Wednesday, June 16, 2010

If you build it - they'll cry foul

A plan to build a mosque and cultural center blocks from Ground Zero was approved on May 25 by a New York City community board in a 29-1-10 vote. The meeting didn’t go off without a hitch – several opponents hollered their disapproval, which included that the plans would equate to “building over a Christian cemetery.”

Mark Williams, a tea party activist, argued that the center would act as a terrorist attack monument, and others argued that the memories of the approximately 3000 individuals who died would be desecrated if this plan were to go through.

Despite the opposition, Scott Stringer, Manhattan borough president, stated that the decision to approve the project sent “a clear message that our city is one that promotes diversity and tolerance,” and Bruce Wallace, a man who lost a nephew in the attacks, said the plan would be a chance to “allow moderate Muslims to teach people that not all Muslims are terrorists.”

This is all well and good, but, only days later on June 7, the New York Daily News reported that over 1,000 people turned out to protest the proposed center. These people may think they mean well, never mind the fact that they are just as guilty of hawking a tragedy as the builders and planners they accuse of doing the same.

In its June 21 magazine publication, the National Review advanced the idea that “anyone who is not a provocateur would acknowledge the importance of symbolism and the risk of mixed messages” siding with the protesters that “Imam Rauf should take his mosque elsewhere.”

Now, I like the National Review, but they are flat-out off-base with this sentiment. Mixed messages are never a good reason to thwart or protest anything; there is no guarantee that absolutely everyone will interpret a policy or issue in the same way and there are more than two sides to every story, despite what the man behind the curtain likes to tell you.

In the interest of clarifying the issue, I submit this fair, albeit somewhat dated, example:

Timothy McVeigh was raised and confirmed a Catholic. He was also most likely influenced by the Christian Identity movement which provided the premise for the race war plot in The Turner Diaries, a “day of reckoning” white supremacist book that undoubtedly inspired the Oklahoma City bombing. McVeigh admitted his Catholic upbringing and belief in a higher power in a 1996 interview with Time magazine, following his arrest.

Knowing this, how likely would it have been to have a serious effort to get a Catholic or Christian church built several blocks away from the former Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building (which now houses the Oklahoma City National Memorial) halted by families of the victims who cry foul over a supposed “monument” to the crime?

In fact, the St. Joseph Old Cathedral, which stands directly across the street from the site and was severely damaged as a result of the 1995 bombing. The church’s ‘And Jesus Wept’ statue, although not officially part of the memorial site, is still incredibly popular with visitors.

“We’re overlooking the enactment of policies that disproportionately affect minority groups – it’s environmental racism” said Muhammed Malik , executive director for the Council on American Islamic Relations in Miami, FL.

“[Opponents] claim to believe in liberty and justice, but are trying to use the power of the state to restrict the liberty of a people to build a building, in turn attacking minorities who don’t have a strong voice in this country,”added Malik.

What opponents have chosen to ignore is that some American Muslim workers and WTC visitors also perished during the 9/11 attacks. Granted, perhaps the number was not in the hundreds, and it may have even been as low as in the mid 20s, but this fact should not be overlooked. Implementing an arbitrary restriction on the building of a structure under the guise of a fallacious appeal to sensitivity, strikes me as smokescreen religious bigotry.

The “us” against “them” mentality should not be a pre-requiste for an informed public debate– in fact, that mentality is the same one the extremists hold.


  1. I appreciate the outbursts of people opposing this project as it reminds the sane and moderate amongst us to show up to the polls and vote so as to make sure that the extremists on both sides of the political scale don't hijack public policy in this country.

    PS: This is well-written