August 18, 2010

Tolerance at Ground Zero

Somehow over the last couple of weeks I've managed to miss major news stories. This is probably due to the fact that I'm paying absolutely no attention to the news whatsoever notwithstanding Mel Gibson rave-outs and Jersey Shore cast negotiations. Yes, my priorities are all outta whack. But by the time I get home, get kids to bed and decompress, just about the last things I want to focus on are wars, oppressions, natural disasters and politics. Out of the corner of my eye, though, I've been watching this story take shape.

US President Barack Obama's endorsement of a controversial plan to build a mosque just blocks from Ground Zero poured fuel Saturday on a raging debate over religious freedom and sensitivities over the 9/11 attacks.

Muslims "have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country," Obama said at an Iftar meal at the White House for Muslims breaking their Ramadan fast late Friday.

That includes "the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan."

Obama had remained on the sidelines over plans to build an Islamic cultural center, which includes a mosque, two blocks away from the gaping Ground Zero hole where the Twin Towers were destroyed on September 11, 2001.

But after a New York city commission on August 3 unanimously approved the plans, the president came out to fully support the project.

"This is America," Obama said, "and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable. The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country, and will not be treated differently by their government, is essential to who we are."

It seems to me this is one of those problems that everyone thinks is very complex yet is, in reality, very simple.

Why would we - the American people - object to a manifestation of religious freedom on the hallowed ground of Ground Zero when it was that same intolerance on the part of others that led to the loss of two buildings and countless lives?

I get why people are scared. To many Islam is mysterious and, therefore, scary or intimidating. Its easy to dislike those you don't know, harder to judge them once you understand them as people. If we were forced to meet our enemies, shake their hands, share a meal, talk about their kids, before going into battle, there would be fewer battles. The same goes with religion. It's easy to assign shady motives to a theology you don't understand. I've also been to Ground Zero a few times. We went not long after 9/11. Wreckage still stood, personal memorials hung on chain link fences, devastated people stood and stared. The second time around - last year - Ground Zero looked like any other large construction site if you didn't know any better. The reminders hadn't disappeared, they'd just spread out, traveled farther afield. But the devastation is still there echoing all around you. It is, to many and to me, a sacred place where something terrible and unforgettable happened. Our minds are branded by 9/11, by the images we saw, the stories we heard, the sky so blue that day. But that shouldn't blind us to what's right.

Is the President right? Should such a place be built at the Ground Zero site? Or do you have reservations?

Posted by Chris at August 18, 2010 7:00 AM

I believe that the Government should perhaps do what they did in Hawaii and make the Twin Towers site in New York a National Park.
Have the museum, and perhaps a green space and a monument where the innocent names lost that day can be posted.
I DO NOT believe that a Mosque should be allowed to be built on that site or even within a 2 block section.
It is like rubbing salt in the wounds.
For those of us who knew someone who died that day, and to every American, Christian or Muslim, there should be an certain respect for those who died!
By the way. Most of the Muslim religion is geared toward intolerance of other religions. Sad, but true.
And one more thought, would the Muslim World allow a Christian Church to be built near Mecca? I think not!

Posted by: Maribeth at August 18, 2010 7:34 AM

Please explain to me why it has to be located near ground zero. In all of Manhattan they can't find a less controversial place to be. I do not think allowing this is being tolerant. I think moving it would show tolerance.

Posted by: goodsnake at August 18, 2010 7:44 AM

Once again, the Presidents words were taken a bit out of context. He is simply stating the truth. Our country was based on freedom of religion. He isn't saying "YES! Let's build mosques all over it" he simply agrees that they should have that right.

Personally, I think we need to stop building memorials everywhere someone dies. I don't understand that. Crosses on the roads, parks, etc. Our culture is one of the few that attributes meaning to where someone dies rather than where they lived.

Posted by: Debbie at August 18, 2010 7:45 AM

I'm not an American and I accept I will never feel as strongly as those who are about the events of 9/11. That said, there is no reason a mosque shouldn't be built near Ground Zero. Islam didn't cause the unspeakable horrors of September 11. Those responsible were not acting in the name of any God, despite their delusions.

