The proposed construction of a mosque two blocks from Ground Zero has reached “scorching” on the hot-button scale of controversy. Political conservatives almost uniformly oppose the mosque, arguing that it encroaches too closely onto the sacred soil where thousands of Americans were killed by Muslim extremists. More moderate and liberal folk, including President Obama, say the issue is a matter of religious freedom and point out that it was fanatical members of Al Qaida, not Muslims in general, who carried out the attacks.
Opponents of the planned mosque, people who often like to fly the flag of patriotism, are hurting their cause and their country with their ill-conceived opposition. I suggest several things to consider:
1. Violent extremist groups such as Al Qaida recruit true believers by convincing them that Americans hate Muslims. The rabid opposition some have shown to the mosque’s construction plays into their hands and works to the extremists’ favor.
2. Any number of violent, senseless, and terroristic acts have been undertaken in the name of Christianity. Untold thousands of Muslims (and people thought to look like Muslims) were killed during the Crusades, including women and children. The Ku Klux Klan, which brought a reign of terror to blacks in the American South, claimed to be Christian. Even domestic terrorists like Timothy McVeigh, who carried out the Oklahoma City bombing, were strongly influenced by supposedly Christian beliefs. Arguing that a mosque near Ground Zero is an offense to the “hallowed ground” where the attacks took place, if followed to its logical conclusion, suggests that churches located near places where Christian-related acts of violence were committed should be torn down. That would include all the majestic churches built by the Crusaders to symbolize Christianity conquering the Muslim world.
3. Have you been to the neighborhood near Ground Zero lately? If anything, a new mosque would be an improvement over the bars, strip clubs, and porn shops that now populate the area. Do those honor the dead?
4. America is indeed built on a foundation of religious freedom. If the people who want to build the mosque own the land and meet the local zoning requirements and building codes, they have the right to build a mosque, or a temple, or a synagogue, or a church — and denying that right is just wrong.
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.