However, I always argue that just because someone has the right to do something doesn't mean it's the right thing for them to do. So yes, the Cordoba Initiative should have the right to build a mosque anywhere that it's not in violation of local zoning--any place any other house of worship could be built. But it is the right thing for them to do, or is it, as many have been arguing, insensitive? After all, even the president, after saying they had the right to build it, came back and said, "I was not commenting and I will not comment on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there."
Here's the basic argument, as put forth by Pamela Geller, author of the blog "Atlas Shrugs" and a major player in all of this:
Ground Zero is a war memorial, Ground Zero is a burial ground. We are asking for sensitivity…It is unconscionable to build a shrine to the very ideology that inspired the jihadist attacks at Ground Zero, right there. We are asking the imam Rauf and Daisy Khan to be sensitive. For mutual respect and mutual understanding that is demanded of us every day.If it was a shrine to "the very ideology that inspired the jihadist attacks," I would, indeed, think it was insensitive. What is the ideology of the Cordoba Initiative?
The programs at Cordoba Initiative (CI) are designed to cultivate multi-cultural and multi-faith understanding across minds and borders. In the ten years since our founding, the necessity to strengthen the bridge between Islam and the West continues to prevail. Cordoba Initiative seeks to actively promote engagement through a myriad of programs, by reinforcing similarities and addressing differences.The imam, Feisal Abdul Rauf, who has been attacked as extremist and supporting terrorism is in fact a peaceful Sufi who has worked in interfaith circles for years, and, with Unitarian Universalism's own Rev. Dr. William F. Schulz, co-authored "The End of Barbarism? The Phenomenon of Torture and the Search for the Common Good." In it they write that there are two great religious commandments, to love God and to love your neighbor, and:
...the core of Islamic law, the Sharia, is built on these two fundamental commandments, with the sole difference that “to honor God and neighbor,” rather than “to love God and neighbor," more accurately captures the nuances of these commandments in Islamic legal language... Even today in many parts of the non-Western world, to deprive someone of his dignity and honor, to make him “lose face,” is to make him suffer a fate worse than death.
There is, then, a code of behavior that is based on eternal ethical principles common to the Abrahamic faith traditions, namely, that if we would love and honor the Holy, we must treat our fellow human beings with basic respect. This principle in turn is fundamental to any notion of the “common good.” For the common good presumes that human beings share certain needs and values that transcend religious, racial or political differences.The argument that building Park 51 close to the World Trade Center site is insensitive rests on the equation of this peaceful Sufi group with a history of both interfaith work and active work against terrorism and barbarism with the terrorists responsible for the attacks of September 11th, 2001. It is an equation that is deeply insensitive itself in that it denies the differences that exist in Islam, ignores that Sufi Muslims are themselves often persecuted and targeted by those same extremist groups, and ignores that whereas the terrorists were not, these peaceful Muslims are Americans who have been living, working, and worshiping in New York City for decades--it is not a case of outsiders moving in and erecting a monument to something foreign, it is Americans building a house of peace in their own neighborhood. It ignores that Muslims died on September 11th, too. It ignores that Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and his congregation went and distributed water to the rescue workers after the September 11th attacks. It ignores that the imam has worked with our government to understand Islam and to keep Muslim American groups terrorist-free. It ignores that these Muslims have been victims of religious intolerance within their own country--America--and yet still care enough about our freedoms and our beliefs to want to create a center to help us explore our own stereotypes and learn to work more peacefully with them.
One of the saddest after-effects of September 11th has been the Islamophobia that has been demonstrated in our country, a country founded on principles of religious freedom. I understand that a lot of Americans think that the building of this cultural center designed to create peace and understanding is "insensitive." I also understand that there is a huge amount of ignorance about and prejudice against Islam in this country. I've witnessed it both through knowing people who shared these prejudices and through hearing the stories of my Muslim friends. The fact that the majority of Americans don't want this project to go forward near Ground Zero doesn't mean that they're right or that the creators of it are insensitive. What it means is that there is a lot more education that needs to be done in this country about what our Muslim neighbors believe. And it means that the Park 51 initiative is desperately needed.