Saturday, August 14, 2010

Just Because You Can Doesn't Mean You Should

You're probably familiar with the controversy surrounding the building of a mosque at ground zero an Islamic Cultural Center two blocks away from ground zero. Why is it such a big deal?

The main reason that I keep hearing, either on tv, from online articles, or in user comments, is that it's insensitive. Constitutionally, yeah, it's unstoppable, but emotionally, it just doesn't feel right, or it will ruin ground zero's "sanctity." And in numerous explanations of why it's insensitive, I've heard something along the lines of, 'It makes the families if 9/11 victims in NYC feel bad,' or 'They know it offends yet they're still going along with it anyway.'

But that is not what the question's asking, so I find these answers frustrating. They're basically saying, "I feel bad about it because others feel bad about it." To ask more pointedly: what exactly about 9/11 should trigger negative emotions about an Islamic Cultural Center?

Perhaps I can understand a person's initial discomfort with the construction a mosque near ground zero. My initial perception of it was that a mosque was going to be built on the actual ground zero site, thanks to exaggerations in the news, which didn't sit right with me at all, and probably wouldn't have for any building. But I think it's safe to say the negative emotions stirred up in people came from ignorance, fear, and habit. Not every American's first associated images with Islam are necessarily positive. But if people stop and imagine what an Islamic Cultural Center would look like in NYC, two blocks from Ground Zero, dwarfed by other large buildings, and imagine what the people are actually like who are trying to build it, I can't imagine it as appearing as profound or disruptive as so many people are trying to cast it. There is no reason behind this fear.

The bottom line is that there shouldn't be negative emotions stirred up by the Center in the first place, even if they were stirred up-- American Muslims died in 9/11, extremists don't represent the vast majority of Islam, not all Muslims are responsible for what happened on 9/11, 9/11 wasn't entirely religious, and so on. Muslims are Americans just like anyone else in the country and have the right to practice their religion. It's really not an interesting argument. Yet it almost seems like certain people, be it politicians or media figures, want to defend this unnecessary outrage and unfair, unjustifiable association of the average Muslim with terrorists, as if it's righteous instead of prejudiced. The backlash should be condemned, and the onus should be on the public, not Imam Rauf.

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