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“Building a mosque at Ground Zero is like building a memorial to Hitler at Auschwitz” and “You can build a mosque at Ground Zero when we can build a synagogue in Mecca” are just two of the many signs that protesters hold in opposition of the controversial issue of building of a mosque near Ground Zero. Those who oppose its construction feel that it would be a towering tribute to the World Trade Centre terrorist attacks that were perpetrated in the name of Islam. On the other hand, Muslims and those in support of the centre claim that it is devoted to peace and is meant to bridge the gap between moderate Muslims and non-Muslims throughout the United States. Those in support of constructing the mosque in the supposed location believe that they have the religious freedom, as per the First Amendment, to build a prayer sanctuary wherever they so please. While the opponents recognize this liberty, and agree that legally they are all allowed to build their mosque on any private property they choose, they feel that it is an extreme insensitivity to the friends and family of those that perished in the September 11th terrorist attacks almost ten years ago.
The name of this project that has been perpetrated in the media, ‘the mosque at Ground Zero,’ is technically not correct. The proposed building, two blocks away from the former site of the World Trade towers, is actually a 13 story Islamic community centre. The proponents of the centre describe it as a community centre with a prayer space, offering programs and classes similar in style to a YMCA or Jewish community centre, both of which are present in Lower Manhattan. It will include everything a community centre would need, equipped a restaurant and culinary school, as well as a performing centre and bookstore. The 100,000 square foot structure will be built at the address of 45-51 Park Place, in place of two buildings that were partially destroyed on 9/11. For that reason, the official title of the project is currently called Park51. The name only changed after turmoil ensued when Imam Fesial Rauf, the Imam heading the project, announced the first official name of the project, Cordoba House. The Cordoba Initiative, a group founded by the Imam himself, explains that the title Cordoba House was given out of respect to a time when Muslims, Christians, and Jews all lived in peace in between the 8th and 11th century in Cordoba, Spain (Hernandez). Imam Rauf claims this is an homage to the “oasis of art, culture and science” (Lexington) that the three monotheistic religions collaboratively achieved; however many deem the term as a tribute to the Muslim conquering of Christian Spain, where they turned a Cordoba church into what is currently the third largest mosque in the world. The Cordoba Initiative claims that the centre will be “a platform for multi-faith dialogue. It will strive to promote inter-community peace, tolerance and understanding locally in New York City, nationally in America, and globally.” Because of the biases that people hold, they look at this name and see what they want to see, rather than taking it objectively for what it is. The title of Cordoba House was nonetheless changed to Park51 to dull the controversy. However, protests later erupted after right wing blogger Pamela Geller dubbed the project “Ground Zero mosque” on her website Stop Islamization of America (Elliot).
Like Geller, there are those that view the building of Park51 as another step forward for the Islamization of the United States. They believe that if the project is completed, it can be used as a recruitment tool for Islamist extremists, and lead to an increased level of homegrown terrorists. They are clearly neglecting base rates, as the vast majority of Muslims are not radicals. They actually condemn the terrorist attacks, as stated by both the American Muslim Political Coordination Council and the American Muslim Alliance immediately following the attacks. Those that believe that this project further enhances the Islamization of America are looking for a pattern that clearly is not there. Like Gilovich argues, they try to make sense of noise to foster their own theories. Having an Islamic presence around Ground Zero is nothing new. There were several Muslim prayer spaces in the Twin Towers (Freedman), and there is a mosque not too far away, where Feisal Rauf is the currently the Imam. The Islamization of America theory, although it altogether lacks empirical evidence, is not aided by the controversy surrounding the funding of the project. Imam Rauf stated that he will “ clearly identify all of our financial backers” (Caruso), but is yet to do so. There is the distinct possibility that funding may come from organizations that support and harbor terrorism, such as Hamas and Al-Qaeda, inevitably questioning if there are ulterior motives for this project. Rauf originally said that the funding would be one hundred percent from the Muslim American community (Editorial), but later told a London Arabic newspaper that he would as well accept funding from Muslim and Arab countries abroad (Pressman). Malcolm Hoenlein, leader of the Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations sums up this sentiment, saying, “Imam Rauf refuses to condemn Hamas. And why is it being built here? Is it to celebrate a victory against the United States, as some militant Muslims may see it?”
On the less extreme side, many stand in opposition of the project, not because of any racist undertones or fear of an invasion, but simply because it is a very sensitive area. Those who lost friends or family members in the 9/11 attacks have a hot cognition view of the subject. They are very emotionally invested and cannot think completely objectively about this issue. The terrorist attacks are easily the most salient memory of the World Trade Centers and surrounding areas for these people, and do not want to be reminded of it every time they will see the Islamic community centre. They are not opposed to the building of the Islamic cultural centre, only to the proposed location. Building it so close to a 3000-person cemetery would not necessarily be seen as glorifying tribute to Islamic extremism, but rather as a metaphoric slap in the face to those who knew someone that perished in the attacks. Regardless of many New Yorkers’ feelings, the Muslim community is still pushing for the community centre’s construction. Local and national leaders of Muslim organizations met at the Park51 site and stood adamant in their convictions, saying that the centre should not budge from its planned site, not only based on their constitutional right to do so, but also as a matter of principle (Barnard). Whichever way the decision ends up going, one group will feel as though the other side is being unfair and insensitive, as with any issue with a high level of emotional baggage.
