by J. F. Kelly, Jr. | Coronado

One of the least inspiring national debates in recent memory is the ongoing brouhaha over whether or not a new Islamic Center and mosque should be built in the Ground Zero neighborhood of Manhattan. By now, you’ve heard most and perhaps all of the arguments, pro and con, but indulge me for a few moments while I offer mine.

I am already weary of reading about it, but the issue hasn’t gone away and probably won’t soon, whether or not the center is ever built at the proposed location. If it does actually get built there, which I doubt, one can imagine a less than happy future for it. It would inevitably be viewed by many, rightly or wrongly, as an enduring insult to the memory of the innocent victims and heroic first responders who died at the hands of Islamic terrorists on that fateful day in 2001.

Why, then, would sponsors and supporters of this project persist in their demands to build in this location? Polls show that an overwhelming majority of the respondents oppose it. Are they all bigots? Perhaps some. Most of them, however, acknowledge the right of members of any religion to build churches, temples, mosques or synagogues wherever they wish, subject to zoning laws and regulatory approvals that apply to everyone. This is a right, it should be noted, which is not reciprocated in many Muslim countries. Their objection lies in building a mosque at this location, an action they feel is insensitive, provocative and disrespectful to the victims, their relatives and loved ones and to survivors.

Common sense would suggest that an alternate location, removed from the Ground Zero area, be selected if only for good public relations purposes. New York Governor David Patterson has even offered state land for this purpose. Why build a 15-story edifice near a location that some consider hallowed ground and who will view the structure as a monument celebrating a defeat inflicted on America by Islamist terrorists? What good in terms of combating Islamophobia and promoting tolerance toward Muslims can come from a project such as this? Why go through the demonstrations and work stoppages, rights also protected by the Constitution, by the way, which likely would mark the construction process.

If the issue were purely religious freedom, there are more appropriate battlegrounds. Protests against the building of mosques and Muslim community centers have sprung up all over America, notably in California, Tennessee and Wisconsin, with little notice by the media. Religious freedom and Islamophobia are clearly issues in at least some of these cases. The issue in Manhattan, on the other hand, is not religious freedom. The issue, rather, concerns respect for the emotions and grief of millions of Americans who witnessed a horrendous attack that equaled the attack on Pearl Harbor in significance, devastation and shock effect.

The symbolic significance involved here is obvious. It has been a custom for Islamists to build mosques at the sites of important victories. Erection of a new Islamic Center near Ground Zero would forever be seen, rightly or wrongly, as an in-your-face expression of Islamic militancy and anti-American sentiment. It would be like building an American monument to Harry Truman at ground zero in Nagasaki.

There is deep-seated emotion involved here but is it fair to dismiss it all as Islamophobia? Even conceding that some of it may be, why do you suppose it exists? Isn’t it because, with few exceptions, the major terrorists attacks against the United States and Western nations have been plotted and executed by Islamists, some of them U.S.-born? This is not a justification for discrimination against loyal Americans of the Muslim faith, but it certainly explains why Islamophobia exists. Surely, it is a great concern among American Muslims who should be aware that that it is a perception among many Americans that moderate Muslims have too often been reluctant to publicly condemn those who terrorize and hate in the name of Allah, preferring instead, to shift the topic to American and Western provocations.

As columnist Charles Krauthammer recently noted, liberal defenders of unlimited rights are quick to assign labels to those who disagree with them. If one opposes same-sex marriage, one must be a homophobe. A phobia is, by definition, an irrational fear.( I personally know of no one who opposes same sex marriage who is actually afraid of homosexuals.) Similarly, if one opposes construction of a new Ground Zero mosque, one must be a bigot. Such name-calling is the last resort of one who has run out of rational arguments that can be argued on the basis of facts and evidence.

Many loyal Americans of the Muslim faith must surely wish that the controversy would go away. It won’t so long as supporters of what would forever be characterized as the Ground Zero Mosque continue to trivialize and mischaracterize the valid emotions and motives of the more than two-thirds of Americans who oppose this project.


copyright 2010 J.F. Kelly, Jr

J.F. Kelly, Jr. is a retired Navy Captain and bank executive who writes on current events and military subjects. He is a resident of Coronado, California.

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