Televisions show the streets of Lower Manhattan packed with passionate Americans both for and against the Muslim community center known as Park51. In one corner, supporters raise signs that read “Defend Muslims” and “Stop Islamophobia.” Opponents chant, “USA, USA!” in another.
The question we currently face is not whether Muslim Americans have the legal right to build a mosque near ground zero. They most certainly do. As a nation built on freedom of religion, we should encourage the expression of all faiths. The question is: is the proposed location for the Muslim community center morally right?
Sharif El-Gamal is the lead developer of Park51, a 13-story Muslim community center intended to promote tolerance through programs in art, education and recreation. The center also plans to include a mosque, which will accommodate 1,000 worshippers.
Under most circumstances, I would say, “Go for it!” It is absolutely necessary to respect all religions and offer my support as a proud American. But there is one major detail that I can’t overlook — the location.
The main cause of controversy is the proposed location of the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque,” which would be built two blocks from the site of the World Trade Center attacks. It’s the site where al-Qaeda terrorists intentionally crashed two airliners into the Twin Towers and killed nearly 3,000 civilians.
I have debated with myself on where I stand with the issue of Park51. I’ve looked at it from many directions — Muslim and Christian, Democrat and Republican, New Yorker and non-New Yorker. Still, I always come to the same personal conclusion: build a secular community center with no mosque, no church and no synagogue.
I am against using this space for any religious purpose. In the attacks on 9/11, Christians, Muslims and Jews lost their lives. Atheists and agnostics were killed. The religious and non-religious died together. No religion was spared, and no religion should be favored.
Nine years later, the events of 9/11 are still raw in most people’s minds. Many who oppose the location of the center do so out of sensitivity to the victims and their families. Several union construction workers have refused to work on the Park51 project, creating the 9/11 Hard Hat Pledge.
A case of a similar religious controversy rests in Oswiecim, Poland. About 20 years ago, a Catholic religious order announced plans to build a convent near Auschwitz, the Nazi death camp where about 1.1 million people were murdered, the majority of them Jews. While Catholics viewed this as a sign of religious tolerance, the Jewish community protested; they were not opposed to the idea of a Catholic convent, but were against the proposed location. In the end, the Vatican supported the relocation of the convent, which progressed into an interfaith center in 1993.
Many have used this analogy to back up their opposition, and many disagree with the comparison. I realize this is an extreme example, but the principle remains the same — people learned to respect those who died more than they respected their religious pride.
When I say I oppose Park51, I am not standing against Islam. I am standing for those who lost their lives on 9/11, and for all of their religious rights. I say build a community center near ground zero — but leave religion at home.
Megan Blarr is a sophomore journalism major. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.