Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | August 17, 2010

Can American values triumph over fear and ignorance?

The shockingly un-American and depressingly shortsighted opposition to plans to build a mosque and Islamic community center in lower Manhattan — near ground zero, not at ground zero, despite what some right-wing fear mongers want you to believe — conjures memories of local opposition to a similar project proposed for bucolic San Martin.

In South County, we heard objections like these:

• “It is naïve to think that [Muslims] have no ulterior motive for establishing themselves in the U.S.” ~ Nancy Murphy, San Martin, in a letter to the editor

• “I do not wish for me and my family to be converted to Islam, nor do I wish for us to be slain.” ~ Scott Thompson, San Martin, in a guest column

• “You wouldn’t give your house keys to a burglar or your gun to a murderer. Why then would you give a foothold in our community to a group that wants to destroy our way of life? … These don’t sound like good neighbors.” ~ Andrew Serrano, Morgan Hill, in a letter to the editor

Now, anti-mosque opposition, also based on fear and ignorance, is being spewed from the national stage by people like Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, John Boehner and others.

Palin, Gingrich, Boehner and many other lower Manhattan mosque opponents like to paint themselves as strict constitutionalists, strong personal property rights advocates and passionate religious freedom defenders. But their opposition to the lower Manhattan mosque directly contradicts those claims.

I don’t know how they tolerate the cognitive dissonance, except perhaps that they’ve turned off the ability to think.

Some who oppose the mosque at least acknowledge that they have no constitutional or other legal grounds for their objections. However, they wish the mosque’s developers were “sensitive” about the significance of ground zero. But that position requires false assumptions:

• That all Muslims support and are responsible for the events of Sept. 11, 2001. If you believe that, you must also believe, for example, that all Catholics support and are responsible for the rape and molestation of children by Catholic priests. If you don’t agree with the latter, you can’t agree with the former — unless you’re a raging hypocrite, that is.

• That everyone who died at ground zero would have opposed the construction of a mosque a few blocks away. This assumption ignores the fact that that Muslims, for example, were among the victims on Sept. 11, and improperly presumes viewpoints that we cannot know about the other victims. It also ignores the families of Sept. 11 victims who support the mosque.

• That some nebulous area around ground zero is hallowed or sacred ground. It ignores the fact that the lower Manhattan mosque site is a few blocks from ground zero on a parcel of land that was most recently home to a Burlington Coat Factory store. It’s hardly “hallowed” ground, unless you worship TJ Maxximus, the god of deeply discounted retail shopping.

As New York Times columnist Clyde Haberman noted, the area near ground zero is also home to a “strip joint, a porno store and a government-run bookie operation. No one has organized demonstrations to denounce those activities as defiling the memory of the men and women who died a few hundred yards away.”

The reason these disrespectful, insensitive uses go unnoticed is clear: Opposition to the lower Manhattan mosque isn’t about respect or sensitivity. Opposition to this mosque ignores the Constitution and core American values. Opposition to this mosque is about fear, ignorance and anti-Muslim bigotry.

I hope in the cases of the lower Manhattan and San Martin mosques that core American values like religious freedom, personal property rights, equal treatment under the law and separation of church and state triumph.

These values triumphed in Hawaii, where there’s a Shinto shrine near Pearl Harbor. As Illinois Wesleyan University religion professor James Whitehurst pointed out in a 1984 Christian Century article that lauds the shrine’s location, “It was Shinto, the native religion of Japan, that had not only given its wholehearted support to the war machine but had provided its very rationale: the myths and legends that led directly to the kamikaze pilots.”

Whitehurst calls the shrine an “only in America sight” and details the ways that Shinto followers and Americans benefit from the peaceful co-existence that the shrine near Pearl Harbor embodies.

The choice is clear: Mutual benefit and advancement of core American principles by supporting these mosques or handing a victory to the terrorists of Sept. 11 and their supporters by opposing them.

Let’s choose wisely.

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