9/11 mosque sparks controversy

Point – it’s about freedom, stupid

Eric Merkley

A debate is currently raging in the United States which is being used by Republicans and their allies in the Tea Party as a wedge to stir popular support in advance of the midterm elections: the construction of an Islamic Cultural Centre two blocks away from Ground Zero.

Before embarking on this column, let’s get a few facts straight. Firstly, there are already four mosques in lower Manhattan.

Secondly, the proposed mosque is a cultural centre equipped with a threatre, athletic complex and other facilities in addition to prayer space.

Thirdly, it is to be built on private property within the bounds of the law.

Lastly, the United States is a democracy which is supposed to uphold the constitutional right to freedom of religion.

Given these facts it is a surprise there is a debate but there is, sadly, between the naïve cultural relativist left, and knuckle-dragging Neanderthals on the far right.

On the one side people say it will “build bridges of understanding” between two cultures and promote tolerance. On the other, people question whether the motives of those that are building the mosque are linked to radical Islam and that at the very least construction is an affront to the memories of the victims of 9/11. Some (not all) have a dogmatic hostility towards Islam itself. Both sides miss the point: it’s about freedom, stupid.

I still remember where I was on Sept.11, 2001. I remember the anger and sorrow that I felt as I was glued to the CNN watching replay after replay of the planes hitting the WTC.

It changed my outlook on politics and international affairs permanently. I was the first to advocate the destruction of all those responsible through use of the American military.

So I am deeply offended by the construction of a such a lavish mosque by Imam Rauf close to where the towers fell. It is a deliberate provocation and a slap in the face of the victims of 9/11; his past comments make this very clear. Their claim to want to “build bridges of understanding” is a sham.

All the more reason for Americans to rise to the challenge and support the mosque’s construction.

The real test of a person or a nation’s commitment to freedom of speech, religion and assembly is to allow practices that are so deeply offensive to them that the sight of it makes their stomach turn.

As Voltaire said: “I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”. While this is a reference to freedom of speech, it applies just as equally to any of our most cherished democratic freedoms.

The motives are irrelevant. Imam Rauf has not broken the law and the building of the mosque is on private property. There is no legal reason to block its construction, so the only way it will be stopped is if the organizers fear for their safety to an extent that they will abandon their plans.

If the mosque were to be cancelled for that reason it would be a tremendous victory for radical Islamists. What they truly want is the worst of America to be shown for all to see.

They want everyone in the Middle East to hear the thinly veiled, bigoted ranting of the Rush Limbaugh crowd as proof of American hypocrisy about their liberal-democratic values. Extremists want to paint American presence culturally and materially as a hostile invasion.

America is in a war for the hearts and minds of moderates in the Middle East. It is not a clash of civilizations, but a clash of ideas and values: liberal democracy versus theocratic totalitarianism.

America will only win when they stay true to those values they are supposed to represent – namely liberty and freedom for all. To block the construction of the mosque is to play into the hands of the extremists.

So let us celebrate the construction of the Park 51 Islamic Cultural Centre: a permanent monument to America’s greatness and commitment to freedom.

Counterpoint – Questionable intent behind Ground-Zero mosque

Brian Shaposhnik

The latest rage in America is the controversy over the Ground Zero Mosque, or as some may insist, the Park 51 Islamic Cultural Centre or Cordoba House.

If we look past the melodramatic argument over the correct name and other various partisan nonsense being thrown about by both sides, this debate can be narrowed down to two key questions: can they build it and should they build it?

It seems quite clear that the sponsors of this development have every legal right to build on this land. However, I doubt the wisdom of pursuing such a venture and question the intent of the project.

First of all, the plans for the Cordoba House do indeed contain a mosque. I am curious who will preach in this mosque. Will it be Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the Kuwaiti-American activist heading the plan?

Proponents of the Ground Zero Mosque argue that Rauf is a moderate Muslim figure who preaches religious tolerance throughout the world. I beg to differ.

This is a man who after 9/11 suggested that the United States was an accessory to the terrorist attacks that left nearly 3,000 people murdered. He was later quoted as saying that, “the United States has more Muslim blood on its hands than al-Qaeda has on its hands of innocent non-Muslims,” during a 2005 conference in Australia.

When asked if he agreed with the American designation of Hamas as a terrorist organization, Rauf evaded the question, responding simply that, “terrorism is a very complex question.”

Finally, when asked to clarify the Muslim belief that martyrdom, specifically in reference to suicide bombers, is rewarded in heaven with 72 virgins, he commented that, “the Quran says ‘you shall have whatever your heart desires.’”

Opponents of the mosque are afraid that it will be used as a means of spreading radical Islamism and with a leader who is on-record expressing such extremist views it is easy to understand their fears.

Another curious aspect is the desire to build a mosque specifically at this location. Is it just a coincidence that it is two blocks away from Ground Zero? Of course not.

The leaders of the project state that their goal is to promote sensitivity and counter extremism by building the mosque near Ground Zero, supposedly strengthening the bond between Islam and the West.

But surely they can understand why so many people are bothered by the controversial plan, and they see that it is offending millions of Americans. Numerous polls have shown that an overwhelming number of Americans and specifically New Yorkers believe that the Ground Zero Mosque should not be built.

Many families of 9/11 victims, including Muslims, have spoken out strongly against the mosque, saying that they are insulted by the proposal to build an Islamic centre so close to the place where their loved ones were murdered in the name of Islam.

Building a mosque here is a slap in the face to these victims and to America in general. It seems somewhat peculiar that the leadership of the project claims to promote sensitivity, but insists on continuing with the plans even after they see such widespread outrage.

If they were truly interested in representing peace and tolerance, why not build the mosque elsewhere?

Tarek Fatah and Raheel Raza, authors and board members of the Muslim Canadian Congress, put it best: “[the] mosque is meant to be a deliberate provocation, to thumb our noses at the infidel. The proposal has been made in bad faith… as ‘Fitna,’ meaning ‘mischief-making’ that is clearly forbidden in the Quran. As Muslims we are dismayed that our coreligionists have such little consideration for their fellow citizens, and wish to rub salt in their wounds.”

Regardless of the merit of either side’s arguments, two things are certain. At the end of the day, if this mosque is built, many people will be deeply offended.

Furthermore, no matter what the true intent of the project, radical Islamists across the world will celebrate the mosque as a triumph over America and a step towards reestablishing a Caliphate.

It is unfathomable that the Ground Zero Mosque could ever live up to its goal of promoting sensitivity.

The sponsors of this project should either scrap this already-doomed plan or come forward with their true intentions, because something here doesn’t add up.