July 22, 2010
To build or not to build? In the past few weeks, the buzz surrounding whether or not a mosque and Muslim community center will be built a few blocks from Ground Zero has reached a fever pitch. The proposed project---costing an estimated $100 million---has become a polarizing topic. Talks show hosts, news outlets, and politicians are all throwing in their two cents. Sarah Palin took to Twitter to urge New Yorkers and Muslims to oppose the building (an "UNNECESSARY PROVOCATION," in her words) "in the interest of healing." During an interview with CNN's "American Morning," conservative blogger Pamela Geller, the leader of Stop the Islamicization of America, argued that the site is an insensitive invasion of sacred ground:
We feel that it is a cemetery and sacred ground and the dead should be honored...To build a 13-story mega mosque on the cemetery, on the site of the largest attack in American history, I think, is incredibly insensitive.
Interestingly enough, Cordoba House (the project has since been renamed "Park51") was intended to be a symbol of tolerance---named for the city in Spain where Jews, Muslims, and Christians once lived together peacefully. Supporters of Park51 insist that the center will be a place for peaceful discussion and enrichment. From the "Why Now?" page of Park51's website:
With a history going back centuries, almost to the City’s founding, New York’s diverse Muslim communities have worshipped, served and enriched our city in countless ways. We want to continue giving back, by realizing an institution like no other, a community center for our City, a model to the world of dialogue and discussion and a dedicated commitment to developing individuals, families and communities.
About.com's Barbara O'Brian weighed in on the debate on her Buddhism Blog, urging dissenters to avoid the temptation of misguided revenge:
What the Cordoba House opposers and the perpetrators of September 11 have in common is a well-nourished sense of righteous resentment. They were and are stuck in "He abused me, he struck me, he overpowered me, he robbed me" mode. As Pema Chodron says, instead of trying to understand why others may be angry at us, we strike back.
Religious scholar and Tricycle contributor Stephen Prothero published a piece on CNN's Belief Blog in which he addresses the motivations of those vehemently opposing the project:
The key question underlying the Ground Zero mosque debate is whether Americans are at war with Islam — whether the so-called clash of civilizations between the Christian West and the Muslim world is something we are trying to avoid or something we are trying to provoke.
If Islam is the enemy, then we should not stop at prohibiting the Cordoba Initiative from constructing a mosque within its Islamic community center in Lower Manhattan. We should outlaw new mosques from Cape Cod to Southern California. We might even be justified in rounding up all American Muslims and putting them in internment camps as we did with virtually all Japanese-American Buddhists during World War II.
. . .
Opponents say the Cordoba Initiative mosque and community center, which would rise two blocks from Ground Zero, is too close to that site. I say it is too far away. I believe a small mosque ought to be integrated into the redesign of the World Trade Center site itself — a reminder in steel and stone that the United States is not at war either with Islam or with our core values.
Indo-Tibetan Buddhist studies scholar Robert Thurman published the following on the Washington Post's On Faith Blog:
It is a wonderful idea to build a mosque near Ground Zero! A number of innocent Muslim people also lost their lives, as they were at work in those buildings. And since religious bigotry - intolerance, fanaticism, whatever you call it - was one of the causal factors underlying the despicable 9/11 suicide attack, religious intolerance or bigotry should not be mobilized to prevent a positive gesture from our Muslim brothers and sisters.
. . .
As different as the cases may be, let the 9/11 tragedy be mourned with museums and monuments to those who lost their lives, and let the building of mosques, churches, synagogues, temples, Dharma centers - and ideally a world religions' Temple of Mutual Understanding - serve as anticipation of a time when such crimes against humanity will never more be perpetrated in the name of anybody's fanatical idea of any Deity or ideology!
This is a complicated topic to be sure, and one that carries profound meaning for many. What is certain is that although no resolution will find all parties holding hands and singing kumbaya, we should move forward with respect and compassion. As the Dalai Lama wrote in his recent New York Times Op-Ed "Mutual understanding among [the major faiths] is not merely the business of religious believers---it matters for the welfare of humanity as a whole."