Recently President Obama has come under fire for his defense of the proposed “Ground Zero Mosque,” otherwise known as the New York Islamic Cultural Center and Mosque. Beyond the fact that this community religious center would not actually be on Ground Zero, but rather two blocks from the site of the tragic 9/11 attack, Obama’s allowance of this project shows his commitment both to the freedom of religion outlined in the Constitution and to opening lines of dialogue and building bridges. The mosque understandably stirs up strong feelings in an America still reeling from the worst terrorist attack in its history, but to deny it would be to deny the freedoms of countless peace-loving citizens who are both Muslim and American.
Fundamental to America’s freedom is freedom of religion- the freedom for all Americans to practice any or no religion as they see fit. While this concept is often given lip service, it is lost when we let the actions of a few radical fundamentalists represent a faith as a whole. As a liberal-to-moderate Christian, I cringe when I fear my religion is being represented by some fringe crazies who claim Christianity-people like Fred Phelps of “God hates fags” fame or Pat Robertson, who claimed the Haitian earthquake was a result of a pact the country made with the devil. And I am certain that the radical Jihadists who claim Islam are not representative of moderate Muslims who love Allah and love their nation. But in the eyes of many Americans they seem to be one and the same. It is only through education and dialogue – two things that the community center would provide – that Americans of all faiths can be united by their love of justice and freedom and that wounds can be healed.
America really is a melting pot, a United States of multiple races, ethnicities, and faiths, and the attacks of September 11, 2001 were attacks on all Americans. Yes, some of those who perished in the Towers were Muslims and/or Arabs. They share in the grief and fear of all Americans. And since 9/11, those who even appear to be of Arab descent have also faced fear and discrimination based upon nothing more than their looks. Instead of healing and reconciliation, ignorance has perpetuated further divisions and hatreds. Allowing the “Ground Zero Mosque” would be an affirmation of freedom and a fight against ignorance.
Finally, the proposed mosque would not actually be located at the site of the fallen Twin Towers. For many people, a distance of two city blocks seems too close for comfort. But where do we draw the line? Banning all mosques in Manhattan would be absurd and an egregious violation of the religious liberties Americans claim to hold dear. Muslims have a right to worship in Manhattan as they do everywhere else in America. And if they can worship at a mosque at the other end of the borough, they can worship near the fallen towers.
Allowing the “Ground Zero Mosque” is a step away from the hatred and division that have persisted in the wake of 9/11 and towards reconciliation, unity, and freedom for all Americans.