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Sunday, August 22, 2010

Ground Zero Mosque?

Okay, I guess I've sat on the sidelines of this debate long enough. Today's newspapers are chock full of articles, editorials and letters (from readers) debating whether Islam should be allowed to build a mosque near Ground Zero in New York City.

There seem to be varying views on the subject, but the most vocal are the people who find it offensive and disrespectful. They argue it was a radical brand of Islam that launched the terrorist attacks on the U.S. on 11 Sept. 2001. And even though most of Islam globally has said it doesn't support the attacks, these vocal Americans say it's offensive and disrespectful for Islam to take such a prominent position near what we now see as a "sacred" site (whatever that means).

So of course it's time for me to wade in with my magnificent wisdom and lead everyone to the truth of the matter. I think there are a few of simple truths operating here. And they seem to feed the conflict. Let's consider each of them.

First up is the fact that it was a radical brand of Islam that engineered the attacks on the U.S. in 2001. It has been a radical brand of Islam that the U.S. has been at war with ever since, mostly in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and to a lesser extent, Iran and Palestine. And while the rest of Islam globally has said it doesn't condone such behavior ... it hasn't said ... or done ... enough to convince us of its sincerity and authenticity.

The simple fact is that when there have been catastrophes and atrocities globally, the U.S. has traditionally gone in full force with our checkbooks open. We've given vast sums of wealth - literally billions and billions of dollars - in addition to the sacrifice of thousands of American lives. And we've done so to make wrongs right in this world.

What has Islam done? Where are the troops from our Islamic allies? Why hasn't Jordan or Saudi Arabia sent troops to fight with us in Afghanistan? Why hasn't Kuwait or Dubai sent troops to help us in Iraq? Why haven't these wealthy countries helped fund rebuilding of infrastructure in Iraq? Or feeding the hungry in Afghanistan?

Those are the questions that frankly Americans need to have answered. And let's be honest here, the fact that Islam has been so silent leads many Americans to question its sincerity and authenticity. We want to believe that Islam is a peaceful religion and that we can live side by side with Muslims. But the evidence and circumstances surrounding us day in and day out suggest that we don't have shared values, and cause us to doubt the claim that only radical Islam is the problem.

Secondly, Americans have suffered one of the greatest wounds in our country's history on that fateful day in 2001. Never before had our country been attacked in such a way, and in the absence of a war. That civilians were so slaughtered, and such blatant disregard for human decency was exhibited was among the most hurtful things Americans could imagine. Western countries looked on in horror. The unimaginable had happened.

Because this atrocity was so heinous, the so-dubbed Ground Zero in New York City has come to be viewed as a "sacred" site. Rather than rebuild the business skyscrapers that were there, New York couldn't bring itself to do anything but build a memorial. The new tower rising up is a mere shadow of what was destroyed. And it is being built mostly as a memorial. Americans envision that this will become a solemn place of prayer, remembrance and reflection. It will likely become the most patriotic of physical sites in all of America.

So it is offensive that the particular religion which has its name on this atrocity now wants to be a part of the landscape near our "sacred" site. I confess that I'm not sure what it means that the site is considered "sacred." But I get the emotional charge that it carries for many Americans. How would Islam feel if Americans built a Christian church two blocks from the center of Mecca - their sacred site (that we aren't even allowed to visit)? That such a thing would never happen only fuels the offense that Americans feel.

Our President has pointed out that any legitimate religion has the American freedom to build a house of worship anywhere it wants in our country. He is right on that count. They do. Perhaps Mr. Obama displayed some of his most profound insight when he later clarified that he was not commenting on the wisdom of building the mosque there. And that is the point. That you chose this site to build a mosque demonstrates your complete lack of wisdom.

If Islam were truly a peaceful religion ... if Muslims were really people of love ... if there were respect for Americans and an effort to share basic standards of human decency ... Islam would do a lot of things that I mentioned above. It would wade into wrongs and give generously. It would sacrifice lives fighting for what's right. It would also not do some things. It would not, for example, have a double standard where Islamic governments fund mosques in the U.S. --- but don't allow even open displays of Christianity in their countries.

To the point of building a mosque near the site of Ground Zero in New York, Islam could show some simple respect and human decency. While they have the right to build the proposed mosque anywhere, they should have the common sense not to. Out of respect and love for the people of America, Islam should instead give generously to rebuild the site that their radical brothers destroyed. Frankly, if Islam had been a better partner and ally in this mess, I doubt that Americans would find the proposed mosque's siting so offensive.

There have been two Islamic mosques built within just a few miles of my house in the past few years. Both are brand new. Both are expensive and tasteful houses of worship. One of them I drive by all the time. I see the cars coming and going. I see the additions being built on, the parking lot being expanded. It's clear that Islam is firmly rooted in my community and is growing. To be honest, I don't find either one of them offensive or disturbing. In our community, my wife and I have tried to engage them as friends. We've had Muslims in our home.

But sadly I don't see any Islamic soup kitchens or homeless shelters. I don't see the mosques adopting underprivileged schools or sponsoring foster care for abused children. There aren't any English-as-a-second language or adult literacy classes meeting in these beautiful mosques. There aren't any mother's day out or twelve step recovery programs meeting in them either. I don't see them taking mission trips to help rebuild New Orleans or bring clean drinking water to the poor in rural Mexico. They aren't a collection site for clothes for the poor, and don't have any outreach programs to the homeless.

To my Muslim brothers and sisters in America, I say that I want to believe you. I want to find your religion a credible, peaceful religion. As a Christian I don't have to agree with you to love you, respect you and live peaceably with you. We've proven that with the other religions that don't acknowledge Christ as the Messiah. But what you don't do is much more troubling than anything that you do. And if that wasn't the case, I suspect you would find much less opposition to the building of a mosque near Ground Zero.

As an American, I'm not proud of the mouthy protesters who are screaming about how offensive it is that you might build this mosque in New York. I wish they'd settle down and focus more on being reconciled than being right. Certainly you have the right to build the proposed mosque anywhere you want. But then I wish that you too could focus more on being reconciled than being right.

Let's be clear here. This debate isn't about your rights. Rather it's about you doing what's right. But then that's something we Americans just have never experienced with Islam. Until we do, I expect Islam in America is going to find itself faced with increasing opposition on a lot more fronts. And you'll discover that this debate between Islam and the rest of America is not really about the proposed mosque.

1 comment:

  1. Now that was beautifully stated...