Posted by: anon at August 18, 2010 7:53 AM

I hate the way people are totally blowing this so out o f proportion. First of all that mosque has existed in that area for many many years. Prior to 9/11. People who worshiped there died in 9/11 as well. And its not being built on on the "hallowed ground" of the twin towers. Have you seen what else exists in the area where the mosque is going to relocate?
I think that this is merely a distraction during an election time so we can forget about what the real issues are that we are dealing with. ANd I think that our federal government has way more important things to be dealing with.

Posted by: Lisa at August 18, 2010 8:10 AM

I was personally affected by the events of 9/11. I had friends who died in the twin towers, and remember vividly how the events of that day unfolded and changed my life forever.

AND, I think that if Americans of ANY or NO faith stood in the way of the mosque being built, we are no better than the terrorists who forever shattered the safety we felt within our borders.

The idea that this has become such an uproar is disappointing to me, because we are a country that is supposed to stand for freedom of all kinds - even when it isn't popular.

If anything, building that mosque should be a sign to those that hurt us. It represents our willingness to defend and honor what we believe in, no matter what.

Posted by: Sandi at August 18, 2010 8:15 AM

It seems like if the media had referred to it as "a mosque in lower Manhattan" instead of "the Ground Zero mosque" - which would've been more accurate - then maybe some of the controversy could've been avoided. We are so easily manipulated.

Intent matters. My impression is that this project (with private money, on private land) wasn't intended as any kind of insult. Non-Muslim Americans should respond in kind, and extend the same understanding and respect to this group of Muslims as we would to Buddhists or Christians or Hindus who wanted to make themselves at home there.

Posted by: Julie at August 18, 2010 8:16 AM

People who think that this mosque is being built on "ground zero" or that even two blocks away is "hallowed ground" should know that even closer to ground zero is a strip club, an OTB, and many fast food restaurants. The argument against the mosque isn't about reverence; it's about hate, fear and misunderstanding.

Posted by: Darren at August 18, 2010 8:24 AM

As Lisa pointed out this is not a new mosque/community center. One was there prior to 9/11. The planned buildings at Ground Zero will have not only a museum dedicated to the events of 9/11 but also retail and office space, a theatre...etc. It will be multi-use space not a holy shrine.
I think this is an issue stirred up by the media and conservative right during an election year by people who want to rule by fear.
We should never forget what happened on 9/11 but I think what we should remember is that hate and fear are what make terrorists and we should be careful what we do out of hate and fear ourselves.

Posted by: tulip at August 18, 2010 8:37 AM

Wrong? No. Insensitive? Definitely.

Posted by: Elizabeth at August 18, 2010 8:52 AM

"The argument against the mosque isnt about reverence; it's about hate, fear and misunderstanding".....

I'm sorry, but I disagree. I come from a secular country, my family are athiest by inclination and I am growing ever more weary of this incessent bickering by both religions over what amounts to the finer points of a fairy tale. I appreciate that I am not a citizen of America, but I am a citizen of the world and my view is that there should be no such religious institution built on the site, of either stripe.

Islam is one of the most violent and intollerant religions on the planet and continues to enforce it's moral bankruptsy on a plethora of unfortunate nations. Just as Christianity was the ogre of the past with the horrors of the inquisition, the crusades, and various persecutions and pogroms, Islam is the new menace to the health and welfare of all people who do not follow it.

Is it about hate, well, yes, it's about hatred of a religion that actively seeks to oppress women, destroy innocent communities and bend those communities to the will of a non-existant diety who's utterly fictitious words are parroted through the lips of greedy, avaricious men.

Is it about fear, well, why, yes it is. It's about the fear that my children will have to grow up in a world where this ridiculous stone age mythology is the somehow acceptable and different from believing in the tooth fairy, where my culture (and those of my allies) is attacked at every turn by those some greedy, avaricious men and my personal freedom could be extinguished by the selfish actions of a brainwashed child.

Is it about misunderstanding, well, no. There isnt allot of subtext to religion, essentially, it's do as I tell you, or you die. Both Islam and Christianity are to blame for the Twin Towers disaster and both should be consigned to history, along with the liers, hypocrites, thieves and paedophiles who pretend to speak for a mythical sky fairy.

Turn the site into a park, a playground or a temple to commerce, but dont build one more monument to what any sane person should reject out of hand.

