I’m a religious person. I consider myself a Christian, not because I believe in some stock credo that Jesus died for my sins but because I believe he died, bravely, for his beliefs. His unwillingness to give into fear and loathing, even unto death, inspires me and always will. But, this is not a religious issue.
I’m an unapologetic liberal. I believe in and defend all the issues important to any good little liberal--a homosexual’s right to marry, a woman’s right to an abortion, and the right for all Americans to have basic health care, to name a few. I don’t believe that taxation is necessarily evil or that walls should keep out Mexicans. But, this is not a political issue.
It’s an American issue. The current hullabaloo over the Muslim center being built near Ground Zero has deeply disturbed me, as an American. I feel for the peaceful Muslims in NYC who long for a quiet and dignified space in which to worship and convene. I feel for those who compassionately support their fellow Americans’ right to this space. I feel for all of us who were traumatized by watching thousands of innocent people be terrorized and then ultimately killed in the twin towers’ collapse.
We Americans have been running scared since that terrible day in September, nine years ago. Currently, we don’t need to be reminded that all we have to fear is fear itself. We are not the World War II generation, isolated from the world and skittish about entering a global conflict. For better or for worse, we now literally attack problems. And, unfortunately, one another.
Currently, there are two camps pitted against each other concerning the Muslim center’s position near Ground Zero. The first perspective is that, as Americans, Christian or Muslim, liberal or conservative, if we start to place restrictions on a citizen’s right to practice his or her religion freely, we invalidate the Constitution and indeed, our core American beliefs. This is fact. If we eschew our core national beliefs, the radicals have “won”. This is not an irrational fear. Every American should sit up, pay attention and acknowledge this as a legitimate threat to our national identity.
There are others who believe that Ground Zero is “hallowed ground”. To place a mosque in this area dredges up our worst fear that we will be attacked from the inside. Many people who oppose this building are being labeled as xenophobic zealots and/or anti-Islamists--people who think that Islam is out to destroy Christianity and thus “American values”. Surely, there are a few of these folks in the debate but, as a whole, I respectfully disagree. I think the vast majority of those who are voicing doubts about this structure are just afraid.
For example, I read a recent blog that took issue with Sarah Palin’s assertion that Ground Zero is a “hallowed” space by pointing out that the surrounding area is also home to “profane” delights such as adult entertainment, gambling and fast-food franchises. In the blogger's defense, I also distrust Ms. Palin’s reasoning and intentions. However, the author might also be missing the point that for many Americans, this “hallowed space” is not in the physical blocks surrounding the site--it’s firmly fixed in our emotional memory. Fear is a natural and logical response to a known danger. It is not political.
Make no mistake about it, radical Muslims live in the U.S., train in the U.S. and are constantly trying to gain access to this country in order to destroy it. This is a fact. They are becoming astute at infiltrating moderate communities. Although we shouldn’t think that blocking the center will protect us from terror, we also ought not to gloss over the obvious: Radical Muslims will stop at nothing to destroy us, our families and our friends. This is also not an “irrational” fear.
So, we are caught between two scenarios, equally terrifying. One allows complete religious freedom but could arguably allow enemies into our house to attempt to destroy it. The other doesn’t include all Americans in the “pursuit of happiness” and therefore encourages our enemies to start disassembling the house, brick by brick. We could just continue to point fingers at one another. We could throw up our hands in frustration and disgust. Or, we could stop a moment and acknowledge each other’s fears as legitimate.
I sincerely believe that this “war” will not be won in the dusty foreign terrain of the Middle East, but rather, here, in the fractured American psyche. If we are weak today, it neither has anything to do with the strength of one religion over another in our country nor which political party is in power. It’s because we refuse to acknowledge one another’s legitimate fears, discuss them intelligently and then purposefully act on them. We can be accepting of religious diversity AND recognize that extremists might be hiding in the shadows of our freedoms. To be eternally vigilant and protective of our freedoms, we must start to work together for each other.
Recently, moderate Muslims in New Jersey heroically ousted (and reported to the FBI) a young man from their faith, who, despite counseling, still became radicalized. I would expect the same out of Christians if one of their believers were plotting to bomb an abortion clinic. If moderate Muslims continue to seriously ramp up the information about their faith and their efforts to discourage radical thinking among their believers, those among them wishing to do evil will be driven from the shadows. Other Americans, religious or not, could also begin or continue to build strong and lasting ties to moderate Muslim communities. In this way, perhaps our national fear could be neutralized…our national identity solidified, in this little space in Manhattan.
If so, it truly will become sacred ground.