Is the Ground Zero mosque an insensitive and provocative project? Or should we take their statements at face-value and see this mosque as an attempt at peace-making? Or do you suspect the investors are building a victory mosque and laughing behind their hands?
I appreciate the clear and level heads in this discussion, and I agree it's a media issue based on propaganda. Our country has a history of rushing to judgement of the entire group rather than the individual elements involved. Look at what happened to Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor. Look at what happened to American Muslims as Brettd referred to them after 9-11.
I would like to thank poster #2 for providing all the information. When you look at the information presented in that way I am not sure who the insensitive ones are. I would say this might be more of a media issue than anything else.
I think sensitivity goes both ways. I think I would like my country to be sensitive to the fact that not a single American Muslim was involved in the attacks on 9/11. I would like my country to be sensitive to the fact that Islam is a peaceful religion, it's the terrorists that aren't. I'd like us to be sensitive to our 1st Amendment, which we have always highly valued, and to not let terrorism frighten or anger us into ignoring freedom of religion and its history. I would like my country to be sensitive to the difference between emotion and reason, painful though this event still is for us.
The best answer I can give is that this project may be insensitive, but I do not think it's a "victory mosque", nor do I think the planners are attempting to rub anything in anyone's face. But let me clarify a few reasons for my thinking.
First, the title "Ground Zero Mosque" is rather misleading. This site would be two blocks to the north, which, granted, doesn't sound that far away. But one should no more call this a "Ground Zero mosque" than one would call the already-standing strip club one block closer to the hallowed site the "Ground Zero Gentleman's Club". There are two mosques already in the area, four blocks away and twelve blocks away. One of those has stood for 28 years, with Faisal Abdul Rauf, a Columbia University physics graduate, leading the prayers as imam. This is the same imam working to build the center in question. He's acted as an adviser to the Muslim community on questions of religion and integration. He openly condemns the death cult of al-Qaeda and its adherents, and George W. Bush's State Dept. sent him on a tour through the Middle East, seeking to bridge relations between America and the region.
The developer behind the project is 38-year-old Sharif Gamal who was born in Brooklyn and has said of himself: “I am not from someplace else. I am American, a New Yorker.” In 2003, he visited Rauf's mosque and was impressed by his moderate, Western influenced viewpoints. In 2004 they set up a small non-profit with the goal of achieving “a tipping point in Muslim-west relations within the next decade, bringing back the atmosphere of interfaith tolerance and respect that we have longed for since Muslims, Christians, and Jews lived together in harmony and prosperity eight hundred years ago.” So, the investors have a strong background in the community that has lasted decades. They also have a strong commitment to bridging cultures, and bringing Western influences to modern Islam.
Finally, the actual building is not a mosque...not even part of it. It would include a cultural center, a 500-seat performing arts center, culinary school, exhibition space, swimming pool, gym, basketball court, restaurant, library and art studios. Yes, the top two floors would house a domed space for prayers...but it can't rightly be called a mosque. Instead, it's a "prayer space". Semantics? Maybe, maybe not. Imam Rauf's wife says they planned it this way “because you can’t stop anyone who is a Muslim despite his religious ideology from entering a mosque and staying there. With a prayer space, we can control who gets to use it.” So, if it were a mosque, any Muslim could enter and couldn't be turned away. Instead, they are deliberately planning this center so that they can essentially deny radical Muslims entry, thereby controlling the flow of ideas and keeping with their moderate stance.
Imam Rauf's words sum up his position:
“I have been part of this community for 30 years. Members of my congregation died on 9/11. That attack was carried out by extremist terrorists in the name of my faith. There is a war going on within Islam between a violent, extremist minority and a moderate majority that condemns terrorism. The center for me is a way to amplify our condemnation of that atrocity and to amplify the moderate voices that reject terrorism and seek mutual understanding and respect with all faiths.”
None of this will change the pain this construction may refresh for families whose members died in the September 11th attacks. Some of those people have spoken very eloquently and respectfully of the anguish this would re-awaken in their lives, in a manner befitting an intelligent conversation on the notion of religious freedom vs. sensitivity. Certainly their voices cannot be ignored. I also think protecting 1st Amendment rights shows what is great about America, setting us apart from the very extremism we're seeking to prevent. Eventually, one has to ask, will this benefit the community more than divide it? There is a growing Muslim community in Manhattan; hence the perceived need for the center. This could be an opportunity to spread moderate values, fighting the tide of Islamic fanaticism. Or, it could prove to ignite the flames of radicalism on both sides even more.