Thoughts on the Islamic Community Center near ground zero in NYC

It seems lately that it is almost a requirement for every politician, every journalist, every blogger… heck everyone with a facebook account to weigh in on the subject of an Islamic worship space near ground zero in New York. It seems almost required… so, of course, I wasn’t going to blog about it.

Except that I keep finding myself thinking about it — more than that I find myself unreasonably triggered by any argument against it. I am finding it difficult to assume good intent… usually that is easy for me.

Yet, I know feelings about 9/11 are raw and real. Feelings about what happens on the sight of such a deadly terrible attack are raw and real. Many people, including some of the families who lost loved ones that day, find the prospect of a the center so near Ground Zero upsetting. So, why is my reaction so strong. Yes, I support the center – but why the intense and quick reaction to those that don’t. I thought writing might help me sort through some of it.

Part of the issue is the lies and misinformation being spread. To be sure some of it if just accidental misinformation; sharing what we’ve heard in an age of instant messaging facts are bound to get jumbled and misinformation is bound to get passed along. But, I have to think that some of it is out and out lies. A deliberate attempt to play on people’s fears and pain.

Yet, one by one these myths and lies have been proven to be false:

* A “13 story mosque” — no such plan. In fact, it isn’t a mosque at all but a community center that is planned anyhow, it would contain a 500-seat auditorium, a swimming pool, art exhibit spaces, bookstores, restaurants and, yes, — it does have a Muslim worship space.

* At ground zero — nope. Two blocks away, in an abandoned Burlington Coat factory. That might feel close in my home town of Ypsilanti or some other places, but this is Manhattan we’re talking about — it would not even be visible from NY’s ground zero.

* Anti- American, radical terrorist loving Imam. Please! Can anyone believe that who has heard the man speak? Check out the video. Rauf and his wife, Daisy Khan, a co-leader of the project, have a long record of interfaith outreach

and were praised in the months following the Sept. 11th attacks for their outreach and support by community members, and government officials.

* The mosque will be financed by terrorists. Well, this one too has been proven to be a lie.


* The mosque will be a symbol of victory for al-Qaeda. Again, does anyone really believe this? This fails to distinguish Islam from terrorism and sounds an awful lot like Islamaphobia. Its not fair that an entire religion and 1 billion people get blamed for the actions of a few. And let’s not forget Muslims died in the World Trade Center. The mosque and community center being proposed is known for doing great work for moderate Islam and speaking against terrorism. Many Muslims, have worried since the attacks on 9/11 that the attacks would spark widespread reprisals and discrimination. For some, the fuss about the mosque confirms their fearsBesides all this, the opposition to the mosque and Islamaphobia that it has whipped up has given the perfect recruitment tool for al Qaeda and other extremist groups by reinforcing the belief that America is at war with Islam.

And so, when misinformation is corrected and lies are exposed for what they are opponents of the community center fall back on the claim that it is insensitive, tactless, even mean spirited.

But why? What is insensitive about it? I am not saying the feelings themselves are not vailid. But that is not enough.  What are the perceptions behind those feelings?

This kind of reflection seems no where to be found. Instead what we get is some vague sense that Muslim worship near ground zero in New York is a reminder of the pain and suffering caused by a terrorist act; that because the terrorists claimed to be acting in the name of Islam, they are a symbol of Islam.

That seems to me irrational; group blame, collective punishment, and just plain wrong.

There are certainly Christians who preach hate and murder doctors who perform abortions. There are those that advocate violence against queer people. Do we assume they speak are all Christians. Do we see them as a symbol of Christianity. Do we say that Christians can’t be doctors because it is insensitive to those that have been killed in the name of Christian extremism? We should, according to the logic of those claiming the community center should not be built

Or as they noted in  

“Because mosques are religious and the 911 terrorists perverted Islam into something violent and hateful? Guess what? Those knights did the same thing to Christianity for the 300 years of the Crusades, and no one’s saying that churches shouldn’t be built anywhere in … well, Europe. “ 


Mayor Michael Bloomberg said well when he first came out in favor of the project. “if we say that a mosque and community center should not be built near the perimeter of the World Trade Center site, we would compromise our commitment to fighting terror with freedom. We would undercut the values and principles that so many heroes died protecting. We would feed the false impressions that some Americans have about Muslims. We would send a signal around the world that Muslim Americans may be equal in the eyes of the law, but separate in the eyes of their countrymen. And we would hand a valuable propaganda tool to terrorist recruiters, who spread the fallacy that America is at war with Islam. Islam did not attack the World Trade Center – Al-Qaeda did. To implicate all of Islam for the actions of a few who twisted a great religion is unfair and un-American.”

And so if we are going to talk about sensitivity we must think about the perceptions behind it and when we stop to do that we find there’s no good reason why the Islamic center shouldn’t be built at its planned site.

Looking at it this way it seems as though the opposition to the mosque is all about bigotry and intolerance – and you can’t whip up intolerance, fear and hatred and expect there not to be consequences

I guess that is why my reaction is so intense. Because the consequences of that racism and Islamaphobia is too great. Fear and anger will not remain contained around “this issue”

Recently a cab driver in NYC was stabbed after the perpetrator asked if he was a Muslim. Mosques planned for construction in Tennessee, Wisconsin, California and Florida have been challenged by Americans claiming that Islam is not a religion or that Muslims are inherently violent and at odds with U.S. values. A Florida church is sponsoring a national “Burn a Koran Day” on September 11.

Where will we go from here?

We can do better than this. We must.



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