Ever since my original post on the controversy surrounding the construction of a supposed “mosque” (I will explain the quotations later in this piece), I have had several conversations with friends and relatives, both in favor of and against the project. I want to take advantage of this space to respond to some of the criticisms I have heard as well as reiterate some of the points I made in my original post as I feel they are important to emphasize.

First is my response to the critique I seem to continually come across from people opposed to the “mosque” who say that my opposition to their opposition is somehow infringing upon their right to be against it. My guess is that this is rooted in opponents dissatisfaction with being called either “ignorant,” “racist,” or both. Neither in my original post, nor in my subsequent writings and conversations have I ever advocated the denial of FIrst Amendment rights to anyone opposing the project. Instead, all I have done is exercised my own First Amendment right to call out what I see as blatant ignorance and bigotry.

Second, I want to respond to the argument that says that the organizers should construct the “mosque” someplace else. My first question about this is, well then how far is far enough? Given the animosity that has grown over mosques all across the country (of which you can read more about here), my assumption about the answer to this question is nowhere. My second question in response to this claim (which is often muttered in my experience by those who support the “mosque” but want to see the controversy lessened) is to ask how moving the “mosque” elsewhere will change anything? The point of the project (which is actually an Islamic community center, with a pool and various other spaces in addition to a prayer space) is to bridge the divide between the West and the Islamic world, and the best place to do it is indeed near the site where division and hatred were personified. To move the location of the project elsewhere strips it of its intended meaning. Progress and change for the better will not occur without some buttons being pushed. And considering the kind of Islamophobia that exists in this country, some buttons most definitely need to be pushed.

The other complaint I hear is that the “mosque” should not be built there to pay respect to those who were lost on that day, and give in to those who may feel insulted or offended by the construction of that facility near that site. The argument follows that we sacrifice everyday for the convenience of others so that others may not be insulted or inconvenienced in various different situations, therefore, we should ask Muslims to do the same in regards to this project. I have several objections to this. Firstly, asking Muslims to sacrifice their religious beliefs and their right to practice them where they wish is much more significant a sacrifice than what we may sacrifice in an average day to ameliorate the concerns of others. In the interests of historical analogy, what if Rosa Parks or Martin Luther King Jr. simply conceded to the wishes of the public who did not want to “rock the boat” or instead wanted to take an incrementalist approach to equal rights, which MLK aptly described as “never” in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” It seems highly doubtful that much progress would have been had if those individuals and countless others chose to conform to an unjust norm. The same is true today for Muslims in America. My second objection is due to the fact that Muslims were also killed in the 9/11 attacks, who worked just like many other Americans in the Twin Towers. I don’t think it can be assumed that building a mosque near Ground Zero would be an insult to their memory, in fact, it might even serve as an homage to them and a recognition of their equal status with other Americans. However, when the argument is made that the construction of an Islamic community center would be an insult to the victims of 9/11, I think it’s fair to say that most people making those arguments only think of the white or other minority victims, but not the Muslims. For some reason, they are completely forgotten. My last objection to this argument, which reaches to the core of what AIDemocracy’s Hope Not Hate program aims to counter is the idea that there is in fact something to be offended or insulted by with the construction of the community center. Understanding of other religions and other cultures is integral to what we work to achieve, and this is especially needed in regard to Islam in America, as has been evidenced by this controversy.

The need for this community center has just been further demonstrated by the ignorance and bigotry surrounding its construction. And we all need to keep in mind that the world is watching us as this controversy unfolds. And if the project is either delayed or moved or canceled permanently, it will be a severe blow to any efforts the Obama administration has made to mend ties with the Islamic world. We will just be adding fuel to the fire of the narrative that Osama bin Laden and other Islamist extremists use to recruit new terrorists (that the West is waging war against Islam). We all have a responsibility to ensure that this community center/”mosque” be built where it has been proposed, because not doing so will be at our own peril.

P.S. Here are two op-eds that articulates in much better syntax and diction than I why the project needs to be built: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2010/08/10-2 and  http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/08/20/AR2010082004795.html

P.P.S. And here is a Facebook page that has just started that is aiming to grow a base of support behind the construction of the project. It has a link to a petition you can sign on to as well.