Le sigh. Yes, that’s it, Obama is personally flying down to the former site of the world trade center to build a mosque brick by brick. Honestly I don’t blame Europeans for being misinformed about this, the US media coverage has been almost completely fact-free, and that then gets passed on over here during a slow news month. And it’s an issue that easily resonates here in Europe because let’s face it, when it comes to Islam, America and Europe can be sisters in hysteria. So, forget whatever you’ve heard. Let’s review the facts, shall we?
- It was not Obama’s idea to build a mosque, the project has nothing to do with him. A New York property developer put in an application to build an Islamic community center in lower Manhattan, and that application was approved by NYC authorities. Obama was asked to weigh in, and he affirmed the constitution’s guarantee of freedom of religion and said they have the right to build it.
- They are not building a 13-story mosque. They are building a 13-story Islamic cultural center that will have things like daycare, a theatre, a gym, and a swimming pool (plan pictured below). It would be similiar to the 92nd Street Y, a Jewish cultural center that is open to everyone. It would contain one small prayer room/mosque within it.
- The site is not at "ground zero". It is several blocks away, in an area which never had any connection to the World Trade Center and is so out of the way you'd have to be looking for this thing to find it. The building was previously a department store.
- The Imam that has been the chief advocate for this center, Abdul Ralph, is not a "radical". He was actually in charge of Islamic outreach in the George W. Bush administration.
- According to a recent poll, a majority of Manhattan residents approve of the cultural center being built. But nationwide, the vast majority of Americans oppose it.
- The cultural center would include a 9/11 memorial. Not just for the over 60 Muslims killed in the attacks, but for all the innocent victims.
But the issue really caught hold this week after Obama’s comments. Now the story has become about how much the president’s assertion of religious liberty is going to hurt the Democrats in the November election. It’s now being talked about as if it’s the biggest issue of the campaign, with every candidate expected to weigh in. Just look at the press releases issued on the 16th by the Republican National Senatorial Committee, which is in charge of electing Republicans to the senate. It looks like a spambot infected their page, as they issued one press release after another demanding that each Democrat in the race give an opinion on ‘the most important issue of the day’.
Has the United States really reached this new level of insanity? The most absurd aspect of this whole thing is that there isn’t even an issue here to be arguing over. Because the constitution guarantees freedom of religion, it is not legal for New York City to deny these people a permit to build their Islamic community center in lower Manhattan merely on the basis of the fact that they are Muslim. So what is it Republicans are demanding here? They keep repeating a line that “of course” this group that the right to build this center there, but the shouldn’t because it’s in poor taste and dishonors the memory of those who died on September 11th. And I’ve heard this line repeated from many of my American friends on Facebook the past few days. “Well of course they have the right to build it there, but come on!”
But this assumption is patently absurd. It would be like saying there should be no Christian churches built in Oklahoma City because domestic terrorist Timothy McVeigh was a fundamentalist Christian(in fact there is a Christian memorial at the site, pictured below), or that churches shouldn’t be built next to abortion clinics where doctors have been murdered by Christian fanatics. It would be like saying Catholic churches shouldn’t be built next to playgrounds because all Catholics are either paedophiles, or they bear responsibility for the paedophilia committed by priests and therefore it would be “insensitive” for them to be so close to an area with children. The potential examples are endless.
"mosque exclusion zone" things have gotten pretty ridiculous.
Faisal Shahzad, the attempted Times Square bomber. If the vast majority of the American public is just going to assume that all Muslims are terrorists, or that they already bear the guilt for terrorist acts, than it's not much of a leap for Muslims to think they might as well just become one. But the today's Republican party, desperate to get back into power and now overtaken by the far-right fringes of the party, apparently doesn't have the same foresight as Bush. This is a dangerous game they're playing here, and this mosque debate will fan the flames of anti-Americanism in the Islamic world.
This thing is so ugly, and it’s only going to get uglier as election day approaches. It’s one of those emotional issues that Republicans love to exploit during an election cycle which will quickly fade away from the public consciousness after November. It just makes me profoundly sad. I’m going to New York next week to visit family and friends, and I have to say things like this make me dread the trip. There is so much in that country that makes my heart sink to the bottom of my stomach, and this is just the latest expression of that.