Religious Freedom Trumps Our Feelings
It shouldn’t be a mystery to readers of this blog that I think Islam is often a dangerous religious ideology and that the Islamic beliefs of the 9/11 terrorists motivated their decision to engage in murderous jihad. But you know what? Our nation is founded on the ideals of liberty. All muslims aren’t terrorists. Self-proclaimed “constitutional conservatives” like Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich should read this line of first amendment to the Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;”
The proposed mosque and community center seems perfectly designed to assimilate muslims into mainstream American culture. It is modeled after Jewish community centers for goodness sake. Peaceful muslims (who were also Americans killed in the 9/11 attacks by the way; yes Newt, muslims can be Americans too) should be allowed to participate in their community and grieve for those lost. The Economist agrees.
In a tweet last month from Alaska, Ms Palin called on “peaceful Muslims” to “refudiate” the “ground-zero mosque” because it would “stab” American hearts. But why should it? Cordoba House is not being built by al-Qaeda. To the contrary, it is the brainchild of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, a well-meaning American cleric who has spent years trying to promote interfaith understanding, not an apostle of religious war like Osama bin Laden. He is modelling his project on New York’s 92nd Street Y, a Jewish community centre that reaches out to other religions. The site was selected in part precisely so that it might heal some of the wounds opened by the felling of the twin towers and all that followed. True, some relatives of 9/11 victims are hurt by the idea of a mosque going up near the site. But that feeling of hurt makes sense only if they too buy the false idea that Muslims in general were perpetrators of the crime. Besides, what about the feelings, and for that matter the rights, of America’s Muslims—some of whom also perished in the atrocity?
The best defense of the mosque comes from New York’s own major – this is a New York not federal decision after all.
“Whatever you may think of the proposed mosque and community center, lost in the heat of the debate has been a basic question: Should government attempt to deny private citizens the right to build a house of worship on private property based on their particular religion? That may happen in other countries, but we should never allow it to happen here.
“This nation was founded on the principle that the government must never choose between religions or favor one over another. The World Trade Center site will forever hold a special place in our city, in our hearts. But we would be untrue to the best part of ourselves and who we are as New Yorkers and Americans if we said no to a mosque in lower Manhattan.
“Let us not forget that Muslims were among those murdered on 9/11, and that our Muslim neighbors grieved with us as New Yorkers and as Americans. We would betray our values and play into our enemies’ hands if we were to treat Muslims differently than anyone else. In fact, to cave to popular sentiment would be to hand a victory to the terrorists, and we should not stand for that.
How fragile do reactionaries like Palin and Gingrich think America and its constitution are that it can’t withstand another mosque in Lower Manhattan?
(photo: Edward Reed)