By Don Klein
The strange outburst of invective over the proposed Islamic cultural center and mosque not far from ground zero in lower Manhattan is unlike anything we should expect to hear in an American city, especially one so liberal as New York.
Religious institutions are usually given wide berths in the United States, the land where freedom of expression – and in this case, religious expression, is considered a sacred birthright. It is such an important aspect of American law that the first line in the Bill of Rights states:
"Congress will make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." What could be clearer. The government must keep hands off religion.
But instead of clarifying this knotty problem, the religious admonishment which is so dear to the hearts of most Americans, has created a dilemma that has engrossed too many people for too long. It has invited headstrong obstinance on one side of the issue as well as ugly political demagoguery on the other.
It is not the fact that the proposal has to do with a religious structure. No not at all. If it were a proposed synagogue or church or even a Shinto temple there would be little, if any, objection. The problem is that it is a Muslim center.
It is too soon for people to forget the violent destruction of the World Trade Center twin towers almost nine years ago in which more than 2,700 New York workers, firemen and policemen were incinerated by the act of hate-driven Muslims who carried out their deadly act in the name of Allah, the Muslim deity.
It is irrational for people to believe that all the world’s 1.5 billion plus Muslims were of the same ilk as the radicals behind the slaughter. And certainly the overwhelming majority of American-Muslims are not of that violent persuasion. Granted there are pockets of anti-Western thought among some Muslims even in this country but few have manifested into attacks.
The world has heard time and again that Muslims are peace lovers and are not fairly represented by terrorists groups as al Qaeda or the Taliban or Hamas or Hezbollah. What disturbs most Westerners is the silence of so-called moderates in the Muslim world. They have been mysterious mute as one Muslim organized terror attack after another is reported.
There is a large number of Westerners who wait in futility to hear these moderates speak out against the violence generated by Muslims around the world. There seldom is anyone with the courage to do so. This becomes a true silent majority and often that is equated with approval of the ugly acts.
That is why so many otherwise reasonable thinkers in this country have raised objections when the thought of building a Islamic center close to the site of the worst foreign attack on the United States since the War of 1812.
The silence of the American Muslim community for whatever reason is often cited as the grounds so many non-Muslims object to the location. Sensibilities of many Americans, especially New Yorkers, are being frayed by the idea.
Westerners recall the wild overreaction to the publication by a Danish newspaper of a carton featuring the prophet Mohammad. It was explained to have offended the sensibilities of Muslims everywhere. Other western publications refused to run the pictures in order, they claimed, not to further pique Muslims.
Now we come to the mosque situation in New York. Many Americans are offended by the thought that this shrine would be built so close to the now hallowed ground of the 9/11 tragedy. Many feel that it would be wise for Muslim-backers of the plan to show the same kind of respect to the feelings of injured Westerners. Back off as many Western institutions did in the Mohammad cartoon matter. Move to less sensitive locale, they urge. The Muslims will not.
That’s the obstinate part. Now let’s look at the demagoguery taking place. We don’t have to look far. Newt Gingrich, in an attempt to appeal to the lowest elements in society, has hocked his title as a Republican intellectual, and started sounding like the village idiot.
On Fox News he suggested that building a mosque near the WTC site was like putting a Nazi emblem adjacent to the Holocaust Museum in Washington or a Japanese memorial at Pearl Harbor. Gingrich no doubt is hoping to gain the title of baron of inflammatory remarks.
Statements like that just diminish the justifiable feelings of those opposed to the mosque-cultural center. I can see both sides of the argument and nothing has anything to do with the Nazis or Tojo's Japanese of World War II vintage.
Personally, I would bow to the sensitivities of those who lost loved ones in the WTC attack and hope that the mosque-cultural center would move somewhere else. But in the end it doesn’t really matter that much where the center goes. It is up to the people of New York to decide and wherever it is acceptable to them is all that matters.
Actually the only thing that interests me right now, and I suspect many other people around the country, is for the story to go away. I feel it is a tempest that is getting more attention than it deserves. We have too many really important issues to be concerned with relating to the poor national economy and wide scale unemployment to be tangled up in this controversial nonsense.