August 16, 2010

An Islamic Mosque at Ground Zero?

Click here to read what others are saying about this posting!
Read/Post Comments (3)

An Islamic Mosque at Ground Zero? Well, not exactly at Ground Zero but two blocks north of Ground Zero—so like “off-Broadway” theatres, we are actually talking about “off-Ground Zero.” And it is not actually a mosque but a Muslim Community Center! Imam (i.e., like a preacher/pastor/priest/rabbi) Feisal Abdul Rauf has received permission to build a 15 story Muslim Community Center, “Cordoba House,” at 45 Park Place. It will include a prayer space, a 500 seat Performing Arts Center, a culinary school, a swimming pool, a restaurant, and more. It is the kind of project any community would be happy to have—or so it would seem. Two things are wrong with the project. It is a Muslim project, and it encroaches on what has become in the popular imagination “hallowed ground.”

     Ground Zero is, of course, the former site of the twin towers of the World Trade Center. Both towers were destroyed when two hijacked civilian airliners were commandeered by Islamic fundamentalists and crashed into the twin towers in the name of “holy jihad” (holy war).

     The popular case for denying the imam’s project was recently made by the right-wing political pundit, Charles Krauthammer (Build mosque anywhere -- just not near Ground Zero). His argument is this: Ground Zero has become sacred space by virtue of the fact that it was the place “of great nobility and sacrifice.” The site belongs to those who died there and we who remain should “preserve the dignity and memory of the place.” He raises the specter that while the current imam may possibly have benign reasons for the project, that is no guarantee that it will not become a terrorist center at some future date. He questions Rauf’s “good will” and notes that Rauf once called U. S. Policy “’an accessory to the crime’ of 9/11,” and he criticizes him for side-stepping a question about the terrorist organization Hamas. Others have objected that the project is insensitive to the feelings of those who lost loved ones there.

     It strikes me that Krauthammer’s rationale for opposing the project amounts to little more than a cover for religious discrimination. If any other group, not identified with Islam, wanted to build a similar project two blocks “off-Ground Zero” it would scarcely have met with a ripple of protest. Objections are raised only because it is a Muslim project. What I consider the gaping hole in Krauthammer’s argument is this: the proposed project is not located at Ground Zero—but two blocks away! But even that appears to be too close for its opponents. Krauthammer’s logic begs the question: exactly how far from Ground Zero would the aura of “sacred ground” extend—four blocks, five? At what point does the turf become neutral?

     I get it! Buildings associated with Islam are unwelcome in the neighborhood!—but let’s not conceal religious discrimination with the subterfuge of “holy ground.” If we aim to sully the constitution let’s at least be honest about it.

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

Posted by Charles Hedrick at 8:59am


Indeed, you are right on target re. the building of the Muslim community center new Ground Zero. Denying the building of the center would be a blatant case of religious discrimination.

Good for you for saying so.

Bernie Loposer
Posted by Bernie Loposer on 8/16/2010 at 5:55pm

Dr. Hedrick,

There is a very good chance that I might use this article in one of my classes this semester. I essentially agree with you, and I really find it hard to dispute what you're saying. The prejudice toward building the Islamic center is simply because it is an "Islamic center!" If it had been any other religious group, I doubt anyone would say anything. And if the far-right believes that there will be "terrorist activity," because it is an Islamic center, then perhaps the U.S. Government should start mandating a litmus test on religion for U.S. citizenship.

Cody Hayes
Posted by Cody Hayes on 8/16/2010 at 5:51pm

To add to both the absurdity and irony of the current debate, there is already a mosque within one block of "ground zero" which has been there for many years. The conservative objections now being raised, in effect, demand that Islam as a whole take responsibility for Islamic terrorists. Clearly, this is not logical and it is contrary to our Constitution and national self understanding.

It does, however, point out some real cultural problems. Low rent areas of crowded cities often see an evolution of immigrant groups, each of which buys into a slightly different flavor of prejudice and xenophobia. Once Irish ghettos became black ghettos, which later evolved into primarily Southeast Asian ghettos and now they are Hispanic but becoming increasingly Arab Muslim.

This transition is now charged with a high level of suspicion, not all of which is entirely unfounded, which, come to think of it, is true of many prejudices. There are issues on both sides. Americans are largely unaware of what we have done to Arab Muslim populations and we are generally unwilling to feel or show remorse for our economic colonialism of the Middle East. Arabs, on the other hand, often approach westerners with a "you owe me" attitude which does not foster meaningful dialogue. There needs to be considerably more sensitivity on both sides of the equation. Not all Americans have participated in exploiting the resources and land of the Middle East, in fact, we are generally clueless. Not all Muslims are sympathetic with terrorists, in fact, most are not.

Similarly, we had little or no sympathy for the anti-American feelings in Japan early in the last century. We still seem to talk about Pearl Harbor as if it was just an entirely unprovoked act of madness rather than the predictable outcome of our foreign policy. Still, within ten years of WWII, Germany and Japan were close allies with the USA and that should provide a concrete example to both Arabs and Americans today. The prejudice and suspicion can end. We can work together. But if we don't try a lot harder we are likely to spill a lot of blood before we become sufficiently grief stricken to actually stop and seek sanity.

Roger L. Ray, D.Min.
Pastor, Community Christian Church
Springfield, Missouri
Posted by Roger L. Ray on 8/16/2010 at 5:38pm