One of the most galvanizing issues in American politics these days is the Park 51, commonly known as ‘The Ground Zero Mosque.’ The debate has escalated from a New York regional issue into a fiercely polarized national debate concerning national identity. This issue has received extensive media attention throughout this summer, with many national political figures voicing their opinions on this matter.
Park 51, formerly known as Cordoba House, is a proposed Islamic Community Center that includes prayer space that is planned for construction in Lower Manhattan, two blocks away from the Ground Zero site. There currently stands a building damaged in the 9/11 Attacks, purchased by a real estate developer. The development company, in partnership with the Islamic Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf, has decided to build an Islamic community center that includes a swimming pool, basketball court, bookstore, restaurants in addition to prayer space. The project has been approved by the New York City government, and is scheduled to begin construction later this year.
The proposal sparked a fierce opposition from many national political figures. Newt Gingrich, the Republican strategist and former House Speaker, has voiced one of the most pronouncedly outspoken opposition to the project. He stated that the construction of the Islamic Center would stand as a symbol of Islam triumph over America, likening the project to the construction of German cultural center near Auschwitz. Sarah Palin, the 2008 Republican vice-presidential candidate, has stated that the proposal ‘stabs hearts across the heartland’ and called for Moderate Islams to oppose the project. Among other prominent opponents of the project are Senator John McCain, former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. Even some Democrats, most notably Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Senate Majority Leader, has stated his opposition to the project. The public opinion is against the project, with 64 percent of the public opposing the project according to a CNN poll.
So why did this turn into such a fervent debate? What exactly is the debate even about? Most opponents have said that building a Mosque in an attack site where innocent people were killed by radical Jihadist Islams is insensitive.
However, their claims are not convincing at all. Who is it insensitive to? Or rather, whose emotions should be taken account of and whose should not? There were also many innocent Islams killed that day. Would these victims also have found it insensitive? Islam itself was not the perpetrator of the atrocious terrorist attacks. The attacks were carried out in the name of Islam by cowardly individuals. We must not make the mistake of putting all Muslims in the same category. Many Muslims were in fact victims of the dastardly terrorist acts as well. Moreover, there are two strip clubs in the vicinity of the attack sites. So, according to the opponents of the project, a community center with an Islam prayer space is insensitive and disrespectful, while strip clubs (named ‘New York Dolls’ and ‘Pussycat Lounge’) are okay. They are seriously incoherent. It may also help to know that there already is an Islamic prayer space four blocks from the attack site, up and running with no protest. According to these people, four blocks is far enough but two blocks is not. What is the clear cut line for that decision, and who should make it?
On the matters of legality, the land in discussion also happens to be a private land. Public opinions must not deter the owner from doing with the land what he wants, and any action by the government to ban a property holder from building a house of worship would be unconstitutional. In addition, 1st Amendment to the Constitution clearly states that there shall be no established religions and that the government shall make no laws concerning religion. Quite simply, the building of the Park 51 is perfectly legal and protected by the Constitution. Any attempt by the government to restrict it would be unconstitutional. Even if we do take their claims of ‘insensitivity’ seriously, mere emotions cannot be put above the constitutional principles of protection of private property and rule of the law.
What about the claim that the Islamic Community Center stands as a monument of Islam’s victory? As I mentioned above, many innocent Muslims were also murdered on September 11th Attacks. The attacks do not symbolize an attack on America by Islam. If anything, the moment we see Islam as the enemy and take away Muslims’ fundamental rights would symbolize Bin Laden’s victory over America. This would symbolize a moment when America begins to fear Islam. This would symbolize a moment when America abandons its principles and commitment to liberty. This would symbolize America’s loss. Jihadists – angry cowards like Bin Laden – are spreading a lie throughout the world. They are falsely claiming that America hates Muslims. They are using that very lie to recruit restless young people to die for their cause. They really do hate the United States of America. They hate the liberty that is guaranteed to everyone. They hate the material prosperity and opportunities Americans enjoy. They hate the society that allows women to have the same opportunies as men. They hate the fact that so many different people can weave a solid and unified society. It was these very things that the terrorists attacked. Therefore, quite on the contrary to what the Republicans are claiming, the Mosque must be built, not as a monument to Islam’s victory, but as a monument to America’s strength – liberty and tolerance. It will dispel the Jihadists’ lie and clearly display America’s focus to building and creating rather than destroying and killing.
Michael Bloomberg (Source: http://gawker.com/5856287/mayor-bloomberg-to-gop-field-you-are-a-bunch-of-idiots)
Michael Bloomberg, Mayor of New York, has strongly endorsed the project in a highly publicized speech delivered in Lower Manhattan. In a stirring speech, he said “On Sept. 11, 2001, thousands of first responders heroically rushed to the scene and saved tens of thousands of lives. More than 400 of those first responders did not make it out alive. In rushing into those burning buildings, not one of them asked, ‘What God do you pray to?’ ‘What beliefs do you hold?’ The attack was an act of war, and our first responders defended not only our city, but our country and our constitution. We do not honor their lives by denying the very constitutional rights they died protecting. We honor their lives by defending those rights and the freedoms that the terrorists attacked.”
It was a speech that will go down in history as one of the most moving speech, one that best defined America. Mayor Bloomberg has displayed courage and principle in defending the liberties of his fellow citizens. I anticipate the Park 51 Community Center and wish the owner and the Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf good luck.