We live in a country where religious tolerance is an understood, unspoken and underappreciated facet of the daily lives of Americans. The ability to worship one’s own God, whether called God, Yahweh, Adonai or even Allah, is a core facet of American freedom.
As an oversimplification of a complex situation, a Muslim center is slated for construction several blocks from Ground Zero in New York City. This move has sparked outrage among typically conservatives and Republicans across the country. The center is being denounced as a “shrine to terrorism,” a “stronghold of Al Qaeda,” and as disrespect to those killed on 9/11.
A poll taken by The New York Times, a considerably liberal newspaper, found that 75 percent of those interviewed said that a “house of worship” could be built near the ruins of the Twin Towers. When “house of worship” was changed to “Muslim community center” in a following question, that number dropped to 62 percent. 67 percent said the builders should find another place to build it.
Responding to those unexpected results and figures, one wonders where our country’s founding values have gone. Will we so quickly degenerate into a culture that espouses intolerance and hatred, ignorance and malice? We must look at the reverse of the situation – how would Americans react if Muslims refused to let churches be built near the site of a Crusade slaughtering?
One must only open a mainstream paper’s opinion or op-ed pages to see vicious attacks on the proposed “mosque”. However, so many misconceptions exist as to the purpose of the building. It is not just a mosque; it is also a religious center and a recreation complex. It is very similar to the Christian-American tradition we know as the YMCA, an organization that pledges to promote Christian religious ideals – YMCA stands for “Young Men Christians Association.”
The hijackers of the 9/11 planes are a fanatical branch of a misunderstood religion, but so too are many less-known religious violence atrocities, such as the Christian fundamentalist Branch Davidian sect, the Romanian Orthodox sect responsible for massacres in the Holocaust and Bucharest, and even the Ku Klux Klan. There is little difference between religious violence, whether it be between Muslims, Christian, Jews, Hindus, or another religion, and even fewer differences between banning churches at the sites of Christian violence and banning a Muslim community center in New York City.
The supporters and donors of the religious center are coming under intense scrutiny by the State Department for fears of having questionable ties to terrorist groups. However, the project leader of the mosque and religious center has repeatedly implied that no monies will be accepted from “anti-American and un-Muslim” sources, such as Hamas, al Qaeda or Iran.
My own personal opinion would be a moderate outlook on the situation, in that the proposed center can exist and be built as long as it takes no money from less-than-honorable sources, does not promote the hatred that some radicalized sects of Islam preach, and is subject to the exact same rules that every religious center, church and place of worship must follow. Disallowing the construction would only exacerbate the already-tense racial relations and distrust between the Muslim community and American society, something that would be detrimental at such a crucial time in history for religious understanding.