August 03, 2010

Ground Zero mosque project moves forward

This morning New York City's Landmarks Preservation Commission denied landmark status for 45-47 Park Place, the proposed location for Cordoba House/Park 51. If landmark status had been granted to the property, it would have prevented the owners, Soho Properties, from demolishing the current building in order to build a new Islamic center and mosque near Ground Zero---a controversial project recently covered here on the Tricycle blog. Though the project has been protested vehemently by politicians, talk show hosts, and even Sarah Palin, CNN's Belief Blog points out the building is already being used peacefully by Muslims for prayer.

This is not the first time that a religious group has been denied a space to practice due to religious intolerance stemming from a traumatic and violent local event. Following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor during World War II, Japanese living in the area were persecuted, especially members of Shinto organizations---a Japanese practice which has heavily influenced Buddhism in Japan. From religion-online.org:

Japanese leaders, including Shinto priests, were rounded up and deported. It was impossible to resettle all of the Japanese, as California had done, for they constituted nearly one-third of the population. The people of Hawaii simply had to learn to live together despite their qualms. Suspicions continued for a while: Shinto shrines were considered a hotbed of subversive activities by some and were vandalized.

This climate of intolerance and anger led to the closure of Kotohira Jinsha-Hawaii Dazaifu Tenmangua, a Shinto shrine just five miles from Pearl Harbor. Though the shrine had  been operating peacefully in the community for over twenty years, Kotohira Jinsha was forced to close its doors after their leader, Reverand Isobe, was deported to Japan. After briefly reopening without a priest, the shrine's property was seized by the government in 1948 and soon put up for sale. Eventually, Kotohira Jinsha brought a lawsuit against the government. From the shrine's website:

All religious and cultural activities were terminated as the war continued. In 1943, the interned Rev. Isobe was deported to Japan, forcing officers to call a special meeting on July 21, 1945 to decide the fate of the shrine.  Kotohira Jinsha officially announced the temporary closure of the shrine and its activities on April 6, 1946.

After the war, members enthusiastically restored shrine activities on December 31, 1947, despite the absence of a priest.  However, the shrine faced another crisis on June 8, 1948, when its property was seized by the Federal Government.  An emergency meeting was called and a special committee formed to initiate measures for the return of the shrine and its property.

...

The lawsuit by Kotohira Jinsha was the first ever initiated a Japanese organization in the history of the United States, paving the way for similar lawsuits by other Japanese organizations.  On July 31, 1965, a stone memorial was erected in honor of shrine members who persisted against overwhelming odds in a lawsuit against discrimination by the Federal Government.  It was also meant to serve as a constant reminder of the hardships and indignities suffered at the hands of a nation misguided by wartime hysteria, racial prejudice and fear, which we must not allow to happen again to any group, regardless of race, religion or national origin.

Since its reopening in 1950, Hawaii Kotohira Jinsha has operated peacefully as an integral part of the local community. As is the case with the resistance to both the Shinto shrine and the Ground Zero mosque, a pervasive feeling of vengeance often befalls areas that have undergone violent trauma. Frequently, those who share an ethnicity or religion with the attackers become the perceived enemy---even if they have lived peacefully and harmoniously in the community for many years. The story of the Kotohira Jinsha shrine should serve as a reminder that unwarranted intolerance and oppression is hateful, thoughtless, and often totally unfounded.

To read more about the history of the Kotohira Jinsha shrine click here.

UPDATE: An editorial on religious tolerance and the Ground Zero mosque appeared in Wednesday's New York Times. Read the piece here.

Images: dnainfo.com and e-shrine.org

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liz's picture

I think it is beautiful.

RockingJamboree's picture

@billpill, your question sounds positively paranoid. What if those purple and gold shadows are no more than the artists' conception of what the clouds might look like reflected of the glass of the building? Wouldn't that make you feel silly!

OK, you say the pattern doesn't look naturally made. It's not. This is an artists' rendering. There's nothing natural about that building. It's a picture, a digital drawing.

OK, lets assume that the patterns are Arabic letters, what is insidious about that? I watched the Minnesota Twins play the Seattle Mariners last night. Behind home plate was a a large advertisement in Chinese or Japanese lettering. I couldn't understand what it said, but I didn't assume that it was an insult towards me. I wasn't offended.

Why is the possibility of the Park 51 building having some kind of Arabic Letter on it a "question that trumps all others"? We still have Freedom of Speech as well as Freedom of Religion guaranteed by the First Amendment. What if the Arabic lettering was smaller, would that be better or worse?

What if the "Arabic Lettering" (which I frankly don't see) translated to "Park 51." Would that be OK?

If the "lettering" translated to something like, "Lavern and Shirley are Devilspawn," I might find that offensive. After all, Lavern and Shirley was a great show. And that Lenny and Squiggy were hilarious!

@Rachel, nice editorial. It was very insightful and informative. I found this while researching a personal note for my facebook page.

http://www.facebook.com/note.php?created&&note_id=428871863350#!/notes/russ-rogers/my-conservative-view-of-the-park-51-cultural-center/428871863350

billpill's picture

The question that trumps all others for me is, what does the pattern of purple and gold shadows on the face of the building mean? It's a very strange pattern, and doesn't look natural but deliberately made. Is it some form of Arabic?

| nyc-architecture's picture

[...] Source- http://www.tricycle.com/blog/?p=2136 [...]

