“For evil to flourish, all that is needed is for good people to do nothing.”
We are drawn inexorably and tragically back to the raging controversy surrounding the proposed Islamic community center in Lower Manhattan. This country has been at war for almost a decade and that casualties mount daily. We narrowly avoided a cataclysmic collapse of the global economy and we continue to sort through the detritus of the damage wrought by Wall Street and our own inattention. Unemployment continues at effective double digit rates and hope is a flickering flame that has to be vigilantly guarded against the downdrafts of despair.
Yet, it would appear to a latter day Rip Van Winkle, if he were to awaken today, that the most important and compelling subject that has riveted the attention of the American body politic is the proposed Islamic community center in Lower Manhattan. All of the noted challenges and controversies are left in the shadow cast by this collision of titanic forces. One the one hand there is the Constitution of the United States and its very clear and unambiguous commitment to freedom of religion and its equally clear corollary that government will not interfere in the exercise of the right of religious freedom.
Arrayed against this seemingly formidable component of the foundation upon which this country was built is a gaggle of opponents with no coherent philosophy save a very ugly anti-Islamist undertone. That undertone is masked with calls for “sensitivity” to the feelings of the families of 9/11 victims and queries as to why the proposed center (which is not a mosque, although it will have a prayer room) has to be “so close” to the site of the new World Trade Center. And then there is an Alice in Wonderland exposition of the theory that while Muslims have the right to build their community center in Lower Manhattan, they have the responsibility to realize that some citizens would be offended by their presence and so they should move to another site. Perhaps in Siberia or Mars.
As we observe this conflagration of opposing views move across a landscape charred and scarred by extremism and venom, perhaps the cooling waters of fact and reason could be helpful. I am personally appalled at the vehemence of the expressions by opponents to the center. Could it be that 7 out of 10 Americans are against the site? Could it be that these 7 out of 10 Americans are unaware that Muslims died as innocent victims during the 9/11 catastrophe, as innocent as the Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, Hindu and atheist victims? Could it be that 7 out of 10 Americans are truly offended that an Islamic sponsored community center would be several blocks from the site of a World Trade Center?
Because, if that is the case what should be done about the two mosques that are already near the World Trade Center? One mosque is four blocks from the 9/11 site and has been there since 1970 – in effect before there was a World Trade Center. What should be done about the mosque that is 12 blocks from Ground Zero and has been in existence since 1985, or 16 years before 9/11? These mosques have been in continuous operation since 9/11 without question or concern and not once have the sensitivities and feelings of the families of 9/11 victims been mentioned. Not once.
Are we to infer that the opponents to the proposed center feel that 2 Islamic sites are enough? Or perhaps these two centers should also be dismantled and moved? Or is 4 blocks far enough away? Or 12 blocks? And, by the way, whatever happened to the Constitution of the United States?
Everything that is now being said about Muslims and mosques has been said about Jews and synagogues and Catholics and cathedrals and Protestants and their churches. Flames of intolerance have consumed untold legions of martyrs of every religion. The aspiration of tolerance is a very real aspect of what has made this country different. What a shame it would be for us to reverse the evolutionary process and return to the intolerance embodied by pogroms and holocausts and inquisitions since time immemorial.
If the rights of a minority are protected only when the majority is comfortable and looks favorably on that minority, then those rights are mere gossamer – a half-dream that disappears with the dawning of the dull sun of prejudice. If the exercise of rights set forth in the Constitution were subject to minority rule women might not have voted in Utah until very recently. If Constitutional rights were subject to a vote in North Carolina my father’s great grandparents might have never have moved from the Ford plantation.
There will always be a moment of pause between stated ideals and the full attainment of those ideals, but allowing the construction of the Lower Manhattan Islamic cultural center to be determined by some kind of neo-plebiscite a la American Idol would be shameful. To allow the exercise of religious freedom to be circumscribed because it is “insensitive” would make a mockery of the Constitution and provide the enemies of this country with custom made propaganda to recruit more misguided zealots.
Nonsense begets no sense. And we are all the worse for this very sad episode in the life and times of America.