The Ground Zero Mosque issue frames perfectly the quandary 21st Americans face with the rest of the world: are we going to be who we say we are?
America holds herself out as a nation that upholds human rights above all else. Rights that are inalienable allow individuals to pursue happiness and freedom on their own terms. The impression left by our founding documents suggests that American society always enables life and liberty, but we know that is not the case. We Americans have biases, feelings, and preferences beyond the scope of those documents. We want to live life the way we want to live it.
That’s how Muslims, a growing people in our society, view life as well. All they want is to build a center for worship, prayer, and community. Imagine being a minority in a nation without the freedom to assemble for activities that bring you meaning. I can.
I lived in Egypt for three years and was afforded the freedoms of worship by a Muslim majority. America needs to let Muslims have the same rights. But rights in America are not simply words on a legal document. Your rights and my rights frequently conflict. The Mosque issue demonstrates conflicting rights between Muslim worshippers and American hearts.
Let’s move the debate beyond rights, into the realm of human kindness. If New York Muslims were kind, they would realize that their desired location is clearly offensive to most Americans who view Muslim intentions as insensitive. Why can’t they move a few blocks away?
Conversely, non-Muslim Americans who have been blessed with inalienable rights want the rights of Muslims to be alienable. Muslims don’t have a right to that location because of the perception that “those are the people that attacked us.” Why can’t Americans see that Islam is a worldwide diverse community that contains many down to earth, educated, and thoughtful people?
Like anything else in America, this debate will be resolved in the courts. What a shame that a civil society cannot resolve incongruities and disagreements by giving up rights rather than demanding them. Those who choose the high road of deferring to another, rather than demanding one’s own way, embody the spirit of the founding fathers who created a melting pot that welcomes anyone seeking the good life. Get ready, America, your desire for individual rights is going to become a 21st century nightmare.