Flooded with emails, Facebook posts, and headlines, I’ve been asked too many times where I stand on the “Mosque at Ground Zero”. If this were a matter of clicking a “yes” or “no” survey designed to cash in on my email address, it wouldn’t be worth weighing in. But it isn’t, so I will.
Our response to events is more telling of what is going on than the events themselves. Many arguments lay between questionable assumptions and generalizations bordering on bigotry.
Our very words betray our sentiments. The building in question is a rennovation or replacement of an existing building, not “at” but NEAR Ground Zero. Semantics? Yes, not without import. Conversely, the building is being rebranded as a cultural community center, though it will be used as a mosque as well. Semantics? Yes, and well played PR, but not untrue. Is it being funded by the likes of fanatic imams? Perhaps.
Whatever its purpose, it is why people THINK it is there that seems to count — what it represents. Given the public’s association between 9-11 and Islam, is it insensitive? That’s in the eye of the beholder. But to challenge a quickly spreading analogy, why NOT build a Shinto shrine on the banks of Pearl Harbor? It’s not like placing an American airbase on the ruins of Nagasaki. Or is it? A community center built by people following a religion claimed by extremist adherents as the motivation for the attack does have the air of an enemy planting a flag in victory.
But the larger historical context eludes us. “Islamofascism” is part of a realtively modern, regional, post-colonial resentment toward the West, making up a few small yet influential groups among the 12% of Muslims that are Arabic. But those responsible claimed to act in the name of Allah, so Islam is the flag we see in our minds, not Al Qaeda.
We forget that the targets were chosen deliberately, and why. The World Trade Center was emblematic of the financial, not cultural center of the entire West. A Cathedral wasn’t on the list, though Capitol buildings were targeted, since in the minds of most people from East to West, Washington is the center of political power among the perceived oppressors of the Middle East.
Yet Muslims died in those towers along with people from more countries than I can name — the act was as indiscriminate as our present attitude toward an entire world faith. The religious rationalizations for the attack are now eclipsed by our rationalizations against Islam in general. I have heard all the arguments quoting the Qur’an I can bear, and have to bite the few fingers I type with not to remind my Judeo-Christian brethren of the condoned genocides of a wrathful Old Testament G-d giving license to a chosen people over their neighbors. Maybe the lesson we should agree on is that “even the Devil can quote scripture for his own ends”, so judging people by the books they cherish is less than fair.
Even so, the role of Islam cannot be ignored. The question is if it was an excuse or a cause — if Islam breeds terrorism, or was hijacked by it. Throughout all history, people have justified the most condemnable actions with religion. And political ideology. And retribution for social injustice. And a call for everything from genetic purity to elbow room for a superior, and therefore entitled race. I’m sadly confident we’ll come up with even more creative excuses in our new century. But we are stuck arguing about the “true nature” of Islam with examples from early conversion by the sword to the PLO, yet other centuries of peace and tolerance shame Europe’s Crusading and Inquisitorial pursuits. No one wins this battle.
But what are we really afraid of? Is there really a “stealth jihad”? In the minds of some calling themselves devout Muslims, I’m sure that is their secret hope. But how can a quarter of the world’s population, crossing most nations and cultures, be involved in a conspiracy for world domination? It is much like saying Christianity is trying to convert the world because a few million Jehovah’s Witnesses are going door to door explicitly for proselytization. Most Christians don’t want a global theocracy; most Muslims would rather live in the West than blow it up.
Is the institution of Sharia law a concern? Of course it is. It SHOULD be. Heck, we’re still getting rid of old “blue laws” still on the books. But exclusion and resistance to a religious demographic shift in our culture undermines any ideal of pluralism. Can we protect all people’s Freedom of Religion if we create a selective “freedom FROM religion”? In Whatever We Trust, religion as a basis for exclusion is a bigotry between or against religions, and a deplorable game for a culturally diverse society.
I strongly question if anyone can know for certain the full intentions and consequences involved in this building. Strong opinions and fears abound. Let’s take a step back, and consider how the psychological game of culture clash was first set.
Who started the notion that Middle Eastern terrorism is a war between religious ideologies? The terrorists. Why? To foster sympathy for their cause by cultivating extremisim. The whole point of connecting actions with a strong part of cultural identity (religion) is to garner attention and support. And if large numbers of us can be influenced to mentally and then physically take sides in a war (or perceived war) the extremists then can rise from the fringe to great power. It’s a sadly familiar story, isn’t it?
SO WHY ARE WE BUYING INTO IT?
Propaganda based in Muslim fundamentalism strikes a chord with those in the West who are highly ethnocentric, and not just those Christians who reject all outside their flock as damned. Whatever the form it takes, many of us can’t help ourselves respond with an equal but opposite reaction.
It is all the easier since we do have ammunition above scriptural interpretations and historical “proofs”. Some feel other Muslims haven’t condemned their alleged brethern’s actions strongly enough. After all, people are building near the location of a tragedy caused by those claiming to represent those people’s religion. But this is another issue. Being aware we cannot control what ohers think or say, we can still check our own attitudes and reactions.
The base emotional concern for us is that if we let it be built, the terrorists win. And it burns our buns that extremists will likely gloat it as a victory. They take anything they can get.
But what if we don’t let them build it? We can mask our agreement to play the culture wargame with charges of preserving architecture or finding a way to legislate and adjudicate what is and is not bad taste. But it will require us to ignore that “them” is only by exaggerated association the same “them” that brought down the towers. Ironically, this path means the terrorists, in fact and not merely perspective, win. We will have subscribed in action to the rules of their game.
We will not only have given up varying degrees of privacy, movement and rights for the sake of security. We will have given up something far more precious — the ability to decide for ourselves who is our enemy and administer justice selectively according to actions, not wholesale according to cultural identity or association. And we would be exchanging it for institutionalized prejudice, fear, and diminished religious freedom — in my opinion an extremely poor trade.
Good essay. Thanks. My mind is fried on the “ground zero” question. Put something spiritual in there. Churches and mosques and synagogues aren’t necessarily spiritual. Erect mammoth statues of the California Angels. Or angelic statues of mammoth erections. Or a feeding center for the under and unemployed. A gathering place to play chess.