Yesterday, I facebook-linked to a Yahoo! News article about Imam Rauf’s statement that the site of the proposed Muslim community center was not sacred ground, and it wound up kicking off a debate between two highly articulate and passionate individuals on my friends list – both of whom were coming from equally committed perspectives on different sides of the fence. Divorced from immediacy (the conversation played out over several hours, each person had time to phrase their points as they wished, and perhaps most importantly, the conversation wasn’t interrupted along the way), they disagreed on Park51’s symbolism, on the intentions of its Imam, and on the responsibility America had to the rest of the world in its handling of the situation. Edit: The conversation has been posted here, with the permission of those involved.
Ultimately, they were able to find a point where they found they could empathize with one another and understand where the other was coming from.
It made me wonder: in the Great Mosque Debate, are the two sides really speaking to one another’s points? Or is actual debate being obfuscated by endlessly interjected sound-byte opinions?
I wanted to dissect the positions and the issues, as I see them, and would invite debate/discussion on the topic in the comments. Welcome to my dissection.
In the debate over whether or not a Muslim community center should be built at ground zero, there are two basic points of view that I’ve personally encountered:
The pro-community-centre argument is based on the idea that the congregation has a right to build their center, and that this mosque is a flash-point that represents years of the Christian Right’s influence over politics and lifestyle choices. It’s a point where the left can speak up for the values that represent America to them: freedom of religion, and freedom of opportunity for everyone. On this side, the argument goes something like this: “The Constitution guarantees a separation of church and state, and anything that impedes this is intolerant and wrong. Therefore, the group has the right to build the community center, and standing in their way is contrary to the spirit of American tolerance.”
On the anti-ground-zero-mosque side, I have not personally met* any person who disputes that the group has a Constitutionally guaranteed right to build the center. What I have heard are many voices arguing that what we have a right to do, and what we choose to do to those around us, aren’t always exactly the same thing. (Actually, if we were required to take “rights” as “musts,” our lives would be as proscribed as if we had no rights at all.)
On this anti-mosque side of the argument, the position I’ve encountered is that it’s inconsiderate and selfish of Imam Rauf and his congregation not to have immediately offered/agreed to change the location of their community center, now that they have a clear picture of how many people are so strongly affected by the place they have chosen. This side asks, how can it be humane for those who have been deeply and personally affected to have to feel the pain of knowing the mosque is there? If Islam is as peaceful as the Left’s been telling them all these years, then why is this small community causing them so much pain? If the site’s not inherently connected to the religion that will be practiced within its walls, shouldn’t the right to build there be tempered by the desire not to cause other people unnecessary injury or upset? (Ultimately, every conversation I’ve had with someone against Park51’s being built has boiled down to this point, no matter how inarticulate their initial rage.)
There are additional issues which grow from these two – what about the Quran passage that symbolizes a connection between an Islamic victory and a new prayer center? Should the congregation agree to move their location, how could we communicate Park51’s being moved in a way that is not perceived, among extremists from Al Qaeda and other fundamentalist terrorist groups, as “the great white Satan” throwing its weight around once more? Is it catering to the desires of terrorists to even allow this question to come into the picture, or is it simply being pragmatic in the face of today’s globalized culture? But these are the two basic positions I’ve encountered, by those who live in close enough physical proximity to have been there, and been overheard, on 9/11, or those who care enough about the issue to engage in conversation about it in my “presence,” online.
While there are certainly wider-ranging issues of racism and Islamophobia in America, when it has come down to witnessing personal conversations between individuals who feel they have a vested interest in the site (some lost relatives in the 9/11 attack, some have been watching from afar for almost ten years as America waged what they felt were illegal wars), these two sides of the debate are the ones I have encountered personally while discussing the issue with friends and relatives, as well as when I spent time at Ground Zero on 9/11, listening to people on the site voicing their opinions.**
To borrow from Gene Roddenberry, when do the needs of the many – those who feel personally hurt by the building of this community center so close to the site of the 9/11 attacks – outweigh the needs of the few – those who want to build a house of worship nearer to their homes and jobs? Change your perspective; consider the “many” to be the entire population of the planet, and the few to be those – on both sides – who are using this debate as a political football to gain airtime and further any agenda that doesn’t have nonviolently-achieved peace as an end goal.
Maybe it’s time to stop listening to the pundits and the politicians, and start listening to each other.
The original Yahoo article I linked to can be read here.
*as of initial posting
**Additional camps also exist; the one I’ve encountered most has been International bystanders, who have been made to feel impotent in their dealings with America for years, watching what they perceive as American fundamentalist Christians (and by this I do not mean all Americans or all Christians who are anti-Mosque; I refer specifically to those who would incite or use violence or the threat of violence, to impress their will, based on their religious beliefs, upon those who do not freely choose to follow that religion) bullying anyone who doesn’t agree into succumbing to their point of view. In this International point of view, fundamentalist Christians have used violence and threats of violence (whether explicit or implied) to achieve victories in the cases of WalMart censorship of musical lyrics, Texan schoolbooks, Prop 8’s passage, the murder of a Muslim cab driver in NYC…and that’s not even bringing George Bush and his economic, international and political policies into the mix. In other words, there are a small group of extremists who’ve been bullying and frightening the rest of their country into allowing the persecution of non-mainstream cultural groups. This camp is calling on Americans to wake up and smell the coffee, step in, and live by the words our country was founded on. No wonder this camp is angry; as citizens of countries other than the USA, they have been disenfranchised in a matter that could, potentially, affect them severely through the complex web of globalized international relationships. Congratulation, fellow Millennials, and congratulations to our younger sibs in the iGeneration. Disney’s been priming us to live in a Small World our whole lives; with instant uploads and global conversation, we’re about to learn that living in a Small world means finding compromises everybody can live with.