The ‘Ground Zero Mosque’


in Politics

Blaming Islam for the September 11th attacks strikes me as both intellectually incorrect and tactically unintelligent. As such, interfering in the construction of an Islamic cultural centre near the former World Trade Center site in Lower Manhattan seems unjustified and inappropriate. That being said, it does seem that there are general characteristics of religion that played a role in the attacks: specifically, belief in a god with an interest in human affairs and belief in an afterlife. Both quite plausibly motivate people to do things to their fellow human beings that they would not, if they were convinced that ethics are entirely a matter of human thought and behaviour and that this one life on Earth is all we get to experience. People who believe that there is no god out there to please or offend – and who believe that death is the end for them – would probably be a lot less likely to kill their fellow human beings on the basis of religious motivations, and more hesitant to risk dying themselves in the process (though people have committed suicide attacks for non-religious reasons).

Of course, it would be politically impossible in the United States for a public figure hoping to get re-elected to say that religion in general could be a problem, and that it would be equally inappropriate (or appropriate) to build a mosque, synagogue, or other place of worship in this part of New York. As such, the minimum that can be done in the interests of equal treatment is not to block the building of the cultural centre, and in so doing blame an entire faith for the actions of a few fanatics, while at the same time targeting problematic beliefs within one faith that are also present in others which have not been singled out for criticism.

There are certainly forms of religion that do not generally incite or justify violence, but they tend to involve a fair bit of doubt: doubt that a single set of rules must be followed by everyone, doubt that a particular religious authority is always right, and a refusal to unconditionally accept religious teachings when they clash with reasoning or evidence.

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Captain Obvious August 19, 2010 at 1:11 pm

“People who believe that there is no god…would probably be a lot less likely to kill their fellow human beings on the basis of religious motivations”

. August 19, 2010 at 1:32 pm

“LIKE a doddery vicar meandering through a sermon, America’s politicians are groping their way toward a point of sorts about the proposed mosque near ground zero. The public, polls show, is against the idea, so they are too. But they are struggling to explain why.

A few, most notably Newt Gingrich and two Republican candidates for governor of New York, still maintain, in the face of all sound legal advice, that the backers of the Cordoba Islamic Center have no right to build it, in spite of the constitution’s protection of religious freedom and private property. Contrary to what Mr Gingrich says, in America, Nazis do have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust Museum in Washington; a Japanese citizen could unfurl a banner of the rising sun at Pearl Harbor and so on.”

“What strikes me, though, reading through essays and tweets against the mosque, is the sense of entitlement the opponents of the mosque have. Since America was hurt, they seem to believe, no one should dare probe at or around that hurt, lest it cause too much pain.

One of the things I love about America is that we probe. We over-share and we over-ask, and at times we can be tremendously offensive. But I think that because of our probing, we’re good at forgetting. There are no 900-year-old battles lost to the Ottoman Turks that still animate us as a nation. I can’t speak to those who lost loved ones on September 11th, those who feel a personal grief, but I can speak to the rest of us (including myself) who walked away with a sense of national grief: Don’t covet your grief like a precious thing, something that justifies your every whim. We don’t deserve not to be offended just because we got hurt. And just because we lost something doesn’t mean we get everything we want, or even deserve everything we want. Religious freedom is an American value. The freedom to offend is too.”

“No such plea of mitigation can be entered on behalf of Mr Gingrich. The former Republican speaker of the House of Representatives may or may not have presidential pretensions, but he certainly has intellectual ones. That makes it impossible to excuse the mean spirit and scrambled logic of his assertion that “there should be no mosque near ground zero so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia”. Come again? Why hold the rights of Americans who happen to be Muslim hostage to the policy of a foreign country that happens also to be Muslim? To Mr Gingrich, it seems, an American Muslim is a Muslim first and an American second. Al-Qaeda would doubtless concur.

