Is it appropriate to build a Muslim community center (aka the “Ground Zero Mosque”) near the WTC site? This is one of those posts that lets you, as the reader, decide which side you stand on. One of the articles is written by someone who thinks the Muslim community center should be built, and the other doesn't. One of the articles is written by me, and the other is written by a friend of mine, an aspiring sociologist, Jordan Reef.
It's time for you to decide. It will be obvious when you read it who stands for what, but I'll let it reveal itself.
There is a massive political debate over whether or not it is appropriate to build a Muslim community center near the World Trade Center site, where in 2001, terrorists crashed planes into the skyscrapers in the name of the religion of Islam. The debate has led to international protests and responses from many leaders across the globe. Whereas proponents agree the center will be an asset to the community, opponents argue it will humiliate and insult the memory of those who died. U.S. Representative and 2012 Republican Presidential Candidate, Ron Paul, says it best, the entire controversy is “all about hate and Islamophobia”.
The Muslim community center, Park51, will be located about two blocks away from the World Trade Center site, replacing an abandoned Burlington Coat Factory store. Proponents believe the center will be an “asset to the city”, and provide to the community a library, gymnasium, swimming pool, basketball court, 500-seat auditorium, a restaurant, a 9/11 memorial, child care facilities, and even a school for culinary arts. However, despite these plans, many focus solely on the aspect that Park51 will hold a two-story prayer space. Adversaries believe the WTC site should remain a sacred burial ground and a war memorial free from the “antagonistic presence of a nearby mosque”. However, what they seem to fail to understand is the fact that Park51 will not be located on the World Trade Center site, but blocks away, among other buildings and institutions that haven’t been associated with the WTC, including the New York Dolls strip club, the Pussycat Lounge strip club, and an Off-Track Betting facility. None of these locations have been coined with the label of “Ground Zero” as the proposed Park51 project has.
Contrary to popular belief, the entire label of “Ground Zero Mosque” is incorrect. Not only is the planned center not located on the World Trade Center site, but it is also not a mosque. According to Islam, a mosque is a holy place that is devoted solely to worship. Park51 is simply a cultural center with a prayer room that in fact, is open to congregations of all religions. The question arises then; why is there so much negativity against the building of Park51? Jim Riches, a former New York City Deputy Fire Chief whose son, Jimmy, died because of the attacks on 9/11, argues that the current businesses surrounding the proposed buildings are irrelevant, stating “The strip club didn’t murder my son”. This is true; however, if Riches is implying that Muslims killed his son – he is unfortunately incorrect. His son was killed by terrorists, along with others who were killed including 60 Muslims. Filmmaker Michael Moore, known for his films Fahrenheit 9/11 and Bowling for Columbine, says it best: “Blaming a whole group for the actions of just one of that group is anti-American. Timothy McVeigh was Catholic. Should Oklahoma City prohibit the building of a Catholic Church near the site of the former federal building that McVeigh blew up?”
The main argument opponents seem to have is that the Park51 community center is, as former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani states, “horribly offensive”. However, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the spiritual leader of the community center, genuinely believes it will improve American-Islamic relations. In this heated debate, it is extremely difficult to find the common ground between the two sides. Both should come to the agreement on the fact that Park51 is not intended to be a triumph of radical Islam. The heat of the controversy on both sides is “unhealthy, misplaced and ultimately self-defeating.” It echoes our inclination to exaggerate the real threat posed by radical Islamists, and in fact how the U.S. should react to it. The battle between the proponents and opponents magnifies our obsession with an enemy that may no longer exist. The most revealing opposition is coming from those with a greater agenda, like the Executive Director of “Stop the Islamization of America”, Pamela Geller. Geller stands for an organization that isn’t trying to protect the freedoms of Americans, but instead their goal is to eradicate a demographic of individuals who are Americans too. Masjid Manhattan opened in early 1970. The Masjid Manhattan “routinely turns people away for lack of space”. Four blocks away, the World Trade Center opened in April 1973. The actual place that is the real-life equivalent right now of the label, “Ground Zero Mosque”, has been up and running long before there was a World Trade Center. It has been running without controversy, without terrorism, and without protest. The idea arises that perhaps the center isn’t being opposed, but the religion of those building it.
The Park51 project, inaccurately described as the “Ground Zero Mosque”, has received valid opposition toward the proximity of the community center, but most of the oppositions reveal bigotry and merely Islamophobic opinions. The center will provide many recreational services, praying room, and economic investment. It will create 150 full-time jobs and 500 part-time jobs in an area that is in need of economic stability. In essence, allowing a community center to be built will establish neither an American accomplishment nor defeat, it will essentially inform the world that this nation has, in its wisdom, decided to move on, respect freedoms, and accommodate.
