Monday, August 23, 2010

Thoughts on Religious Freedom

The controversy over building an Islamic cultural center at 51 Park Avenue in lower Manhattan rages. How different that description sounds than the much-ballyhooed appellation of "a mosque at Ground Zero." Or, should I say (as does Fox News) MOSQUE AT GROUND ZERO! I confess that I am appalled at the attention this issue is garnering.

I had not formulated what it was that so bothers me about this "debate"--that is, until I read Frank Rich's excellent editorial in the Sunday New York Times. To get the full effect of his logic, you have to read the whole piece, but in brief what he argues is that by whipping up an atmosphere of "Islamophobia" the opponents of the proposed building have sapped what little support may have remained for the protracted war in Afghanistan.

What incredible irony. George W. Bush, as president, committed this country to a war in Afghanistan for the presumed purpose of helping a beleaguered country free itself from the Taliban tyranny. You would think that, if anything, the people who think the Taliban should be defeated would support the building of a center that promotes a peaceful more moderate view of Islam. That irony is what is captured in the title of the Frank Rich piece: How Fox Betrayed Petraeus.

Rich also points out that the New York Times ran a substantial piece back in December, 2009, and no one screamed "MOSQUE AT GROUND ZERO."

It is extremely troubling that one of our great freedoms--freedom of speech--became the vehicle for the story that threatens another of our great freedoms--freedom of religion.

Slate did a wonderful piece that traces the timeline for how this controversy was generated--one might even say manufactured. What a sad commentary this article is on how one or two people have manipulated and exaggerated information, and in the process have whipped a great many people in the United States into full-throated war cries to undo a bedrock foundation of our nation.

So, on September 11, 2001, terrorists attacked the United States. Their intent was to bring down this country. And what is our response? To do to ourselves what the terrorists could not do.

We have met the enemy. . .and he is us.

Image is one of the Four Freedoms series Norman Rockwell painted--Freedom of Speech; Freedom to Worship; Freedom from Want; Freedom from Fear. The background story one the paintings and the "freedoms" is here.


Climenheise said...

I share your distress. I know that some fear the centre (with enclosed mosque) is too close to ground zero -- but what would be an appropriate distance? Two city blocks? I would need to stand on the spot to have a real sense of what that means. And the objection has had the flavour of opposition to Islam, rather than of a reasoned consideration of anyone's sensibilities.

I am Christian. I have visited often enough with Muslims. I respect them, but have no desire to become Muslim. Indeed, the pattern of seeking to evangelize me and my companions when I have visited the mosque has had the effect of solidifying my commitment to Christian faith. (A sobering observation for the practice of Christian mission!)

But my own internal commitments are, I think, irrelevant to whether or not the centre should be built. Those who are best qualified to say live in Manhattan, and sit on the appropriate zoning boards and other local decision-making committees. They know if it's too close, or in fact at a reasonable distance. They can say it is objectionable. If the local decision-makers approve, I hope the centre will be built. If it is rejected (provided that the reason has nothing to do with freedom of religion), then I trust the reasons will be honourable.

JeanMac said...

What a post, Donna. I, too, have been following the story.

Murr Brewster said...

I couldn't have put it better. (Although I just penned a mosque piece of my own) rock.

Catbird said...

Eloquently put. My cousin Kelly is a Sufi, a member of the Bawa Muhaiyadeen Fellowship. Bawa was a Sri Lankan mystic who was invited to Philadelphia in 1970, and stayed. The following quote is particularly appropriate: "People with wisdom know that it is important to correct their own mistakes, while people without wisdom find it necessary to point out the mistakes of others. People with strong faith know that it is important to clear their own hearts, while those with unsteady faith seek to find fault in the hearts and prayers of others."

KGMom said...

@Daryl--your point on the zoning board is very on point. To this point, such authorities have approved its being built. And Mayor Bloomberg supports it also. I am convinced the people who have whipped up the opposition don't care a WHIT about NYC or what gets built there. Instead, they see it as political fodder, and a way to generate some political fervor that they believe will turn elections in their favor.

I would caution them to beware the mob mentality because the mob is a fickle fickle beast.

Jayne said...

Amen Donna. Amen.

Anonymous said...

Pogo was right, wasn't he!

The Ground Zero site itself has been such a sad, sore spot, with no one being able to agree what they wanted to put there.

Now, to spew such anger and hatred toward a place of worship and community a couple of blocks away is unreal!

Perhaps they should go with a Tower of Babel.

Tossing Pebbles in the Stream said...

It must be an embarassment to thoughtful Americans who actually understand the Constitution to see and hear the racist and zenophobic non-sense about the Muslim Community Centre in New York. As a neighbour I an embrassed for you.

The media needs to pay more attention to the mainstream religious community of New York that largely supports the Center and actually know is it a moderate sufi group behind it.

So far Canada has resisted anti Islamic fears.

I like to recall that the first Mosque built in Canada was made possible with the help of Christians and Jews in Endmonton, Alberta.

We even have some fun with Islam in Canada with the sitcom "Little Mosque on the Prairie".

Just last night I watched a news program of how the city of Prince George, BC is helping the Muslim Community there to build a Mosque.
They want Muslim professions to come and work in their city, for the skills they offer and to diversify their community.

Canada and the US does have some real cultural differences.

NCmountainwoman said...

Very well put. This issue concerns me greatly. And fills me with fear.

Ginnie said...

I agree with Phillip. It is very embarrasing to listen to such racist garbage. I am so glad that President Obama stuck to his guns.
The Right Wing loves to twist his words.

Anvilcloud said...

I have never seen Fox News, although I could get it if I really wanted to. However, every reference to it makes me shake my head.