Posted by: ChocolateChipWookie at August 18, 2010 8:58 AM

I wonder if it was Christians that took down the Twin Towers on 9/11, would people still feel the same way?? Would they allow a Christian church to be constructed in the vacinity of the Twin Towers?? Would Christian-based churches in area be ripped down since they would be grim reminders of 9/11?? I am so tired of the close-mindedness of this country sometimes. People need to remember that this country is a melting pot of hertiages, values, and religions. Just because the people that took down the Twin Towers were of Muslim decent or faith does not mean that their entire religion should be shunned for their actions. And like someone else said, build a park there or a memorial site, but we should be remembering these people also for how they lived, not how they perished.

Posted by: Michelle at August 18, 2010 10:04 AM

Absolutely they should be able to build there. Besides, it's a few blocks away in an old Burlington Coat Factory. :) The whole thing seems silly to me.

Posted by: Brad at August 18, 2010 10:29 AM

I'd be against it if it were being built on ground zero, but it's not. There's absolutely nothing wrong with it being built where it's proposed and, further, it's something that should be encouraged. This absurd little bout of xenophobia encourages people to forget about how many Muslim-Americans died as a result of the attacks. The ideas that Christianity is 'better', that all Muslims are martyr wannabes, or that building a mosque would be anything other than a display of the kind of religious tolerance are all collectively reasons why our society sucks so hard right now. This shouldn't even be a debate.

Posted by: You can call me, 'Sir' at August 18, 2010 11:32 AM

I have no clue why there was even a debate in the first place... to me it is a no-brainer to build the center. In fact, it is especially appropriate as a symbol of ACCEPTANCE and TOLERANCE and EDUCATION. People are way too uptight about religion and use it as an excuse to justify their prejudices.

In this vein, I need to vent about something that happened this weekend. A friend of mine came to visit NYC for the first time. We were walking uptown and there was a Hindu parade/festival. My friend cold not tell the cultural difference and thought they were Muslim. She said she wanted to get away from them. This otherwise highly intelligent, wonderful, sweet person showed a very ugly side for a few moments. She admitted to her prejudice and justified it with her Christian religion. I mentioned that Christianity has a very violent history, and her justification is that Christians aren't doing it anymore. I told her there are nut jobs from every group and don't represent the whole. She spoke about how Christian nut jobs don't represent the whole of Christianity, I said Muslims feel the same way.

I do not know if the point got through.

All this fear and hate between people bothers me; I don't like being around it. I wish all religions could remove "other groups are wrong" from their doctrines.

Yay for the mosque, I would have been deeply saddened if it had not passed.

Posted by: jessica at August 18, 2010 11:34 AM

And I'd just like to add in response to an earlier comment that in my esperience Christians as a whole are incredibly intolerant of other religious groups.

I like to think of the three Abrahamic religions- Islam, Christianity and Judaism, like siblings that just can't get along. Such a shame.

Posted by: jessica at August 18, 2010 11:37 AM

I don't think it's inappropriate. The fact is, when "correctly" practised, Islam is a very peaceful religion. I wonder if perhaps some Muslim clerics could work on educating the public, because ignorance of Islam seems to be at the root of a lot of the hatred that I see here.
And yes, absolutely, there are Muslims who completely pervert the religion as the Prophet Mohammad prescribed it, but there are those who do this with any religion, merely using gods to justify their own desires.

Posted by: Heather at August 18, 2010 11:42 AM

It isn't a mosque; it's a community center with one room available for prayer. It's in a nondescript old building and will be open to the public. There is an actual "mosque" just as close which has been there for many years. It has no domes or minarets and you could walk by it ten times a day without knowing what it is.

It is not nearly as close to ground zero as claimed.

If we continue blaming all of a religion for the actions of a few, we Christians should begin with ourselves. The Puritans came here for religious freedom and then proceeded to kick Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson out of their home state because they were Baptists. The good Christians of NY, including the Baptists of course, chased the Latter Day Saints from New York to Illinois; murdered the LDS leader, and continued to persecute them in Utah. (I wish Harry Reid would remember that when he begins spouting off).

Where I grew up in the 40's and 50's, the Protestants hated the Catholics and they both turned up their noses at the Jews. If we'd had any Moslems, they no doubt would be at the bottom of the heap. We weren't too fond of Italians, Irish, or other first generation Americans either and there wasn't a black family closer than 10 miles away.

