Update 1/4/11: Additional discussion of the potential basis for the East Mountain Tea Party’s apparent bias against Islam can be found in our article East Mountain Tea Party Officials and Islam.
by John Weckerle
We had initially thought not to address the construction of a Muslim community center in downtown Manhattan (the Park51 Project, or Cordova House, commonly but mistakenly called the “Ground Zero Mosque), but since the East Mountain Tea Party has apparently decided to make this an election issue, we’ve decided to add some thoughts to the debate.
We’d like to begin, though, with a caution regarding a particular set of practices of discussion that seem to have become popular in certain quarters. The first is the device by which those who disagree with a particular position attempt to turn the argument back on the originator as some sort of personal critique. In spoken conversation, we often refer to this as the “I know you are, but what am I?” method, and have little use for it. The second is to just outright attack the person originating the position or those who agree with it in general. We’re not big on that one, either. We invite our readers to post whatever comments they like, but be aware that we will probably ignore these two literary devices where responding to comments is concerned.
We also have something to say to the nebulous “teapartynm” who posted the article: We don’t think you should have to put your money where your mouth is, but you should certainly put your name there if you truly believe in what you’re saying. To twist a line from the movie “Beetlejuice:” “Never trust the unidentified.”
Location, Location, Location
Let’s dispense with the easy part of the question first, and that regards the location and proximity of the proposed project to the former site of the World Trade Center. The location has been identified as two blocks from the Trade Center location; this is technically accurate “as the crow flies,” but in reality it’s nearly a three block walk – two blocks, a right turn, and the better part of another block to get to the front door. It’s about a two minute walk. Now, those who are not familiar with downtown Manhattan might think this isn’t much of a distance. Those of us who are familiar with the area – your editor included – perhaps have a different understanding. Two blocks and part of one “over” can be a long way, in terms of real separation. The proposed site is not visible from the former World Trade Center location, and is not located along a walking route between “Ground Zero” and any major transportation stops needed to access the Trade Center property. Readers do not have to take our word for it; there is a good treatment of the subject, including a video walkthrough, in Matt Sledge’s Huffington Post article.
Here A Mosque, There A Mosque…Where A Mosque?
Further, the proposed project is a community center, not a stand-alone mosque. Technically, if one adheres to the simple definition of “mosque” as a Muslim prayer space, then one might attempt to characterize the center as containing a mosque, but it’s a stretch. Factcheck.org’s article perhaps states this well, describing the proposed project as a “cultural center with a mosque inside.” Some have made the point that there are other mosques in the area. Well, maybe there are, and maybe there aren’t other mosques operating in the vicinity. That’s not to say that there aren’t mosques nearby; there are. However, it’s important to note that, if one accepts that a mosque is a Muslim place of prayer, the mosques in the neighborhood aren’t “other;” Muslim services have been held at the subject property since 2009, according to the Factcheck.org article, so there’s technically already a mosque there.
And So What?
Let’s face it, folks; this is the United States of America, and we do have some rights, here. The subject property is private property, and the people who own it have a right to develop it as they see fit. We also have a little thing called the First Amendment, which for all intents and purposes guarantees us all the right to practice our various religions and spiritual traditions without interference from government. Muslims have a right to build a community center with or without a mosque in it as they see fit on property they own or might buy, as long as they develop the property in satisfaction of requirements for development in the place in question. The local authority has determined that the project is legal. Suggesting that the project is offensive simply because the proponents are Muslims seems more bigotry than substance, and we find the entire debate disappointing. As a nation, we are bigger than this – and if we are not, then shame upon us all.
In a trip back east last month, I spoke to a number of current and former New Yorkers about this, a good number of them conservatives. Every single one of them supported the rights of the proponents to build the community center, and all but one or two of them knew people who had died in the September 11 attacks. We should not blame all Muslims for the acts of a few, any more than we should blame all Christians for the acts of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols. The folks who want to build the center in Manhattan have every right to do so, and we support that right – a right that belongs to all of us, and that we should all recognize and protect.
All things considered, we see the furor as political manipulation, and it remains to be seen who are the manipulators and who are being manipulated. Elections and ideology notwithstanding, we should remember that we are a nation built on a Constitution, and that Constitution protects all of us, regardless of our beliefs. Let us not search unnecessarily to divide ourselves, because if we do, then we will be searching for the means of our own destruction (paraphrasing, there; maybe it was on a blog under the pseudonym of lincoln-IL or something of that nature). The long and short of it is simply this: our nation and our world have serious problems with which we must deal. Solutions are seldom born of anger and posturing. So let’s not.