Byron Smith August 19, 2010 at 2:05 pm

People who believe that there is no god out there to please or offend – and who believe that death is the end for them – would probably be a lot less likely to kill their fellow human beings on the basis of religious motivations
If you leave the final phrase out (as Captain Obvious has pointed out, perhaps it is a little redundant), is this still true? I don’t think so, given that some of the most murderous regimes of the 20thC were explicitly atheist. I don’t think that either “religion” or “irregilion” have any monopoly on violence (or irrationality for that matter).

alena August 19, 2010 at 2:09 pm

I think that this issue will force people to consider why they feel so strongly against the building of an Islamic center and also why it is so easy to blame Muslims and target them as culprits. The resulting dialogue will hopefully help at least some people realize the unfairness of their world view. In any case, I don’t think that religion has very much to do with the outcry. It is more a question of sensitivity and American pride that is the central issue here.

. August 19, 2010 at 2:13 pm

“Israel is our only hope as the post-American president is aiding and abetting a nuclear Iran. Barack Obama is enabling Iran’s Islamic bomb” – Pamela Geller
August 18, 2010 7:27 PM

As the “ground zero mosque” story approaches bipartisan consensus, thanks to unexpected statements by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (joining a growing opposition), several journalists trace the origins of how the Park 51 community center became(warning: CNN) a toxic subject. What they found was Pamela Geller, a blogger at Atlas Shrugs, who has some very interesting vlogs. You may previously know her from this cozy 2006 interview with Bush’s infamous anti-UN UN ambassador John Bolton.

mek August 19, 2010 at 2:18 pm

I think the most tragic aspect of this controversy is Harry Reid’s opposition to the mosque – he has no business in commenting as he’s a Nevada senator, has a responsibility of spokesman of the party, and should have at least a basic understanding of the constitution.

The most important thing to recognize is that this is another issue that has been successfully manufactured by a specific blogger, much like the Breitbart-generated ACORN and Shirley Sherrod scandals. In this case the responsible party is Pamela Geller, who has very significant ties to some extremist organizations. It’s become clear that the American mainstream media and especially cable news outlets exist only to be manipulated, and are no longer even resemble responsible journalists.

Matt August 19, 2010 at 3:32 pm

…and should have at least a basic understanding of the constitution.

He hasn’t claimed that they don’t have a right to build it. I don’t think constitutionality is factor in his comments. Rather, it’s electability. Whether or not the wisdom in that is misplaced is a different story.

mek August 19, 2010 at 6:23 pm

I wasn’t saying that his comments were themselves unconstitutional, but that:
-Their right to build the center is constitutionally enshrined
-The Senate is constitutionally forbidden from issuing a bill of attainder
-The Senate Majority Leader is specifically entrusted to speak as a representative of the Senate Majority party

That his comments were, regardless of his opinion, against the spirit of the Constitution and totally inappropriate. Especially given that they came after, and totally contradicted, Obama’s statement on the matter.

Alison August 19, 2010 at 7:04 pm

Opposing a Muslim community center because there have been murderers who are Muslim is a bit like opposing a church center because there have been Christian KKK members. It’s totally irrational to paint all the members of a religion with the same brush . It’s also against the Constitution to claim these people have no “right” to build. In the end I hope the values of community building, interfaith dialogue and understanding win out.

Matt August 19, 2010 at 7:45 pm


I didn’t think you were claiming his comments were unconstitutional. Rather, I was saying I don’t think Harry Reid is saying this group doesn’t have the constitutional right to build the mosque. He’s saying he thinks it’s insulting to want to build there, legal or not. The two issues are very different.

I don’t happen to agree with him, but I think it’s unfair to misrepresent him, as well.

mek August 20, 2010 at 6:14 pm

Unfortunately his comment was a brief “They should build it somewhere else.” So we can only guess as to the why; but, it’s definitely an irresponsible dictum.