James Shaheen's picture

@ iamtheangel,

"So the reasons for it seem to outbalance the reason against it, but do the wishes of the constituents count for nothing? Legally they do, but it still brings into question the validity of the whole idea."

You're right, legally, they do count for nothing. If 87% of New Yorkers (and I don't believe that number) want to deny citizens their First Amendment rights, "the wishes of the constituents" in fact count for even less than nothing, legally and otherwise. Muslim New Yorkers do not need the majority's approval to practice their religion where they like. If popular opinion counted for something, I don't know if the Civil Rights Act would ever have passed (we might still be discussing pro and con on cable news). The question of "validity" should not even come up.

Everything downtown is "just blocks from ground zero," by the way. It's a pretty bad idea to ask Muslims to stop worshiping in lower Manhattan.

The Dutch would not let the Jews build a temple in New York when they first arrived. Catholics at one point were likewise prohibited from building parish churches. This is no different. The majority—if opponents to the center constitute a majority—will just have to grow up and deal.

Mark's picture

The central issue is why the resistance to the building has arisen. If Christians or Buddhists were building there, I doubt that anyone but the immediate neighbors would even be aware of the project. Cynical politicians have played on people's religious and racial xenophobia to present this as a "Victory Mosque" because of its proximity to the Trade Center site. This is just one more stunt to keep the conservative political base in a state of irrational rage. Widespread fear and intolerance should never be the basis for public policy, which is why our democratic institutions are set up to be insulated from temporary public passions (this is well demonstrated by the process unfolding in New York). As seekers of the dharma, we should recognize the karmic implications of so much aversion and delusion; and as Americans we should recognize when phony public consent is being manufactured, and resist it in appropriate ways.

Twitter Trackbacks for Tricycle » Ground Zero mosque project's picture

[...] Tricycle » Ground Zero mosque project moves forward tricycle.com/blog/?p=2136 – view page – cached This morning New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission denied landmark status for 45-47 Park Place, the proposed location for Cordoba House/Park 51. If landmark status had been granted to the property, it would have prevented the owners, Soho Properties, from demolishing the current building in order to build a new Islamic center and mosque near Ground Zero—a controversial project... Read moreThis morning New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission denied landmark status for 45-47 Park Place, the proposed location for Cordoba House/Park 51. If landmark status had been granted to the property, it would have prevented the owners, Soho Properties, from demolishing the current building in order to build a new Islamic center and mosque near Ground Zero—a controversial project recently covered here on the Tricycle blog. View page Tweets about this link [...]

Rachel Hiles's picture

I Am The Devil,

Thanks for your comments. In my response to I Am The Angel I agreed that I should have been more careful in distinguishing between the two circumstances. There are certainly big differences between the resistance to the Kotohira Jinsha shrine and the mosque at Ground Zero, and it is important to note that while the Shinto shrine was closed, thus far the Cordoba Project has not been denied the right to build its mosque and community center. In drawing parallels between the two situations I hoped to highlight important questions about religious tolerance and fear in this country, I apologize if in doing so it appeared that I glossed over the differences.

Best,
Rachel

I Am The Devil's picture

I can't avoid an impression similar to I Am The Angel's, as Rachel's text states: "This is not the first time that a religious group has been denied a space to practice due to religious intolerance stemming from a traumatic and violent local event." It's somewhat confusing and/or misleading, giving the impression of a not so final version of the text (ok, it's a blog), or of a somewhat forceful (and good intentioned) "agenda". I agree with the importance of the questions raised by Rachel, but maybe some editing would make the argument more clear. Maybe focusing on the differences (at least at some levels) between the 2 circumstances would help.

Rachel Hiles's picture

I Am The Angel,

Thanks for your comments. You're right, the Cordoba House project has not been denied a space to practice, but there are certainly many who are vehemently opposed to the proposed project---just as there were in the case of the the Kotohira Jinsha Shinto shrine in Hawaii.

The wishes of the constituents certainly count for something, but we should take a close look at the reasons behind their resistance to the mosque being built. Is it fear? Religious intolerance? Politics? After Pearl Harbor, Japanese men and women were persecuted because of their ethnicity, regardless of the fact that they had peacefully lived and worked in Hawaii for years--sometimes generations. Though historical comparisons have their limits, it's clear that there are parallels between the fear that led to the unethical treatment of Japanese Hawaiians during WWII and the fear that has led to the heated controversy surrounding the Ground Zero mosque. If a poll in Hawaii had said that 87% of Hawaiians agreed that the Kotohira Jinsha center should be closed, does that mean it should have been shut down? These are tough questions.

Best,
Rachel

iamtheangel.com's picture

I'm not sure why the article here refers to this as an incident where "a religious group has been denied a space to practice due to religious intolerance" when they have not been denied the space.
This essentially breaks down to three issues: 1) there is no legal basis to deny the Muslim group the space (proposing landmark status to a building of no historical or architectural significance only accentuates this), 2) denying them the space is in itself an intolerant act, and 3) according to a poll I saw on the news this morning, most people here in New York City don't want it there (87% against vs 13%). So the reasons for it seem to outbalance the reason against it, but do the wishes of the constituents count for nothing? Legally they do, but it still brings into question the validity of the whole idea.

Mumon's picture

I tried to capture the video Mayor Bloomberg's speech as well as the religious folks' speeches on my blog, but couldn't figure it out. Check out that speech, as well as the video; it is deeply moving.