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Archive for August 17th, 2010

AFP/Getty: The Proposed Site - A former Burlington Coat Factory

Not when people in the anti-GZM (Ground Zero Mosque) camp are likening the people behind the community center to Nazis. Oh yeah. I’m talking about former House speaker Newt Gingrich. According to the Washington Post,

Nazis don’t have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust museum in Washington,” Gingrich insisted, speaking of the museum where just a year ago a guard was killed by a white supremacist trying to enter the building with a gun.

I know what you’re thinking – this debate has gone on for far too long. And yet, here we are, and the cacophony of voices on the issue continue to rise. Last Friday, President Obama made an “endorsement” of the proposed Islamic community center [see here for my last post on the debate], but reportedly “retreated” on the issue the next day, telling reporters that Muslims “have the right to build a mosque near New York’s Ground Zero, but he did not say whether he believes it is a good idea to do so.” The President later told CNN,

My intention was to simply let people know what I thought. Which was that in this country, we treat everybody equally in accordance with the law. Regardless of race. Regardless of religion. I was not commenting on and will not comment on the wisdom of making a decision to put a mosque there. I was commenting very specifically on the right that people have that dates back to our founding. That’s what our country’s about and I think it’s very important that as difficult as some of these issues are, we stay focused on who we are as a people and what our values are all about.

Obama’s comments sparked further statements and political stances on the issues, most surprisingly from people within his own party. Senate Majority Leader and prominent Democrat Harry Reid, who is running for elections in November, reportedly came out against the building of the Cordoba House, the oft-dubbed, “Ground Zero Mosque.” His spokesman, Jim Manley, said in an email, “The First Amendment protects freedom of religion. Senator Reid respects that, but thinks that the mosque should be built someplace else.”

Amid all the political posturing and hedging, though, came perhaps one of the more rational voices on the issue. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie – a Republican – “essentially cast a pox on both parties’ houses,” noted Politico, saying both Republicans and Democrats are using the issue as a “political football.” Christie emphasized,

I understand acutely the pain and sorrow and upset of the family members who lost loved ones that day at the hands of radical Muslim extremists. And their sensitivities and concerns have to be taken into account…On the other hand, we cannot paint all of Islam with that brush. … We have to bring people together. And what offends me the most about all this, is that it’s being used as a political football by both parties.

What Christie noted above is very true – the issue surrounding the Cordoba House [now being called Park 51] – a community center that will house a prayer space, as well as restaurants, auditoriums, and interfaith programming – has been politicized by lawmakers/figures who care more about garnering votes than the damage this politicization has had on the underlying issues at hand. Moreover, it appears increasingly clear that the two sides are incapable of having a rational discussion on the center because they are not even talking about the same issue.

For many in favor of the center and its construction, the debate seems to center on protection and advocacy of religious freedom. Keith Olbermann in a “special comment” on his MSNBC show Monday, noted, “Yet in a country dedicated to freedom, forces have gathered to blow out of all proportion the construction of a minor community center…” For those against the construction of center, they claim Muslims are “free” to build a mosque, but they shouldn’t because it’s “insensitive” to build one two blocks from Ground Zero. And essentially this is insensitive because the perpetrators behind the 9/11 attacks belong in the same checkbox as the Muslims behind the center.

Blogger Cop in the Hood wrote,

45 and 47 Park Place. You can punch it into Google and see where it is. It’s near where the World Trade Center was. Two blocks away, to be precise. So is the Hudson River. So is City Hall Park. I mean, in lower Manhattan, everything is close. If people really want to create a “no-mosque zone,” at want point exactly would it be OK to build a mosque?

As the debate becomes intensified and more polarized, is there a solution in sight? Professor Akbar Ahmed, author of the new study, Journey into America, proposes one in a recent CNN op-ed, when he noted, “For a start, the imam in New York should ensure that the cultural center — which he has clarified is not simply a mosque — invites Christians and Jews to include a church and a synagogue so that the building is truly a symbol of interfaith worship. That is the American way.”
So, turning Park 51 into an interfaith center instead? A potential solution or one that still gives legitimacy to the anti-GZM voices? What do you think?

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