Right to build vs. right to ask questions
President Obama, after saying that building a mosque at Ground Zero fit our "commitment to religious freedom," backtracked, saying he wasn't commenting on the 'wisdom' of building it so close to 'hallowed ground.'
A Fox News poll showed that while 61 percent of Americans believe that Cordoba House has a constitutional right to build near Ground Zero, 64 percent believe it is not appropriate to do so.
Does Obama's hedging show a lack of ethical convictions? Does Hamas' endorsement change the debate? What is behind public opposition to the site? Can you believe in religious freedom but not believe the mosque is appropriate?
As with many contemporary subjects, we were at the front end of this tempest a la mosque here at On Faith. I wrote on July 20 on this issue of sectarian worship at Ground Zero, and daresay that I find the view that I put forth turns out now to be in consonance with polls of most Americans and corroborated now by the President! As this issue has percolated, however, there is no stance without risk, controversy and the attacks of partisans.
Specifically, I posited that it is an absolute American right to build a place of worship anywhere in this country if a request complies with local zoning ordinances and city regulations. The Cordoba mosque meets that bar and therefore can most certainly be built at Ground Zero or any so-called hallowed ground. Hindu Americans have fought too much bigotry building temples cloaked behind excuses of zoning or noise ordinances and would stand in solidarity in the exercise of religious freedom.
But the initiative to purposefully build a mosque at the very site where religion was defamed and thousands of lives destroyed, is curious. Prayer is most certainly apropos at Ground Zero, but consider an interfaith center rather than a temple, mosque, church or synagogue I had argued. Indeed, the Pentagon offers its own alternative, balancing the need for prayer and reflection with the plurality of its believers: an interfaith chapel at its own Ground Zero. Services for all religions are regularly scheduled there and the faithful find their needs tended.
I also argued that building a mosque at this site in Lower Manhattan--within the 16 acre bounds of Ground Zero--is a call for attention. It strains feasibility to contend otherwise. Many questions have been raised as to where the $100 million dollars would come from, Malaysian ties and to the ideological statements that the mosque's imam made in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. We do not argue as to the merits of that ideology, but when one puts their project and foundation squarely within the national consciousness, it is difficult to eschew legitimate calls for some details. It is doubtful that any initiative to build this mosque elsewhere would have generated the same furor.
Despite the concerns raised a month ago, it does seem ludicrous now that the controversy continues. That some Muslim Americans find themselves in the midst of a polarizing debate and on the defensive on an issue entirely separate from the daily dose of extremist Islamist terror they are already always having to condemn is indeed tragic. And the manipulation of this issue for electoral gain by the Republican Party, or the crass denigration of legitimate questions by the extreme left do our fellow citizens no favors. Rush Limbaugh, as he is wont to do, took the issue to a new height of farce as he offered the analogy likening the mosque at Ground Zero to a Hindu temple being built at Pearl Harbor!
The lid over this teapot must be lifted to allow this foolish tempest to defuse. Either build outside of the bounds of Ground Zero or answer some legitimate questions as to how and why. Let the steam blow off and the healing begin.
Views expressed here are the personal views of Dr. Aseem Shukla, and do not necessarily represent those of the University of Minnesota or Hindu American Foundation.
Posted by: marybimala | August 24, 2010 1:33 PM
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