If we want a quick lesson on violence, we need go no further than the Old Testament from beginning to end.

Do we blame all Christians for Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church? Or Tony Perkins who is lacking only a white sheet to feel right at home in the KKK? James Dobson? I hope not - they don't speak for me.

As with Christianity, Moslem fanatics cherry pick their scripture and find passages to "prove" what they already believe.

As for what other countries (i.e. Saudi Arabia and Iran) do, do we really want to emulate them or do we want to stand as an example of freedom?

Anyhow, from what I've been reading, it may become a non-issue and intolerance will win once again thanks to FOX non-news and the ranting of politicians.

Posted by: Ann Elizabeth Adams at August 18, 2010 11:49 AM

I think we should extend the hand of tolerance that was not extended to us on 9/11. How can we expect everyone else to be tolerant if we can't even have a mosque near Ground Zero? How can we prohibit that yet tell the Israelis and Palestinians they have to get along and be neighbors? How can we ask the Sunnis and Shiites to be brothers if we can't tolerate the existence of this mosque in a sensitive place?

Posted by: Brooke at August 18, 2010 12:01 PM

I think it should be allowed for the exact reasons you mentioned.
But I'll be honest. Even though I understand that the Muslims building the mosque and cultural center are not the same type of Muslims that caused the 9/11 terrorist attacks, there's still a small part of me that can't help thinking it's slightly tacky to choose such close proximity to Ground Zero.

Posted by: Amy at August 18, 2010 12:33 PM

I agree with Sandi.

Posted by: Mindy at August 18, 2010 12:46 PM

Without reading other comments first--

I, too, have been oblivious to the world around me, but have had an interest in this debate. I really appreciate you quoting Obama here.

And I absolutely, unequivocally think he is right. And he said it so very eloquently.

Posted by: Sabrina at August 18, 2010 12:49 PM

Quoting Darren, above:
The argument against the mosque isn't about reverence; it's about hate, fear and misunderstanding.

Amen! Very well said.

Posted by: Sabrina at August 18, 2010 1:01 PM

I thought that we were better than this. Sadly, I think I was wrong.

Posted by: Hope at August 18, 2010 1:03 PM

I haven't read all the comments but this topic is one that is striking a nerve with me because I am kind of not impressed with the level of resistance coming from people wrt this building.

People can say that it's a matter of sensitivity, but IMO, I see no need to "be sensitive". Muslims were not responsible for what happened on 9/11. Some offshoot group of freaked out whackadoo terrorists were. It'd be like if I were to hold all of Christianity responsible for the psychotic abortion clinic bombers.

So, when people claim that their opposition is not about religious intolerance but more so about "sensitivity" to me that just shrieks, "We're scared! We are afraid of what we don't know so we're going to blacklist an entire religion rather than taking the time to learn more."

I saw somewhere else that perhaps the outcry wouldn't be so huge if the GZ memorial were shaping up faster. I actually partially agree with this. I don't view GZ as hallowed ground. When I went there in April, I wanted so much to feel something. To be moved. It was just a construction site. There was nothing really that indicated the gravity of what happened that day. I *WOULD* like to see the government make something happen there sooner.

BUT, that's a separate issue from the community center being proposed.

I think it should be built. I wish I knew why people are having such tremendously averse reactions to it - but my mind just doesn't work that way.

Posted by: sarah at August 18, 2010 2:07 PM

I remember 9/11 well. I sat for hours watching it all unfold. Remember being in a daze for what seemed like weeks with the loss that was beyond my understanding.

We can't hold an entire religion accountable for the actions of crazy men that proclaimed to be Muslims. I feel this is foolish and hateful.

We are a tolerant, welcoming country full of immigrants. We are much better than this or I thought so. Fear does strange things to people.

The bottom line is poverty and a lack of opportunity from where I sit. Men and boys are easy prey to undertake things like this in many parts of the world. Getting to the root of the problem is the answer, not hatred and fear.

I say let them build it.

