Aug 26, 2010

Why oppose the Islamic cultural center near the WTC site?

It isn't surprising that there has been a torrent of anger and violence in response to plans to build an Islamic cultural center that includes an area set aside for prayer within two blocks of the World Trade Center site.

What is surprising is that the heated reactions did not occur until July.

Plans for the Islamic center were released in December 2009 with hardly a peep in protest. Feisel Abdul Rauf, a moderate sufi cleric and peace activist is currently imam at Masjid al-Farah, a long-standing mosque in New York City that is also mere blocks away from the WTC site. Since buying what will be called Park 51, the site of the proposed cultural center, In July 2009, Friday prayers have occurred there in what was once the site of a Burlington Coat Factory.

People are protesting a mosque that already exists - for you don't need a dome, a minaret, or anything special to create a mosque, just a clean building with some hint for observant Muslims of what direction Mecca is in. That's it.

So where did this controversy come from?

The Republican Party. It is no coincidence that the controversy did not erupt until mere weeks before a general election that could very well decide the balance of power in the US House and Senate. After reading polling data that shows a majority of mis-informed Americans oppose the construction of a mosque at Ground Zero - the actual site of the attacks, the GOP started to spin the proposed cultural center as a new mosque built upon the very ruins of the twin towers - a total lie construed to take advantage of bigotry and racist anger.

It doesn't help that ideologues like Sarah Palin have been consistent in their opposition of the mosque, while more rational leaders like President Obama have been lukewarm or non-committal in their support.

Both would do well to remember that there is no constitutional or legal recourse to prevent the building of the mosque. We should be celebrating and honoring the rights of religious groups and property owners. The GOP is still calling themselves the party that supports the rights of private property owners, right?


Roger Ebert may be the only voice of reason left in this country.

Strangely enough, between 9/11 and today hundreds of mosques have been built in the United States. Many of them have been by peaceful men like Mr. Abdul Rauf (who was actually an anti-terrorism consultant for the FBI and a contributor to Fox News and the Bush Administration- IRONY!)

It is only now that widespread opposition to building Islamic cultural centers and mosques has come front-and-center to our national attention. Here in Kentucky there is now, suddenly, widespread opposition to the construction of new mosques when there was none before.

What's changed?

Our president.

Ihsan Bagby, Islamic Studies professor at the University of Kentucky, draws the parallel between rabid Islamophobia and the racist Republican response to the election and presidency of Barack Obama.

"I really feel this rise in temperature against Muslims is somehow tied to the discomfort of segments of our country with (President Barack) Obama. Feeling that something has gone wrong, that at least 50 percent of the country voted for this black man.

There are significant pockets that are very uncomfortable with that. And I think that they can't whip on African-Americans. That is no longer tolerated. You can do it privately, but they can't get away with it publicly.

But you can get away with bashing Muslims and you can get away with bigotry towards Muslims. I almost feel like Muslims are a scapegoat here."

It is no coincidence that the old debate over the president's religion resurfaced simultaneously to the mosque debate. This is all about channeling racist anger into electoral politics, and it is clear what party is playing this dangerous and disgusting game.

Time for all of us who thought great progress was made in the election of President Obama to shuffle back to the drawing board.

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