. August 25, 2010 at 3:55 pm

“Emboldened by the crass nature of the opposition to the center, its defenders have started to talk as if it represented no problem at all and as if the question were solely one of religious tolerance. It would be nice if this were true. But tolerance is one of the first and most awkward questions raised by any examination of Islamism. We are wrong to talk as if the only subject was that of terrorism. As Western Europe has already found to its cost, local Muslim leaders have a habit, once they feel strong enough, of making demands of the most intolerant kind. Sometimes it will be calls for censorship of anything “offensive” to Islam. Sometimes it will be demands for sexual segregation in schools and swimming pools. The script is becoming a very familiar one. And those who make such demands are of course usually quite careful to avoid any association with violence. They merely hint that, if their demands are not taken seriously, there just might be a teeny smidgeon of violence from some other unnamed quarter …

As for the gorgeous mosaic of religious pluralism, it’s easy enough to find mosque Web sites and DVDs that peddle the most disgusting attacks on Jews, Hindus, Christians, unbelievers, and other Muslims—to say nothing of insane diatribes about women and homosexuals. This is why the fake term Islamophobia is so dangerous: It insinuates that any reservations about Islam must ipso facto be “phobic.” A phobia is an irrational fear or dislike. Islamic preaching very often manifests precisely this feature, which is why suspicion of it is by no means irrational.”

. August 31, 2010 at 2:54 pm

“So any legal measures that might be taken against Muslims or Islamic institutions based on their beliefs or teachings (rather than their actions) have to be weighed very, very carefully, lest those same measures one day be turned against Christians.

Well, it appears that day may have arrived in DuPage County, Illinois, where the County Board, after enduring repeated legal battles over proposed construction of mosques in fast-growing areas of the Chicago suburbs, is reportedly considering a total ban on all new construction of religious or fraternal institutions in unincorporated areas of the county.

You read that right, folks: the board may just decide to flat-out forbid construction of new parishes or synagogues, new parochial or Christian schools, new Knights of Columbus or American Legion halls, etc., as well as new mosques. The ordinance being proposed would allow existing congregations or fraternal organizations to expand current facilities, but would forbid construction of new institutions.”

. September 2, 2010 at 3:08 pm

“In New York, a man was indicted Monday for allegedly slashing a taxi driver on Aug. 25 after finding out the driver was a Muslim. In Tennessee, FBI agents are investigating a suspicious fire, apparently set Friday night, that damaged construction equipment at the planned site of a local Islamic center. In Seattle, a man was arrested last week for allegedly punching a convenience store clerk in the head and telling him, “You’re not even American, you’re al-Qaida.” And last week, a brick was thrown at the window of an Islamic center in California. Outside the building, somebody posted a warning: “No Temple for the god of terrorism at Ground Zero.”

Ground Zero was just the beginning. The case against a mosque there has shifted from extremism to Islam. Now Republicans say their no-mosque rule extends only to Ground Zero, or three blocks from Ground Zero, or whatever exclusion zone the majority feels is appropriate. But the fire of enmity has already spread from terrorism to religion. I don’t think New York can contain it.

oleh September 6, 2010 at 12:27 pm

I wonder if this controversy is largely a creation of media looking for a story which would create interest. There already was a mosque at that location. Ground Zero has such powerful memories in America. A story about Ground Zero creates interest, especially during the doldrums of summer when there is less news being generated by government policy.

. September 13, 2010 at 11:49 am

“So let me get this straight: A Florida minister who has fewer than 50 followers, doesn’t answer to any Christian organization, and doesn’t even know the other pastors in his town set off panic and violence around the world by holding hostage a few copies of the Quran. He withstood pleas from the National Association of Evangelicals, the World Evangelical Alliance, the U.S. secretary of state, and the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Then, in negotiations with an imam from Orlando, he agreed to surrender his hostages in exchange for what he thought was a deal to relocate a Manhattan mosque from its planned site near Ground Zero. But the imam in Manhattan said he had made no such deal and hadn’t even talked to the imam from Orlando. So now the minister says he was double-crossed and might burn his hostages after all.