Posted by: One Mom's Opinion at August 18, 2010 2:08 PM

My question, is why that particular location? Are there not enough community centers to service the Manhattan Muslim population? If not, why can't it be built somewhere else? I absolutely agree that they have every right to do what they are doing and the government should not interfere at all. But my problem is #1, the creator of the center and the decision to build it so close to Ground Zero, I think there should be a 1-mile perimeter surrounding it where no religious buildings should be put. #2, with the person who sold the property for this person in the first place, #3 the decision to throw salt in the wound of those (even those who have never even known someone from NY) still hurting. #4 why is this getting the green light to go along with smoothly, when there is a Christian church that was destroyed on 9/11 that has been bombarded with all kinds of red tape? #5 This becoming a political issue at all. If the people involved had common sense and compassion for tact and tolerance, this would not even be a discussion.

Posted by: Tess at August 18, 2010 2:53 PM

It's Manhattan. It's crowded. They need a mosque, and there's space available there. I don't really have an issue with it, personally. Beyond that, though, if the city's approved it, they should go ahead with it. Would anyone object to building a church or a synagogue there? If not, then why is the mosque so different?

Something else to consider is that distance in big, crowded cities like that is... not the same as it is out in the suburbs. In the 'burbs, two blocks away is on top of something, but in a place like Manhattan, two blocks away is huge. Odds are good you won't even be able to see it from Ground Zero itself.

Posted by: Dawn at August 18, 2010 3:53 PM

I'm torn.

On one hand, it's not at Ground Zero. It's two blocks away. Ground Zero, at the moment, is nothing but a construction zone as far as I know. I think people should stop being so sensitive and PC about everything. It's been nearly ten years, and it's time to employ some religious tolerance and get over the Toby Keith "boot in your ass" mentality that we've had for so long.

On the other hand... it's a Muslim building. Near the spot where militant Islamic radicals blew up buildings and killed thousands without a second thought. For many people, that hurts and always will.

So I really don't know where I fall on the spectrum. I empathize with the ones who don't want it up, but I can also understand the arguments of the ones that do. Is that a sign of being a mature grown-up?

Posted by: Stephanie at August 18, 2010 6:37 PM

look at me, lurker, coming out of the woodwork to comment...
but i think it would be interesting to see if a church is built a few blocks away from the site of the Oklahoma city bombings. timothy mcveigh was after all, a Christian zealot and thus the building of a church would a grievous insult to the victims of that tragedy.
just a thought...

Posted by: roselle at August 18, 2010 10:38 PM

I agree with Ann Elizabeth Adams. And a bunch of other people who stated eloquently that intolerance cuts both ways, and if you want to be allowed freedom and respect, yourself, you have no right to deny those things to others.

Posted by: Jess at August 19, 2010 11:33 AM

Isn't it sad that this is an issue?

The 19 people who attacked NYC and DC were terrorists. Period. They were not representatives of Islam. Why can't we understand that?

I mean, we have heard time and time again that the so called 'Christians' who have murdered in the name of their religion are NOT representatives of Christianity. But mention that the terrorist was a Muslim and the whole religion is at fault.

As there is with all religions, like it or not, there are those who take the religion and twist it to their own advantage. Can we please stop blaming all who follow the religion for the sins of a few?

Build it. It's not at Ground Zero and there's a mosque already within 2 blocks of Ground Zero. Let's practice the tolerance that this Country was built on. The First Amendment of our great Constitution provides for the freedom to exercise one's does not limit this to any one religion.

Posted by: cyndy at August 19, 2010 4:22 PM

I know this is a few days old, but I wanted to respond. I am confused as to why this is bigger news than the announcement that we have pulled all combat troops out of Iraq.

Overall, I think there is an oversensitivity to anything surrounding 9/11 (maybe rightly so - I was only personally affected from afar); although, from the point of view of a large number of Muslims, our military has been creating a significant number of "ground zeros" right near their mosques...

Posted by: Melissa at August 19, 2010 9:33 PM

I'm late to the party but wanted to say that I find it hard to believe that there are those who claim to hew so absolutely to the constitution yet demand that this building not be built anywhere near ground zero. The contradiction is so obvious to me that I just don't get it....

Innocent Muslims died in the WTC, just as others of various religious persuasions did. I don't think Christians or even Americans can claim complete ownership over the impact of 9/11.

Posted by: pvz at August 27, 2010 6:37 PM