By Kate Tracy
When the Japanese military bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, Japanese Americans experienced extreme racial prejudice and intolerance. Many were sent to internment camps across the nation. The Japanese relationship with Pearl Harbor is not all that different from the Muslim connection to Ground Zero in New York City.
As the ninth anniversary of 9/11 approaches, Americans are in remembrance of what happened that day. At the same time, controversial plans to build a mosque and Islamic center next to Ground Zero are moving forward.
American culture has made a huge shift as the country considers a center of the Islamic faith being built two blocks from the worst terrorist attack in American history. Would Americans living in the ‘50s be okay if a shrine to the Japanese Shinto religion were built near Pearl Harbor? Would Europeans be okay if a Nazi memorial was erected near sites of the Holocaust?
The controversy behind the mosque reflects a difference in the way Americans view the Islamic religion. Those who think of Islam as a peaceful religion encourage the idea of the mosque.
Interviewed by ABC News, Donna Marsh O’Connor, who lost her daughter in the 9/11 attacks, supports the project and wonders why “a center dedicated to peace and understanding should be built anywhere but at Ground Zero.”
However, many Americans see Islam as an extremist religion and view the mosque as a slap in the face to 9/11 victims. They call it the “victory monument,” saying that, historically, Muslims built mosques at sites of military victories, and that is why Muslim leaders want to build it near Ground Zero.
Fox News contributor Dick Morris echoes the viewpoint that “the proposed mosque near to Ground Zero is not really a religious institution. It would be — as many mosques throughout the nation are — a terrorist recruitment, indoctrination and training center.”
The leaders of the project, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and Daisy Kahn, hope to raise $100 million to build the center, known as the Cordoba House. Plans for the center include a mosque that can hold 1,500 worshipers, a swimming complex and basketball court, and a performance center.
According to ABC News, the center would be open to non-Muslims, and Kahn hopes that the project would downplay extremist Islam, and allow peaceful Muslims to have a positive voice in the New York community. In order to help garner support for the center, Kahn and Rauf connected with many of the 9/11 families, explaining their plans and assuring them of their peaceful intentions.
Despite what Kahn and Rauf say, 50 percent of New Yorkers oppose the mosque, 35% support it, and 15% remain undecided, according to the New York Times. However, New York’s leadership supports it. Mayor Bloomberg thinks that, from a political standpoint, Americans have no other option but to fight terror with freedom; to deny the Islamic community its wishes would be unconstitutional. He stated in a speech on August 24th in Manhattan that “this is a test of our commitment to American values and we have to have the courage of our convictions. We must do what is right, not what is easy.”
Ted Olson, a prominent Republican who previously worked for the Bush administration, supports Bloomberg’s view, saying, “I do believe that people of all religions have a right to build edifices or structures or places of religious study where the community allows them to do it under the zoning laws and that sort of thing. We don’t want to turn an act of hate against us by extremists into an act of intolerance for people of religious faith.”
As the controversy over the mosque continues to divide the American people, many are hoping for a compromise and believe that the mosque should be moved to a different location. But the mayor and Imam Rauf say this is impossible. The center’s purpose would be to serve lower Manhattan, so no other location would work. Also, the radius around Ground Zero would be un-definable, with people disagreeing on how far away it should be.
Furthermore, they say, a mosque already stands four blocks away from Ground Zero, so really another one should not be that big of a deal. Ultimately, the decision rests on America’s political leaders: whether to recognize the Islamic center and religion as an institution of peace and adhere to the American Constitution, or to see the center as a symbol of disrespect and a threat to American security.