Before I get into the issue – which really shouldn’t be an issue at all – I’d like to share this image and caption, found on Boston.com’s fantastic photography blog, The Big Picture.
Photo #38: Open doors, open minds: Emiratis and expats share an Iftar and talk about Islam and about the things that make us different and the things that make us all same – at the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding, in Dubai on September 3rd, 2010. (© Borisz Merei)
I strongly encourage everyone to go and look at the 40-odd public-submitted photos of the month of Ramadan. Having said that…
(Note: debate is welcome, but keep it civil.)
The building of this mosque (and community center) is obviously an extremely inflammatory issue. Many Americans – 61%, according to a recent TIME poll – believe that building the mosque four blocks away from Ground Zero would be wrong: some merely view it as an action disrespectful towards those who lost their lives saving others’, while others go to an extreme, calling it a “monument to terrorism.” Because it is such a personal issue for so many, I’ll first delve into the purely legal aspect.
Freedom of religion is one of the most important beliefs in the US, one of the cornerstones of the Constitution. The freedom to practice any religion here is not limited to being allowed to enter a church, synagogue, mosque, or any other worship space. It also forbids anyone from being subjected to discrimination based on religious beliefs. If the ongoing debate over whether or not a mosque should be allowed to be built isn’t an example of religious discrimination, then I don’t know what is. Freedom of religion is freedom of religion no matter what the circumstances. The question posed is “Should the government allow the Islamic Center and Mosque to be built?” That should not even be a question. It is not the government’s right to censor, in any way, which religious buildings can be built. The matter of sensitivity is an entirely separate argument; however, that is the argument with which most people have come to associate the proposed mosque and community center.
One of the sadly ironic points of this situation is the fact that those who protest the mosque are exercising their freedom of speech to the fullest extent; however, rather than using that fought-for right to further promote justice and freedom, they are using it to condemn a religious group that is doing no more than exercising its right to freedom of religion. Why should one group be protected by both of those rights while another group is criticized and rebuked for doing the same?
Now on to the opinion/emotional aspects of the issue. Just like the Floridan pastor Terry Jones does not accurately represent the views of his entire religion, the 9/11 bombers – and indeed, every other radical Muslim – do not represent the beliefs of Islam’s followers or, necessarily, the Qur’an’s teachings. ‘The squeaky wheel gets the grease,’ the saying goes. Terry Jones received a ridiculous amount of attention for his stunt; now, religious (and otherwise) radicals across the country are planning Qur’an burnings of their own. Amazing how similar the situation is to that of the Islam extremists: the suicide bombers, hijackers, flag burners (hmm…) and crazed rally-holding members end up in the news, on television, and ultimately in people’s heads. The Muslims who say their prayers and don’t blow things up don’t get on the news. Consequently, the only image many Americans have of Muslims is that of the extremists. All Muslims are not related to al-Qaeda, just like all Catholics are not pedophiles. (Disclaimer: yes, I am Catholic. No offense meant to anyone else.) One’s perspective on an entire culture cannot be based off of a few of that culture’s outliers.
Another perfect analogy for the “Islamaphobia” today is the Japanese internment camps of World War II. While the US hasn’t quite reached that stage of unwarranted fear and hate, the situation is scarily similar. After Pearl Harbor, all Japanese Americans were viewed with suspicion. They were not to be trusted; they were viewed as threats to our safety. This wasn’t a matter of mere stereotypes, this was a matter of sweeping generalizations about an entire culture, an entire people. Now, we see the same thing happen with Muslim Americans. After 9/11 – and still to this day – there is an unfortunate (to say the least) generalizing view that all Muslims want to wave guns around a burning American flag, chanting “Death to America.” An infinitesimal minority of that culturedoes feel that way; however, the vast majority – the other 1.5 billion Muslims in the world – are just like us, simply living their lives and adhering to their religious beliefs.
The issue we are faced with is a matter of narrow-mindedness and lack of acceptance – for the most part. For those who lost a loved one on 9/11, building the mosque so close to Ground Zero may seem insensitive. However, insensitivity – a purely subjective thing, I might add – does not make the Muslims who would like a mosque terrorists. That view is simply a bigoted, uninformed one that should not hold as much weight as it currently does; it should not influence the implementation of a fundamental right.