On May 6, 2010, a community board in lower Manhattan unanimously approved plans to build a Muslim community center that would include an auditorium, a swimming pool, bookstores, restaurants, and prayer space. It would be open to all New Yorkers, not just Muslims. The building would be two blocks from Ground Zero.
The right has gone ballistic over this proposal. On Twitter, Sarah Palin wrote "Ground Zero Mosque supporters: doesn't it stab you in the heart, as it does ours throughout the heartland? Peaceful Muslims, pls refudiate." (By the way, "refudiate" is not actually a real word.)
For once, Palin was tame compared to her Tea Party/Republican friends. The National Republican Trust PAC produced an ad which stated "On September 11, they declared war against us, and to celebrate that murder of 3,000 Americans, they want to build a monstrous thirteen-story mosque at ground zero." A conservative radio host in Houston said "And I'll tell you this: If you do build a mosque, I hope somebody blows it up. … I hope the mosque isn't built, and if it is, I hope it's blown up. And I mean that." Former GOP Speaker of the House and possible 2012 presidential candidate said "I favor religious freedom. I'm quite happy if they'd come in and said, 'We want to build a community center near Central Park, we'd like to build a community center near Columbia University.' But they didn't. They said right at the edge of a place where, let's be clear, thousands of Americans were killed in an attack by radical Islamists." If he actually favoured religious freedom he would take a different position.
Worst of all, former leader of the Tea Party Express Mark Williams, who was ousted for racist remarks (and yet they attacked the NAACP for claiming the Tea Party had a problem with racism…) wrote this on his blog: "The animals of allah (terrorists) for whom any day is a great day for a massacre are drooling over the positive response that they are getting from New York City officials over a proposal to build a 13 story monument to the 9/11 Muslim hijackers. The monument would consist of a Mosque for the worship of the terrorists' monkey-god (repeat: "the terrorists' monkey-god." if you feel that fits a description of Allah then that is your own deep-seated emotional baggage not mine, talk to the terrorists who use Allah as their excuse and the Muslims who apologize for and rationalize them) and a cultural center" to propagandize for the extermination of all things not approved by their cult."
Even if the Muslim community center was being built next to Ground Zero (it isn't, it will be two blocks away), or even if it was actually a mosque, there would be nothing objectionable about it.
The terrorist attack on September 11, 2001 was among the most tragic events in our nation's history. Those responsible are evil and should be destroyed. But it was Al Qaeda that attacked the United States, not Islam. In fact Al Qaeda has almost certainly killed more Muslims than Americans. And we should not forget that American Muslims were among Al Qaeda's victims on 9/11.
Al Qaeda no more represents Islam than the pro-slavery theologians of the antebellum South, the Spanish Inquisition, anti-abortion murderer Scott Roeder, or the terrorists on either side of the conflict in Northern Ireland represent Christianity. Every religion has tenets that can be twisted to justify violence.
Just as important as the fact that Islam is not our enemy, is the fact that one of the pillars of American exceptionalism is our open society. In our country, people of all faiths have the right to practice their religion freely, without the government telling them whether or even where that is allowed. No government should pick and choose which religions are acceptable. America is and should remain a country that tolerates all types of people and all types of ideas. The Europeans might treat Muslims like second class citizens but this country should be better than that.
When he endorsed Barack Obama in 2008, General Colin Powell said "Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer is no. That's not America." I agree. Those who attack the plans to build the community center are not just attacking Muslim Americans; they are attacking what makes America great.
-Peter Sicher, Magazine Editor