By now, you’ve heard about Park51 – the multipurpose community center being built in New York City that has been characterized as “The Ground Zero Mosque”. It’s become a hot-button issue, with folks getting heated on both sides.
The sad part is – it shouldn’t even be a discussion.
Let’s look at what the facts are and get down to reality.
First, it’s not a mosque. It’s a community center that will have a pool, offices, meeting rooms, and yes, a prayer space. But calling it a mosque is like calling Treasure Island in Las Vegas a cathedral. It has a prayer space as well – they even hold weddings…
No, it’s not a mosque. And it’s not at Ground Zero, either. It’s two and a half blocks away. In fact, it’s at 51 Park Place. Park Place doesn’t go by Ground Zero. At all. There are two large buildings between Ground Zero and Park51, the name of the project being built. Except for the very top floors of the new building, you won’t be able to see anything of Ground Zero, except perhaps the very top of Freedom Tower. Which isn’t built yet. Don’t believe it? Use Google Maps, search for 51 Park Place in New York, then choose the Earth option and zoom down to the building. You’ll see very quickly that you can’t see Ground Zero.
So, it’s not a mosque, it’s not at Ground Zero, and you can’t even see Ground Zero from the building’s location. So what’s the deal?
Some are saying it’s about the principle of the thing – that extremists want to build a mosque on “conquered land”. Except it’s NOT on Ground Zero. More importantly, this attitude is exactly what extremists want – by trying to deny the building of Park51, extremists can prove their claim that Americans are trying to destroy the Muslim faith – or so they will say.
Of course, this argument itself is full of holes. If not 2 blocks away, how far? There’s an actual mosque 4 blocks away – should it be torn down? Where do you draw the line? The folks who propose this don’t have an answer, except, perhaps, nowhere. Over the past two to three weeks there have been multiple protests and attempts to block the construction of mosques in towns all over the US. There has even been a call to deny all permits for the building of mosques anywhere in the US. Muslims have been labeled “terrorists” by those ignorant of the reality that there are evil people in every faith. Just as there are extremists that claim the Muslim faith, there are extremists that claim to be Christians. But as anyone who knows these faiths will attest, those who are in the extreme are not of the faith.
But if anything is wrong with the furor over Park51, it’s the fact that blocking it is against everything our country was founded on. When the original settlers came across the Atlantic, they came to escape religious oppression, to be able to practice their faith and worship in peace. This tenet was of such importance to the founding fathers, that it is expressly mentioned in the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights. The very first.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;”
Prohibiting the free exercise thereof. That’s what our country was founded on. Not one religion, but any. And that government shall not get in the way of religion. But that seems to be lost on a whole series of folks. Let me read you a few quotes.
“The folkish-minded man, in particular, has the sacred duty, each in his own denomination, of making people stop just talking superficially of God’s will, and actually fulfill God’s will, and not let God’s word be desecrated. For God’s will gave men their form, their essence and their abilities. Anyone who destroys His work is declaring war on the Lord’s creation, the divine will.”
Or a simple one:
“I believe today that my conduct is in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator. “
How about this one?
“Today Christians … stand at the head of [this country]… I pledge that I never will tie myself to parties who want to destroy Christianity .. We want to fill our culture again with the Christian spirit … We want to burn out all the recent immoral developments in literature, in the theater, and in the press – in short, we want to burn out the poison of immorality which has entered into our whole life and culture as a result of liberal excess during the past … (few) years. “
And on schools -
“Secular schools can never be tolerated because such schools have no religious instruction, and a general moral instruction without a religious foundation is built on air; consequently, all character training and religion must be derived from faith …we need believing people.”
I have no doubt that there are many folks who would agree with these quotes. And on the surface, they seem simply to be strong statements from someone very solid in his faith. These quotes were all from one individual.
But these types of quotes can also be considered extreme, depending on the context. Because the quotes themselves are not what’s important, but the actions behind them. This is true regardless of the religion or the political leaning of the individual speaking. Whether ultra-right Christian extremists or hard-line Muslim radicals, these people do not represent their faith. They represent a perversion of those faiths.
So why the quotes above? Because of who said them.
Without that context, the quotes seem innocuous. With that context, they take on a completely different tone.
I believe that the vast majority of Christians would denounce everything that Hitler stood for. He did not represent the Christian faith, but rather a bastardization of it. And yet, if all you did was listen to his speeches and read his writing, you might actually believe he was a devout Christian.
Such it is with Muslim extremists. They don’t represent their faith, but an ugly imitation of it. They want everyone to be of their faith or gone. And if you listen to ultra-right Christians, you’ll hear the same rhetoric. Same plan, different god. The danger is not the words, but the intent behind them. Extremists of all stripes wrap themselves in righteousness of their faith, and use that faith as an excuse for heinous acts. And yet, if all we do is listen to their speech, they sound like everyone else.
The protesting is a sham, a political wedge, and an excuse to try to elevate on faith over another.
And to really put the entire thing in perspective, there is one last fact that has been ignored until the last week or so.
Those who complain that a “mosque” shouldn’t be built near Ground Zero are likely ignorant of the fact that there already was a “mosque” at Ground Zero – before it became Ground Zero. In fact, there were two. One in each tower.
The first was a prayer center on the 17th floor of the south tower. It included a washroom to cleanse before prayer. It is likely that there were at least some individuals there praying at the time that the plane flew into the south tower.
The second was a prayer space set aside in a stairwell in the north tower, between the 106th and 107th floors of the north tower, used primarily by those that worked in the restaurant on the top floor. Workers would use the space to perform their prayers without having to be far from their stations.
On the day that extremists used airplanes as weapons against thousands of innocents, there was not one, but two Muslim prayer facilities in the World Trade Center towers. And when those buildings fell, those prayer centers became part of the tragedy as well.
Freedom of religion is a cornerstone of our country’s founding. The attacks nine years ago were an attack on those foundations. By not recognizing the rights to freely practice their faith, in a building of their own construction, we complete the attacks that were started by extremists. And we dishonor the memory of those who died, including those of all faiths who lost their lives on that day.