan is not for simply a mosque to be built where a Burlington Coat Factory used to be. The community center would have many other areas to make it a place for both Christians and Muslims (among other faiths) to spend time together and understand each other as well, such as an auditorium and a fitness center among other facilities reminiscent of the YMCA. The opposition to the construction falls on two objections, though the first is overshadowed by the second. With the landmark status of the area where the center is to be built denied, the argument that the Cordoba House would be demolishing a historical building representing Italian Renaissance palazzo style is pretty well shot.

The second argument holds a stronger grip on not only New Yorker’s hearts, but those of anyone who lost loved ones in the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. With the building only two blocks away, people like Sarah Palin and even the Anti-Defamation League for a short time argued that the construction of a Muslim cultural center is insulting and insensitive to the feelings of people who were deeply affected by the attacks almost ten years ago. And others suggest that the mosque is just a political move to try to solidify Islam’s presence in America even more. Newt Gingrich compared the issue of building a mosque near Ground Zero in New York to that of a church or synagogue in Saudi Arabia. The comparison is troubling on a few levels, the first being that Saudi Arabia is decidedly stricter on the building of non Muslim places of worship because of the strong presence of Islamic theonomy (that is, law based on religious tenets such as the Quran). America doesn’t have such stringent standards as to where one can build a mosque, a church, a synagogue or any other place of worship. Not to mention that the argument against the mosque being near Ground Zero reduces itself to a childish form of censorship. The gist of this argument seems to be “Having anything Muslim near Ground Zero hurts certain people’s feelings and makes them feel like the terrorists have won, so no mosque, even one associated with moderate Islamic sects such as Sufi or Ahmaddiya, should ever be built near Ground Zero, because we might hurt some people’s feelings or cause them to misinterpret the intentions of the Muslims behind the Cordoba House.”

This doesn’t work for the same reason that the lawsuit against the local commission that denied landmark status to the building. Trying to use landmark status to protect something that would become what you think represents Islam trying to dominate the West is more underhanded than spouting prejudiced thought against all Muslims, even if they’re trying to build bridges of understanding. The lawsuit is trying to reverse the decision because they think denying landmark status to the building is showing favoritism to Islam, not to mention a concern that the funding for the center is coming from sharia law countries in the East. This isn’t only paranoid thinking, some victims perpetuating the idea that every Muslim is out to get them, but it’s reinforced by dangerous prejudice towards Muslims that just fans the flames by suggestions that Islam is just a political movement or a cult. It’s not surprising that with misinformation spreading quicker than any accurate kind people are more commonly speaking against Islam as if they have had first-hand experience with Muslims when more than likely they are just parroting what fear-mongering pundits in the GOP or Tea Party are telling them.

No one is forcing the family or friends of victims of 9/11 to go to the mosque or even agree with Islam. Like television shows you don’t want your kids to watch or that you just don’t want to watch yourself, you can change the channel or turn off the TV. In this case, all one should ask is that one tolerates the existence of a Muslim community center near Ground Zero. You don’t have to go there, you don’t have to fund it, you just have to let it exist, especially if its goal is to educate people about Islam and allow Muslims to not be misunderstood. I’m reminded of Jesus saying something to the effect of “forgive those who hurt you and pray for those who slander you,” and with many of the protestors no doubt being Christians, I wonder how much they’re taking Jesus’ teachings seriously if they continue to try to push away any attempts at reconciliation or interfaith dialogue. I guess they think Jesus didn’t want to really discuss anything, especially when they take his saying of “brushing the dust off your feet and leaving” when you can’t convert people to your faith.

Things like this happen when you take a charismatic figure’s words so seriously that you start cherry picking what you want to hear and toss out the rest. Jesus indeed spoke wisdom, but he certainly never claimed he was the end authority of all things in Christianity, since he tended more often than not to shift responsibility to God in such things as the end of the world and the most important commandments. And one of those commandments is to love your neighbor as yourself. How much must you hate yourself when you start saying that Ground Zero is sacred and can’t even have mosques 2 blocks away from it? Paranoia and fear don’t create love, to reference the bible’s idea that “perfect love casts out fear”. The first step to any kind of reconciliation is allowing your so called enemy some form of acceptance. Although ironically, mosques have existed in New York for at least half a century before the terrorist attacks, so any resistance towards a mosque in New York in general is as regrettably ignorant as the persistent delusion that “In God we Trust” has always been our national motto. Until next time, Namaste and Aloha.

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