Monday, August 16, 2010

"Ground Zero Mosque" Deserves Truth in Labeling

   Let’s get the facts right. The “Ground Zero Mosque,” which market research has assigned the trendy name of Park51, will not be located at Ground Zero, but on a street two blocks away. You can’t see the place from Ground Zero and you can’t see Ground Zero from the place. It's just a building in a row of buildings. Nor will it even become a mosque, not that this should be a problem. There’s an actual mosque four blocks from G-Zero, the Masjid Manhattan Mosque, which has been in the neighborhood for many years and, by all accounts, hasn’t turned any New Yorkers into suicide bombers. 

   The new place will be a Muslim community center; a kind of YMCA without the Village People. Plans call for a prayer room, classrooms, an auditorium, a gym and a pool, a restaurant, galleries, and even a memorial for the dead of 9/11. 

   Plans do not call for a shooting range, demolition classes, prostitute stoning, or nuclear weapons development. According to The New Yorker magazine, the imam in charge graduated that well-known Madrassa, Columbia University, authored a book entitled “What’s Right with Islam Is What’s Right with America,” (sounds like a Sean Hannity book), and he’s been a consultant for the FBI on sensitivity training for agents and police.

   So, where are all the Constitutional strict-constructionists rushing to defend the First Amendment’s separation of Church and State, our religious freedoms, and our diversity and tolerance? Well, the PR skunks who dreamt up Death Panels must have come up with the label “Ground Zero Mosque,” which evokes images of golden dome sitting atop the ruins of the Twin Towers, with Saladin waving his sword from the balcony.

   This is the image of “triumphalism” Newt Gingrich has cravenly promoted, likening the community center to building a shrine to the Japanese in Pearl Harbor, or a Nazi memorial near the Holocaust Museum. Stupid analogy. The Nazis and the Japanese were the nations that actually committed those atrocities. All of Islam did not attack us on September 11; a tiny minority of radicals did it. But Gingrich and his ilk want to have their cake and their bigotry, too. Newt doesn’t want to equate all Muslims with the terrorists of 9/11. He just wants to treat all Muslims like the terrorists of 9/11…hounding them from a site that anyone else might occupy. Apparently, the project winning the approval of New York’s Jewish mayor and America’s Christian president, not to mention Fox's Laura Ingram, aren't enough.

   Newt carps that he doesn’t want to allow the Muslim Center to be built until Saudi Arabia allows churches and synagogues. It’s nice to know where he gets his civil rights standards. The next obvious questions: Do we outlaw churches in Oklahoma City because Timothy McVeigh was a Christian, or ban them from towns where abortion clinics have been attacked? How about we forbid all women to wear headscarves until Iran allows nude bathing? And as for the claim the place is an insult to the families of 9/11 victims... a) many of them support the idea of the center, and b) in America, religious rights aren’t limited by popular approval.

   Sure, I was taken aback by the idea of a mosque near Ground Zero at first. But I got over it. My brain won out over my gut when I remembered that…oh, yeah, this is America. We have separation of Church and State, and the sensitivities of others aren’t supposed to limit our rights. This is what conservatives claim they hate—political correctness. Yes, accepting the idea of this center may be tough, but living up to high ideals always is. I’ll admit, I’m not sure what the Muslim center’s creators are trying to accomplish with this idea. If it’s intended to be a bridge-building effort of some kind, they might have done more field research. But if we ban this center, or scare people away from it, it won’t be long before others start banning mosques everywhere.

   In fact, it’s already been proposed by one Bryan Fischer, writing for the American Family Association: “Permits should not be granted to build one more mosque in the United States of America, let alone the monstrosity planned for Ground Zero.” He insists that every mosque is a “potential jihadist training center” and that due to “Islam's subversive ideology, Muslims cannot claim First Amendment rights.” Fischer is apparently the guy who gets to decide who gets First Amendment rights and who doesn’t. And isn’t saying that every mosque is a potential center for jihad like claiming every evangelical church is a potential center for inbreeding? 

   Not everyone at the AFA shares Fischer’s prejudice, but there are plenty of conservative pastors who do, playing right into Osama bin Laden’s hands by morphing our fight against al Qaeda into a broader religious war between Middle East and West. Not coincidently, a lot of the same guys who despise Islamic triumphalism are big cheerleaders for Christian triumphalism. They want a clash of faiths to prove that our religious nuts are better than their religious nuts. Problem is, at the end of the day, everyone involved is nuts. Or, in the words of Matthew Arnold:

“And we are here as on a darkling plain,
swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
where ignorant armies clash by night.”

Welcome to the Dark Ages.

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