One of the more intriguing topics to come up for debate in this election cycle is the issue of “Park51,” more commonly referred to as the “Ground Zero Mosque.” Despite President Obama’s insistence that his presidency would represent an ascension past the culture wars that have defined American politics since the founding of the nation, this has become the flashpoint issue for 2010.
Like most cultural issues, this one pits two core American values in opposition to one another: our first amendment rights to congregate freely and the freedom from having one group impose its values on any other, as described in the ninth amendment.
Under the First Amendment, the members of the Cordoba Initiative certainly have the right to peaceably assemble, to worship their god and to disseminate information about their beliefs. Those are their stated reasons for wanting to build their edifice virtually on top of the Twin Towers site. They say that they want to foster an understanding of Islam as a religion of peace, not terror. In other words, by building on the site they have selected they hope to heal the wounds many feel are directly causal from an intractable religious dogma that preaches the destruction of all things and people not Muslim. In the Cordoba’s view, that opinion of Islam is distorted and incorrect. But in their attempted healing gesture, they are demonstrating an incredible callousness towards the very society they hope to inform.
What they forgot is that for most Americans, our only exposure to Islam is what we’ve seen on TV, and foremost among those images is the image of the Twin Towers collapsing to the ground – and the Muslim world celebrating the wound inflicted upon the “Great Satan.” 9/11 was not an attack by one nation on another – unlike any assault since the Middle Ages; this was purely a religious war being waged by Muslims acting in the name of Allah. Even if the impression upon our nation is incorrect and this is merely one sect of the religion striking out at their perceived enemy, there are better ways to inform the American public than by pouring salt into the wound. Of course, it isn’t the first time the leader of the Cordoba sect has demonstrated an incredible lack of sense when speaking to the his adopted country: this is the same Imam who, in the days immediately after 9/11, essentially blamed the US for the attack. He is also on record attacking Israel and defending Hamas, to the point of helping sponsor the June provocation.
By refusing to reconsider their position, the Cordoba Initiative ignored the nation they are hoping to educate and thereby, gain further assimilation. It shouldn’t be that difficult for them: suppose a group of extremist Lutherans attacked Mecca? And then the Catholic Church built a large cathedral on the site? Would the Islamic world understand the differences between Christianity, radical Lutheranism and Catholicism? Most likely not – and the local bishop would be considered an idiot if he were to expect any local support.
By stepping into the middle of this muddle, the President turned up the heat on the issue. Perhaps he meant to. Perhaps he miscalculated. Either way, the mosque became definitive of a larger issue; namely, how does a subset of American culture successfully integrate into the mainstream? Is it through legal channels or gradual acceptance? It seems the left wing of the American body politic, as it often does, chose the method of legality: of asserting one constitutional right over another. In so doing, both they and the Cordoba’s have turned their mosque into a temple of rights vs. right and given the nation a new wedge issue. By embracing the intransigent side of the debate, the President has assured his party will bear yet another millstone on their way to the November elections.