A controversy askew

By Wendell P. Simpson, BASN Contributor
Updated: August 18, 2010

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LONDON (BASN) — This week, more than one billion Muslims around the world have begun the observance of Ramadan, a month long period of fasting and prayer intended to reflect the Islamic virtues of patience, humility and spirituality.

In New York City, this holy month will be celebrated amidst a controversy that reflects anything but humility or the better angels of the American nature.

A battle over consecrated ground has erupted as an American Muslim organization moves forward with plans to build a mosque/community center in lower Manhattan, two blocks from the site of the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks.

In the wake of a decision last week by a local community board that voted 29-1 in favor of the project, angry protestors and relatives of 9/11 victims who have deemed the WTC site as a holy place, say that the planned mosque defiles the memory of those victims.

Proponents of the mosque have countered protestor arguments, saying that values of equality and religious freedom demand that the building of the mosque be allowed to progress, and that acquiescence to our baser impulses becomes a victory for the terrorists.

And, in the meantime, while the atmosphere in the country has become charged with xenophobic angst over issues such as immigration, and the culture wars that portend our contentious political and social discourse, the arguments for and against the venture has assumed broader political and socio-cultural dimensions.

During a press conference held earlier last week, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced his support for the mosque, weighing in with a fierce defense of core American principles.

“Democracy is stronger than this,” said Bloomberg. “The ability to practice your religion was one of the reasons America was founded in the first place, and for us to just say ‘no’ is just not appropriate.”

“You do not want the government picking religions because, what do you do the day they don’t pick yours?”

Reverend Robert Chase, founder and spokesperson of the New York City-based interfaith organization, Intersections, also came out in support of the mosque. “It’s a really positive example of how we Americans can truly move beyond a tragedy like 9/11,” said Chase.

In opposition, all of the usual suspects lined up to cast their lots on the side of reaction and bombast. Newt Gingrich called the mosque “an assertion of Islamic triumphalism”.

Former NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani called it a “desecration of ground zero”. And Sarah Palin, the Grand Dragoness of Ku Klux Ku-ku-ism, became so disturbed by this “stab in the heart” that she called on ‘reasonable’ Muslims to “refudiate (her word)” the project.

Even the Anti-Defamation League, an organization that says it exists in order to ‘counteract hatred, intolerance and bigotry’, and which really ought to know better than to start stoking anti-Semitic fears and religious antagonisms, issued a statement that read, in part, “…in our judgment, building an Islamic Center in the shadow of the World Trade Center will cause some victims more pain — unnecessarily — and that is not right.”

The opposition in this case has clearly refused to make and acknowledge several critical distinctions germane to religion, to this particular conflict, and to fundamental American principles.

First, war is never, ever about religion. Religion only serves as pretext. It, along with narrow nationalism, usually inextricably linked, serve as the artificial means by which powerful factions with very specific political and imperialist agendas are able to foment the kind of rage, hostility, indignation and zealotry that compels young men to sign up and die for what they falsely believe is a ‘noble cause.’

The 9/11 attacks were not about Islam. They were launched as a response to an American foreign policy paradigm that, for more than sixty years, has had horrific consequences for the people of the Middle East — most of whom just happen to be Muslims.

Was Islam hijacked for expediency’s sake? Yeah! But no more so than Christianity, ‘borrowed’ by the likes of Eric Prince and his merry band of pseudo Crusaders, mercenaries whose holiest mission was about protecting imperialist interests — like Iraqi oil fields and the no-bid contracts awarded to him and the rest of his cadre of connected sycophants.

“When will Americans come to see that the never-ending terrorist crisis — along with the concomitant loss of our civil liberties — is rooted in U.S. imperialism and intervention rather than in religion?” asks Jacob Hornberger, founder of the Future of Freedom Foundation, in a recent column.

Then there is the issue of the First Amendments. Bloomberg’s interpretation of the Founding Fathers’ intentions is straight out of the law, to wit, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

Only a generation or so removed from religious persecution in Europe, these men were so profoundly concerned about the preservation of the principles of religious freedom, the rights of assembly and freedom of expression that they seared those features into law from jump street, from amendment one.

The constitutional intent is clear: Religion cannot be a factor in the public discourse — one way or the other.

And finally, if America succumbs to fear, bigotry and reaction in response, then the terrorist prevail, the schism they set out to create takes root, and all of the sublime principles for which so many Americans have fought and died for — both domestically and abroad — are rendered moot.

Because one of the conversations that nobody here seems interested in having is that the organization behind the mosque, the Cordoba Initiative, is comprised of American citizens who, again, happen to be Muslim, and who have chosen to express their religion in line with their rights as explicitly spelled out in the U.S. Constitution.

Those who oppose them are in opposition to both the letter and the spirit of the law. They advocate for the usurpation of the rights of American citizens. That makes their intent criminal. It also puts them in conflict with America’s loftiest, most generous and egalitarian traditions and ideals — and that makes their cause treasonous.