Someday, perhaps after a few more Qurans, American flags, effigies, cars, and embassies have been torched, all of this will be sorted out. But for now, let’s be clear about one thing this crazy episode has proved: Nobody in it controls anybody else.

That’s more than a punch line. It’s a refudiation of the mentality that led us into this mess. Remember how the frenzy over the Manhattan community center started? Conspiracy theorists concocted a global Muslim plot to erect a “victory mosque” at Ground Zero. The Weekly Standard spun a diabolical web linking the imam behind the project to Hamas, the Gaza flotilla, Pakistani jihadists, and “the Iranian clerical dictatorship.” Newt Gingrich depicted the project as part of an insidious scheme to bring the United States under the control of Islamic law.

The bargain Jones thought he had struck—canceling the Quran burning in exchange for moving the community center—has been brewing as a moral-equivalence fantasy all week. Sarah Palin suggested it yesterday: “People have a constitutional right to burn a Koran if they want to, but doing so is insensitive and an unnecessary provocation—much like building a mosque at Ground Zero.” This morning, Gingrich chimed in, telling ABC’s Good Morning America that “it’s wrong to burn the Quran, and it’s wrong to build the mosque at Ground Zero, and both should be stopped.” This is a silly and insulting proposition. If I offered to cancel my Torah burning in exchange for you relocating your synagogue, you’d recognize my offer right away as extortion.

. September 29, 2010 at 12:07 pm

The Ground Zero Synagogue
Should Jews build a synagogue near a site of Jewish terrorism?
By William Saletan
Posted Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2010, at 8:49 AM ET

Imagine a place where Muslims were the victims, not the perpetrators, of the worst terrorist massacre in recent memory. Imagine, for example, that the killer was Jewish and that in the wake of his attack, on the very ground from which he had plotted it, they built a synagogue. How would today’s opponents of the “Ground Zero mosque” react? Would they condemn, with equal vigor, the “Ground Zero synagogue”?

We already know the answer, because the place I’m talking about isn’t imaginary. It’s Hebron, a city in the West Bank. The reason you haven’t heard about its new synagogue is that there has been no outcry. Apparently, the rule about keeping houses of worship at a respectful distance from scenes of terrorism is for Muslims only.

Hebron lies south of Jerusalem in the middle of Palestinian territory. Its holiest ground is the Cave of the Patriarchs, believed to be the burial site of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In 1929, Muslims slaughtered 67 Jews in Hebron. Just a month ago, they murdered four more. But the city’s worst terrorist attack in recent years took place in 1994, when Baruch Goldstein, a Jewish settler, went to the Cave of the Patriarchs, gunned down 29 Muslims who were praying there, and wounded more than 100 others.

Every sane Israeli has condemned Goldstein. But many settlers still admire him. They claim he was standing up for Jews, just as 9/11 apologists claim the hijackers were standing up for Muslims. A few months ago, some Jews in east Jerusalem were caught on video praising him. “Dr. Goldstein, we all love you,” they sang. “He aimed at terrorists’ heads, squeezed the trigger hard, and shot bullets, and shot, and shot.”

Kiryat Arba, the settlement from which Goldstein set out on that terrible day, lies about 1,500 feet from the scene of the massacre. That’s about twice the distance from Ground Zero to the site of the proposed Islamic community center in Manhattan. But unlike the community center, which is avowedly ecumenical with a memorial to the victims of 9/11, Kiryat Arba erected a monument to Goldstein. Every year, settlers assemble at his grave to thank him for smiting “the enemies of the Jews.”

The Israeli government reviles Goldstein’s crime. But it funds settlers more generously in Hebron than in any other city, and Kiryat Arba ranks third among all settlements in subsidies per capita. In February, around the anniversary of the 1994 tragedy, Israeli police and soldiers cleared a path so settlers could march in a Purim parade from Kiryat Arba to the Cave of the Patriarchs. A month ago, at Kiryat Arba’s request, Israel opened the holy site for Jewish worship 24 hours a day.

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