The proposed construction of a mosque near the site of the former World Trade Center has created a predictable furor. The wounds haven’t healed by any stretch of the imagination, and it certainly seems beyond insensitive to place a building that will, regardless of who was involved, serve as a reminder of the calloused, calculated terror that led to the attacks on the towers, their collapse, and the deaths of thousands of innocent people. The proposed mosque site is close enough that those who would visit the World Trade Center site would have trouble avoiding seeing it, or so I am told.
I’ve been to the WTC site just once, a brief moment, perhaps 15 minutes on a clear, cool Sunday afternoon in late April. I can’t describe the feeling I had just standing at that spot, with the images of the television news coverage going through my head. I had similar feelings when I visited the Murrah Federal Building site in Oklahoma City. So I can very clearly understand the kind of feelings that must come to the surface very easily for those who lost loved ones in that terror attack, and how they might feel about a mosque standing on ground so close by. I don’t know the motivation behind what seems to be stubborn insistence to proceed with something that will obviously cause emotional trauma to so many people.
There is a dilemna involved here. There is a deep religious prejudice at work which is expressing itself in righteous indignation over the construction of the mosque so close to the WTC site. The impetus of that is pushing for a decision to use whatever power is at their disposal to see that it doesn’t happen. In light of the tremendous emotion involved in the whole situation, that seems only fair, and to a lot of people, perhaps to a majority of Americans, it seems like the right thing to do. The problem is that we live in a constitutional republic which protects the rights of the minority from tyranny of the majority. An Islamic group wants to build a mosque on property they have aquired near the WTC site. The individuals in the group are not connected in any way to the terrorists who brought down the towers except that they happen to practice the same religion. There is no legal or constitutional reason why they should not be allowed to do so. Poor taste and insensitivity may get a reaction from people in a situation highly charged with emotion like this one is, but they aren’t doing anything illegal or unconstitutional.
But I think there is an entirely different way of thinking about this. Remember Karl Marx?
I thought that would get your attention.
Marx is the father of modern communism. Communist governments are among the most repressive in the world when it comes to the exercize of individual rights. Religious activity is not only forbidden, but those who refuse to abandon it are persecuted by being arrested, tortured, exiled or executed. Free speech is absolutely out of the question. And yet Marx, whose ideas and philosophy led to this very kind of thing being implemented by a number of governments around the world, wrote his works and expressed his ideas in England, a country which, though it embodied a kind of government and sense of individual rights exactly the opposite of Marx’s theories, was free enough for him to settle there and write them without fear of repression.
In what other country in the world do the protections of human rights extend to the point of allowing a mosque to sit in close proximity to a national shrine dedicated to the freedoms and individual rights that the terrorists were attempting to repress and destroy? Muslims in America are free to build mosques and worship wherever they please, just like the members of any and all other relgious groups. A mosque sitting so close to a place where an act of terror sparked as much emotion and nationalist feeling as the attack on Pearl Harbor would proclaim, as clearly and succinctly as anything else could do, that Americans value their freedom more than anything else. Suspending the constitutional rights of the members of a mosque, even because of the emotion and public opinion surrounding the 9-11 attacks would be no different than the repression of Christian missionary activity that goes on in most predominantly muslim countries. And if some muslims can be prevented from building a mosque where they want to build it, how long will it be before churches are restricted from public places and attempts made to take away the rights of believers, simply because someone else finds them distasteful?
We should not compromise our principles to satisfy our anger.