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Ground zero mosque promotes healing, understanding

It’s not about freedom of religion, say the critics: it’s about appropriateness.

The recent controversy surrounding proposals for the Cordoba House, a Muslim community center near the site of the Sept. 11 World Trade Center attacks, is the latest in a series of political non-issues to dominate headlines.

Commentators have expressed fear that the mosque may be pouring salt in the open wound of those who lost loved ones on that day.

Newt Gingrich urges us not to be more religiously tolerant than Saudi Arabia, pointing to that nation’s lack of churches and synagogues. How noble of American intellectuals to urge us to wait for the more intolerant to catch up before we decide to open any more doors for our own minorities.

The planners of the community center and New York governor David Paterson will meet Monday to discuss plans to move the site elsewhere, according to the New York Daily News.

But it’s a pity they are forced to turn the other cheek while self-righteous Christians go, as they often do, on the warpath.

The mosque is one more textbook example of the way leaders of a society operate to maintain their privilege: keep the other people fighting amongst one another. Who has time to blame corporations for America’s ills when there are so many Muslims, illegal immigrants, blacks and homosexuals screwing things up?

Naturally, the mosque will not be built on Ground Zero. Several ludicrous comparisons have been made — to some it’s apparently like building a sushi restaurant at Pearl Harbor.

It’s obvious the mosque will move, and I make that prediction with the utmost sadness and regret. Contrary to conservative predictions of the mosque’s ramifications, there may be no better way to bridge a cultural divide and encourage a healing process and ferment understanding than building the mosque. Throughout this controversy, one voice seems conspicuously absent: the voice of 9/11 victims. Surely there must be difference of opinion among them, but it seems unlikely to me that any great majority of them sit around and stew with hatred for Muslims.

Thanks in large part to the huge growth in conservative commentary, the idea that Muslims are the enemy has become pounded into many Americans’ heads. 

At the time I took the poll — about 1:30 p.m. Aug. 17 — the lead answer on the NY Daily News’ poll, “Is opposition to the building of a mosque near Ground Zero intolerant?”, was “Yes — it’s pure religious bigotry against Muslims,” with 66 percent of the vote.

Opponents of the mosque are probably in a significant minority. They are just a vocal minority. In the late 1960s, Richard Nixon referred to traditional, conservative Americans as the “silent majority.” Nothing could be further from the truth — they are the most vocal minority.

So effective have they been that they have completely altered the dialogue on the issue. What is being debated in the press is the “Ground Zero Mosque” — not the Muslim community center several blocks away from Ground Zero. By shifting the debate to one about a “Ground Zero Mosque,” the right can conjure up images in the minds of fearful Americans of Islamic extremists preaching to their devoted American followers, “This is the site of our greatest success. We must strike again.”

Which is, of course, ludicrous. The threat from Muslim extremists is obviously minimal. True, they did succeed just nine short years ago in hijacking airplanes and killing thousands of Americans. And we responded by loading up our own planes (we didn’t have to hijack them) and striking Afghanistan and Iraq with incredible violence, toppling the governments and installing our own ruthlessly inept and corrupt “democracies.”

Islam actually has little to do with the elite agenda. What the issue is about, of course, is redirecting blame for America’s ills to a couple of easy targets, targets historically undeserving of white Americans’ trust.

Muslims are no more responsible for the bombing at the World Trade Center than Christians are responsible for the Oklahoma City Bombing or numerous attacks on abortion clinics.

What strikes me most about the attacks is the archaic nature of a religious war and the naïve, nanny-state language of commentators. At the same time the right is concerned about a rapid expansion of government, they are worried Americans won’t be able to properly grieve if the mosque is constructed and are encouraging the government to intervene on behalf of the mosque’s opponents. Such protectionism is the kind of thing conservatives ought to be fighting against.

The whole issue is probably mere distraction. As reports of disease related to the Gulf oil spill come pouring in, President Obama embarrassingly bends over backwards to help make BP look good by swimming in the poisoned waters with his daughter. And, of course, there are still countless other issues pundits and politicians would rather we not think about and which are not going well, at least not from any moral viewpoint: our illegal wars in the Middle East, the massive intelligence infrastructure slowly being uncovered, the sad unlikelihood of real jobs and wages returning to America in the near future, and so on. 

But perhaps there is something more sinister going on. It is likely the situation will be defused by the Cordoba House planners’ cooler heads deciding to voluntarily move it, but chalk it up as a victory for the religious and fanatical far right of America. It certainly won’t be a victory for understanding or tolerance.

Kyle is a University alumnus. This is an excerpt from his blog. For more blog entries, visit www.open.salon.com/blog/kyleschmidlin.

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