The ongoing debate over the Islamic Community Center to be built over two blocks from the WTC site in New York City continues to spiral out of control.
While many loud voices are out there claiming such, there can be little defense for opposing the construction of this building in a land whose Constitution guarantees religious freedom, and whose laws support the right of citizens or groups to own property and build on that site within legal building codes and regulations.
What’s more concerning is the number of people who accept that this effort should not be illegal, but are expecting sympathy on the statement that for a Muslim group to construct the center so close to “ground zero” this soon is at least insensitive and in poor taste. That it is somehow disrespectful to those who died there.
It’s tempting to ask when such a structure wouldn’t be too soon given that 9/11 happened a decade ago. For perspective, that’s like opposing any notion of Japanese heritage or culture in Hawaii in the mid-1950s. Or maybe the question is, how close is too close? There is already a prayer room four blocks away, so it seems that must be okay. But who decided anything less than four blocks is an insult? And an insult to whom? There were Muslims who died in that tragedy as well. And many 9/11 families have come out in support of the project. Do we take a vote? Who gets to vote? Or is it just that as long as anyone is offended, then this isn’t okay?
Yet putting all those questions aside, the very essence of the notion that anything about this project is remotely insensitive is predicated on equating Islam with terrorism. Think about that. There is zero evidence this Muslim group is in any way tied to any terrorist organization. The imam leading this group, Feisal Abdul Rauf, was vetted and deployed by George Bush to promote America to the Muslim world after 9/11. Unless you hold that all Muslims are at some level responsible for terrorism, then there is no way for this group or their plans to build a gym, pool, culinary school, prayer room, and meeting center to be a threat or an insult to anyone.
Finding this project insensitive requires that you hold over a billion people responsible for the acts of dozens. Even if you allow for one million Muslims worldwide to be terrorists, a number that seems pretty darn large, you are holding all of them accountable for the acts of less than 0.1%.
If your child were killed by a person who looked like you, and was part of your culture and religion. One who claimed he was on a mission from God. You would hate him and want justice and maybe revenge. But you wouldn’t then hate the others in his church or in his community because that’s your group too. You’d have to blame yourself. Yet when someone different commits an atrocity, it’s all to easy to conflate your hatred for the individual with a hatred for, or fear of, the group as a whole.
Consider that when you talk about this project showing Muslim insensitivity, perhaps what you really mean is that you find them being insensitive to your bigotry. Then ask yourself if that’s really the position you want to lead with.