The payoffs in this situation are huge, with the costs of a miss being astronomical; the final decision will have political, emotional, and religious ramifications. If the centre is built and becomes a hotbed of Muslim radicalism, many atrocities and future terrorist attacks may follow. There is already fear in the United Sates of the expansion of home grown terrorists, as is evident by the unsuccessful Times Square bombing in May 2010. In the meantime, the strong opposition towards the community centre is playing well for extremists, as “America is revealing its ugly face, and that even if it doesn’t further radicalize people in the Middle East, there’s no doubt that it will radicalize … small number of homegrown extremists here in the United States” (Thomas). Even if Park51 does not produce extremism, the American public can see it as further Islamization of their country, very similar to the Islamization of Europe. On the other hand, if Park51 is built and is just another community centre, as it most likely will be, there will be the backlash of the anti-Muslim movements that are currently going on. It will further propagate Muslim anti-American sentiments, resulting with each group holding more hostility towards the other. The same will happen if the site is deemed inappropriate, as Muslims will be infuriated at the government if they cannot exercise the First Amendment. Regardless of the final decision, there are going to be negative consequences for one or both parties involved.
Many political players have weighed in their opinion on the matter. President Obama stated that Muslims have the right of religious freedom, and are legally allowed to build a place of worship on a privately owned property. Regardless of his personal opinion if he thinks it is a good idea of not, one in his position has to socially conform and pick the easier answer of the two, which is to go with what the law says. New York mayor Michael Bloomberg echoes agrees with the president, saying that Ground Zero is a “very appropriate place” for Park51, as it “tells the world” that America exemplifies freedom of religion for all (Rabinowitz). He noted that the government has no business in its citizens’ personal lives and cannot tell them how or where to pray. Notable political figures who oppose the project include 2008 presidential nominee John McCain and 2008 vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin. McCain believes that Park51 would harm Islamic-American relations rather than help it, and Palin even posted her thoughts on her twitter account, asking peaceful Muslims to please consider the consequences of going through with the proposal. The aforementioned political figures are not the ones who are going to decide the final verdict, although their opinions are representative of the opinions held by majority of Americans.
The proposal to build a Muslim community centre only blocks away from Ground Zero is a very controversial debate. It brings back painful memories for some, while others hope it will bring peaceful tidings for the future. There are those that are disgusted at the idea of a centre dedicated to Islam built virtually on top of a mass grave, the same ideology that motivated the terrorists to fly planes into the Twin Towers. Others acknowledge the value of freedom of religion and legality that technically this building should be built. Imam Rauf wants to encourage multi-faith peace, while many believe this is another stride in the Islamization of America. There is no right answer for this debacle. Whichever way it goes, one side will not be happy. The 3000 people that died in the World Trade Centre terrorist attacks were martyrs for American ideals including freedom of religion. Family members of the deceased claim that their relatives would want the American values upheld, the same values that were attacked that day almost a decade ago. The Rasmussen Report poll in July found that 54% of Americans oppose the project, while only 20% are in favour of it (Rasmussen). Regardless of the numbers, the Cordoba Initiative is lawfully allowed to build on the Park 51 site. It is up to them to decide if it is worth it to.
Elliot, Justin. (2010, august 16). How “the ground zero mosque” fear mongering began. Salon. Retrieved from http://www.salon.com/news/ground_zero_mosque/index.html?story=/politics/war_room/2010/08/16/ground_zero_mosque_origins
Lexington. (2010, August 5). Build that Mosque. The Economist. Retrieved from http://www.economist.com/node/16743239
Barnard, Anne. (2010, September 21). Muslim Leaders Unite Behind Center. The New York Times.
Caruso, David. (2010, September 8). AP Exclusive: Backers of WTC mosque appear divided. The Associated Press. Retrieved from http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5iNLTahM5QJw8Ts0SpTgWLjXwN7gAD9I435J80
Editorial. (2010, August 4). Money behind the mosque. New York Post. Retrieved from http://www.nypost.com/p/news/opinion/editorials/money_behind_the_mosque_SZDcDNLjX4SwxHmwtES5mK
Freedman, Samuel. (2010, September 10). Muslims and Islam Were Part of Twin Towers’ Life. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/11/nyregion/11religion.html?_r=1&src=tp
Hernandez, Javier. (2010, July 13). Planned Sign of Tolerance Bringing Division Instead. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/14/nyregion/14center.html?_r=1
Peer, Basharat. (2010, August 13). Zero tolerance and Cordoba House. Financial Times. Retrieved from http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/bf1110d8-a5b0-11df-a5b7-00144feabdc0.html
Pressman, Gabe. (2010, August 17). Should the Mosque be Built?- Follow the Money. NBC New York. Retrieved from http://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/local-beat/Should-the-Mosque-Be-Built—–Follow-the-Money–99967009.html
Thomas, Gary. (2010, august 26). Radical Islamists Try to Exploit Islamaphobia. Voice of America News. Retrieved from http://www.voanews.com/english/news/Radical-Islamists-Try-to-Exploit-Islamophobia-101592048.html
Rabinowitz, Dorothy. (2010, August 4). Liberal Piety and the Memory of 9/11. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703545604575407160266158170.html
Rasmussen Reports. (2010, July 22). 20% Favor Mosque Near Ground Zero, 54% Oppose. Rasmussen Reports. Retrieved from http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/politics/general_politics/july_2010/20_favor_mosque_near_ground_zero_54_oppose
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