Two blocks away from the site of the September 11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Centers in lower Manhattan, a very controversial project is in the making. It goes by two names (generally): by the name of Park51 by those that support its construction and the ‘Ground Zero Mosque’ by those who are against it. The building is planned to be eleven stories tall and would include a plethora of activities and utilities, including but not limited to a restaurant, a culinary school, child care facilities, a swimming pool, a fitness center, a five-hundred seat auditorium, and much more. The value of the project is not merely innocent, but it is also practical. However, given the sensitivity America has had toward the Islamic culture within our country especially after 9/11, this is a hot-bed of political debate and modern social reform. It does not have to be. The reason why the Park51-‘Ground Zero Mosque’ debate has evolved into one of the most monumental political debates of recent history is not predicated upon logic, but rather upon the stubbornness and insensitivity of both sides.
It has been written about for years all throughout the history of humanity that passion can lead to blindness. From the ‘Ground Zero Mosque’ perspective (those who are against its construction) this is certainly proving true. America’s inability to accept the truth of the matter is caused by its inability to move on and see opposing perspectives. 9/11 is certainly the most tragic attack on American soil in recent history, but in remembrance of it the Christian America develops two problems. The first—not to downplay 9/11—is that it was a long enough time ago that people should certainly be able to eliminate their irrational nature and their prejudice and look at the construction of the ‘Ground Zero Mosque’ with an objective point of view. The second is that the memory of 9/11, the passion and romanticism of it breeds insensitivity. The primary insensitivity is very simple: not all Muslims are Jihad-seeking radicals. Not all Muslims are affiliated to the true culprits of 9/11: Al’Qaeda; in fact most are not. Along with this pre-conceived notion there exists many other, smaller insensitivities. One example lies within the name the ‘Ground Zero Mosque’ group gives the Park51 project. In actuality, Park51 isn’t a mosque at all. There is a praying area inside of the structure, but a mosque is defined as a temple devoted entirely to prayer and worship with its own Imam; Park51does not qualify.
In addition to the insensitive nature of the ‘Ground Zero Mosque’ group, they are simply misinformed when it comes to many of the topics that revolve around this entire debate. For example, one proponent and spiritual figurehead of the structure’s construction, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, has been accused of radicalism because of the criticisms he has laid against the American government, when he is actually a moderate Muslim and New York preacher of with twenty-seven years of experience simply with some strong opinions on the subject—but doesn’t everyone? There are also more minor facts that Americans don’t know about that justify the construction of the ‘Ground Zero Mosque’, or at least might sway the morals of some of the people who so obstinately resist its construction. For example, most people do not know that there was actually a Muslim prayer room on the seventeenth floor of the southern tower. Also, people may find that people who have somewhat of an obligation to uphold objectivity and neutrality—such as Mayor Michael Bloomberg—tend to gravitate towards the Park51 side of the debate. These are the types of people that would enable progression through the spread of reason, but the passion of the Christian-American people has blinded them and made them stubborn.
The Park51 supporters are at the same time equally—if not more—stubborn and insensitive than the people who want to inhibit its construction. America was founded upon the idea of a separation of church and state, and therefore construction of the Park51 project should theoretically be sanctioned under the law. However, simply because the Park51 supporters can build their community center there does not mean that they should. ‘Basic’ human empathy (and I highlight ‘basic’ because nowadays empathy seems anything but) would lead to the supportive group recognizing that the pain that memories of that day is still strong in the minds of many New Yorkers. Building the community center ever-so close to Ground Zero is disrespectable and provocative and therefore qualifies as fitna—or mischief-making with the intent of provocation—which is forbidden in Islam. Many Islamic activists bring to attention many Americans’ intolerance, unfair prejudice, and overall lack of enthusiasm towards understanding Muslim issues. While this is true, the supporters of the Park51 project are following the same exact pattern of human dysfunction.
In addition to the moral fallacies behind the supporters of the Park51, there are also some factual fallacies which sometimes tend to get overlooked by both sides of the debate. What I’m referring to is the funding behind the Park51 project. While it has been established earlier in this essay that Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is by no means radical, it may be true that he gets some of his funding from a radical Muslim. Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal—a man who has been linked to many violent terrorist campaigns throughout the middle-east—is a known patron to the cause of Park51. While the morality behind the construction of the project can be debated in either direction, the involvement of foreign nations, especially with a leader who may have been involved with or in support 9/11 attacks is inexcusable.
Both sides of the debate are stubborn. Both sides of the debate do not understand each other, and in fact hardly care to understand each other. The only group of people that seems to truly understand both sides of the debate is the group composed of people that are almost entirely neutral.
Ultimately the government has decided to allow the construction of the Park51 project to continue, but when choosing which side of the debate you want to associate yourself with, you are essentially being forced to choose between the lesser of two evils. There are many, many questions that many people ask about the Park51-‘Ground Zero Mosque’ project. There are two questions—while they are crude and seemingly hardly relevant—have power to sway people who may be ‘on the fence’ over the whole debate. Firstly: Do the supporters of the Park51 project have the right to build an Islamic community center? Yes, they do. Should the ‘Ground Zero Mosque’ be erected so close—only a short two blocks away—from the place where the Twin Towers fell? No, it should not.--------------------
Sources: Park51.com, ProCon.org, Michael Moore, Eric Darton, Javier Hernandez, Anne Barnard, Rick Hampson, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, ABC News, Time, NYTimes, Huffington Post, Muslim Canadian Congress, Matthew Duss.
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