To mosque or not to mosque? That is the question. Actually the question is more like, to community center or not to community center, but that’s tedious to write and say, so I’ll stick with mosque. I’m talking of course about the infamous Ground Zero Mosque, the construction of which will be nothing short of a tyrannical and everlasting symbol of evil Islam’s victory over America. First a few facts about this mosque: when I think mosque, I see this, but this mosque is different (Park 51). What exactly is this structure that is being built at Ground Zero? Well actually, its builders have defined it as a community center, complete with anti-American facilities such as a library, restaurant, basketball court and September 11th memorial. That doesn’t excuse the fact that it’s right on top of Ground Zero. But that’s not the case either, the community center is located here, two blocks away. So it’s not a mosque and it’s not AT Ground Zero. My facts are all wrong. But even if this is only a community center with a multi-denominational prayer room that’s actually located a few blocks away from Ground Zero, that’s still entirely unacceptable. Why? Well because…I don’t know, because this is America, that’s why.
Actually if this is America then a community center or a mosque near Ground Zero isn’t just acceptable, it’s a symbol of the very foundation on which our freedoms are laid. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” I believe that’s how the first amendment reads. To deny the builders the right to erect their community center would be antithetical to American values. In fact, it would be comparable to the very religious persecution that many of the first colonists who settled in North America were fleeing.
There is no denying that the evil people who attacked us on September 11th perpetrated the worst attack on America in our country’s history; they are reprehensible and awful, and America can and should do everything in its power to make sure that another terrorist attack never happens. Part of our effort involves finding and fighting terrorists, but another part involves fighting their rhetoric. America, Osama bin Laden tells us, is at war against Islam. We are out to kill innocent Muslims and destroy the culture and institutions of the Islamic world. Of course this couldn’t be further from the truth and the message seems silly when presented to most Americans. Unfortunately it finds adherents in the Arab and Muslim world. Why reinforce it by lending it some truth to what is a fabrication?
If the Park 51 mosque is moved Osama bin Laden and his clones will point to it as one more example of America’s attempt to rid the world of Islam. Potential terrorists at home and abroad will see it as a validation of their message. But far more important than being practical, the construction of this mosque represents the core of what our country is all about. Its detractors ignorantly associate a mosque near Ground Zero with the people who perpetrated those attacks. The terrorists with which the United States is now at war globally represent a tiny fraction of the world’s billion Muslims. America is not a country of intolerance and xenophobia. The great thing about our country is that people are free to be themselves and do as they please so long as they don’t hurt others. This includes worshipping as you like. There are some who claim the Park 51 mosque is anti-American, but the truth is, nothing is more American than exercising the freedoms guaranteed us in our Constitution. Far from being a symbol of Islam’s victory over America – which is a silly and dismissible assertion anyhow – the Park 51 mosque will stand as a beacon of what America really stands for, freedom and tolerance.
America is a great country because we stand for the right things, and our commitment to these values has made us the attractive destination for people from all over the world. Our nation as a so called melting pot has certainly exposed us to different cultures, but when we meet new ideas and people with open minds we find that they reciprocate. Periods of xenophobia and cultural fear in America have been brief and evaporated quickly once we realized that others are seeking what we had built: a nation committed to freedom and human rights. This is the great success of the American experiment. America has in the past decade had terrible encounters with people of the Muslim faith, but that does not mean that there a billion Muslims plotting to take over our country. It does not mean that Islam is a religion that espouses hatred. It certainly does not mean that the appropriate response to terrorism and hatred is to ban Sharia law in Oklahoma – another truly silly and dismissible action – and deny peaceful and freedom loving Muslim Americans their first amendment rights.
Despite America’s martial success, we didn’t become the world greatest country with guns and bombs. For every terrorist we kill in Afghanistan or Iraq or Yemen or Sudan there will be another potential recruit to take his place as long as Osama bin Laden’s myth finds listeners. America needs to undermine that myth by showing the world what most already know. We’re not out to eradicate Islam, we’re open to people of different faiths and cultures.
Consider the parallel of the Cold War when Americans lived in fear of Communists who were out to undermine our society and take away our freedoms. One response to this was the gross censorship and blacklisting of the McCarthy era that was an atrocious example of fear mongering. Why fear the Communists when elected American representatives were busy undermining our freedoms? The other response to the threat of Communism was to extend and promote American ideals elsewhere in the world. “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” And he did. Did America really have something to fear from the closed society of the Soviet Union? Or did Communism have much to fear from the freedom and openness of the United States? History will once again come down squarely on the side of tolerance and freedom, but we should not impede its progress by denying the freedoms on which our country was founded. Radical Muslim extremists have far more to fear from American values than we have from a fantastical Muslim takeover.