It isn’t every day that I find myself agreeing with Harry Reid. But I do today based on his recent comments about building an Islamic Center two blocks from the World Trade Center site. Senator Reid called for the building’s organizer to find an alternative location in another part of Manhattan further away from the World Trade Center site. This entire thing has become too political and won’t do much to improve relations between Muslims and the average Americans.
While I agree with President Obama that the organizers have every right to build this facility since they meet all local zoning and other laws, it isn’t wise if the stated aim is to build bridges and allow for healing between Muslims and those of other faith/worldviews. According to the Associated Press, the project is headed by the Cordoba Initiative, whose aim is to improve relations between Islam and the West. This organization wants to host leadership conferences for young American Muslims, organizing programs on Arab-Jewish relations, and empowering Muslim women.
The imam behind the project is Feisal Abdul Rauf who leads a mosque in the nearby Tribeca neighborhood. He has worked with the U.S. government to improve relations with Arab countries around the world. Yet, he is also a contoversial figure for his statements.
In a CBS News interview shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Rauf said, “United States policies were an accessory to the crime that happened.” In a radio interview this year, he refused to call the radical Islamic group Hamas a terrorist organization, saying “the issue of terrorism is a very complex question.”
You can see why some might not like Feisal building a mosque/Islamic Center in this area. Nobody with any real concern for our religious freedom is seroius about stopping this project by legal means. That is why it is odd that President Obama would focus on the constitutionality of the issue when the real concern is the message it sends.
It seems that this may be the wrong place, the wrong guy, and the wrong time. Any consideration of opening the facility on September 11 is very bad form. And it seems to run contrary to the stated purpose of the organization behind the project.
As a staunch supporter of religous freedom and property rights, I would fight for the right to build this facility even though I think it is a bad idea. If I were a political leader, however, I would have the guts to say both of the above things. I would support the project against any efforts to stop it all the while trying to work with the organizers to find a more suitable location.
True, there are other mosques in the area. True this is far from completely “hallowed ground” since there are fast food restaurants, a strip club, off-track betting parlor, and other small shops in the area. But it wasn’t a Dunkin Donuts delivery guy who flew a plane into the World Trade Center either.
This is all about sensitivity. Just as Muslims expect us to respect them, there should be some concern for how locals in New York City feel. While this is mostly a local issue, it is also a national one since we all felt the weight of the towers come down in some respects.
So how far is far enough away? I don’t know. Maybe 4-6 blocks. Maybe more. That really depends on the people of New York City.
I think finding a location further away from the WTC site would be the best thing to meet their stated goals. This would also really help the healing process. At the same time, I recognize their right to freely meet and do whatever they want to with properly zoned private property.
My primary hope is that Muslims in other countries will start affording the same kind of protections to Christians, Jews and other faiths. My experience so far traveling to both the Middle East and Africa has been that Muslims are not very tolerant of other faiths. This is especially true when they are in the majority and in control of the political system.
May we be better than that in this country.