f we banned the building of churches for every religion that suffered some followers who became murderous fanatics in the name of God, we’d have few steeples in America. The Gothic spires of many Christian and Catholic churches might never have dominated cityscapes, what with the history of blood-stained religious causes from the Crusades to the burning of witches to the terrorism perpetrated by the Irish Republican Army. Temples and synagogues might never have opened had the terrorist acts perpetrated by some Jewish extremists been attributed to the entire body of believers.
Indeed, throughout the history of civilization, religion has fueled some of the most heinous acts known to humanity. We can never forget that the Holocaust’s leaders were supposedly good Christians and Catholics. Sixty-five years after the end of World War II, we’re still hard at work on the difficult task of developing a sustainable Christian-Catholic-Jewish dialogue.
Now comes the issue of the “mosque at Ground Zero.” A little background: well before September 11, 2001, plans for the Cordoba Center (the name of the project) were underway. As some commentators have pointed out, the center is neither a mosque nor is it actually at Ground Zero. The project is an Islamic Center designed to welcome people of all faiths, intended to promote inter-faith dialogue and harmony; the location is an old Burlington Coat Factory.
But like all matters involving religion, politics and the overheated blog-o-sphere, the Ground Zero Mosque Debate has exploded into yet another loud shouting match over whose rights are more important. Religious freedom, Muslims versus Christians, the feelings of the 9/11 families, America versus Infidels, Sarah Palin versus Michael Bloomberg, Newt Gingrich versus Barack Obama, etc etc etc…… It’s ugly out there.
Whatever happened to the religious virtues of forgiveness, tolerance, charity and hope?
President Obama strongly endorsed the right of Muslims to practice their faith at a Ramadan dinner the other night (you can see the video of his remarks here). But then he backpeddaled the next day, saying he was not commenting on the appropriateness of the so-called Ground Zero Mosque.
New York Mayor Bloomberg has been adamant in his support for the project, but the Anti-Defamation League opposed it on the grounds that the Cordoba Center would cause anguish for the 9/11 families whose feelings should take precedence over the exercise of religious freedom. Sarah Palin added to her legend of mangled syntax when she tweeted, “Ground Zero Mosque supporters: doesn’t it stab you in the heart, as it does ours throughout the heartland? Peaceful Muslims, pls refudiate”
Opponents of the Islamic Center have been quick to point out that they are not seeking to trample the religious rights of Muslims, but rather, asking the planners to respect the feelings of New Yorkers, especially the 9/11 families who suffered so grievously as a result of the destruction of the World Trade Center.
Asking for sensitivity is one thing; spreading anti-Muslim hatred is quite another. In the monumental clashes of rights that play out all the time in this nation, we run the risk of creating a permanent state of religious/racial/ethnic conflict if we don’t find a way to lower the volume and temperature of our advocacy.
Al Qaeda, not the Islamic religion, attacked America on September 11. 9/11 was an awful horror, murder on a grand scale. But Muslims gathered in a New York mosque are no more responsible for the 9/11 murders than Catholics gathered at St. Patrick’s Cathedral are responsible for the murders perpetrated in Belfast for years by the I.R.A. Sure, individuals in either group may have contributed money or other support to the terrorists, but the crimes of individuals cannot be a reason to hold entire groups of people hostage to our national anger. (We tried that during World War II with the internment of Japanese Americans after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, another moment of national bigotry that eventually led to reparations legislation in 1988 and a formal apology by President Ronald Reagan.)
Religious oppression was a major force that drove the earliest American settlers from England and other places in Europe to the shores of this new nation in the 17th and 18th centuries. The desire to believe as one wishes, to worship without fear, to live in a free community that respects the diverse choices of its members fueled the American Revolution. Most of us would be unable to live peacefully in this nation today if our ancestors had not fought for the enduring rights and freedoms we now enjoy.
Unfortunately, America in 2010 seems to be a place where many heirs of those rights and freedoms want to constrain, repress and even overturn the liberties accorded to those who do not look like the majority, who do not worship the same way, who speak with accents, whose skin color is not fair. Those who advocate for less freedom for some claim that they are doing so in the name of security — whether raising the barrier higher in Arizona or stripping birthright citizenship from babies born here or blocking a mosque at Ground Zero.
In fact, far from making our nation more secure, this xenophobia is making this nation a place of significantly greater conflict with the spectre of real oppression not far off the screen.
Diminishing the rights of some people will not enhance the rights of all. In fact, quite the contrary. When we tolerate bigotry and oppression against some groups, we open the door to retrenchment of all of the hard-won rights of the last two centuries.
Catholics were once among the most reviled of all religious groups in this nation; our own history demands that we stand in solidarity with people of all faiths insisting on the free exercise of religion. We might also remind our fellow citizens that forgiveness, not vengeance, is one of the supreme virtues of our faith. The Ground Zero debate needs more virtue and less violence.
What do you think? Weigh in on the “Ground Zero Mosque” debate by offering your comment… click ‘comments’ below…
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