The Catholic Thing
The Ground Zero mosque Print E-mail
By Robert Royal   
Sunday, 22 August 2010

How much anti-Muslim prejudice exists in America today? An objective observer might note how little general anti-Islamic feeling there has been since 9/11. Two miles from where I am writing sits the mosque in Falls Church, Virginia, that had connections to the 9/11 highjackers (Washington, too, was hit on 9/11, by the way, which many forget). Nearby, in a Home Depot parking lot, John Allen Mohammed – the radical Muslim convert who terrorized the capital with Lee Boyd Malvo – shot and killed a woman during a 2002 sniper’s spree that left ten dead. Yet if you walk into the 7-Eleven on the corner and see a Muslim clerk, he’s smiling and so are you, without any tension, let alone prejudice.

The recent statement by the planners of a mosque near Ground Zero that the opposition is like a cancerous anti-Semitism appeals to American guilt and worldwide Muslim sentiment. But it will backfire. People here know it’s false and will resent it. In Europe, subterranean anti-Semitism and fear of radical Islam may get it some traction. It's already inflamed jihadist opinion, which will lead to further resistance here. But it will not do Muslims anywhere much good.

If you’re like me, you’ve probably heard enough about the mosque. But the problem for me is that what I’m hearing doesn’t seem to address the main question. When NY Mayor Bloomberg says it’s a tragedy if 9/11 results in the loss of religious liberty – as if Islam were being curtailed here – I feel like I’m listening to a political class that’s taken leave of its senses. To put the matter baldly, some of us now think America is merely a matter of legal precedents, not a human community.

Two things are clear: 1. in America, religious liberty is an unshakeable right and houses of worship may be built, allowing for local zoning laws and other reasonable restrictions; 2. there is reason for doubt whether the mosque should be built, as last week even President Obama was forced to acknowledge.

Liberals have suddenly discovered a virtual absolute right for religion – primarily Islam – to be assertive anywhere, any time. Strange, because the Left has for decades sought to minimize religion in the public square. But maybe the new attitude is not so strange – or new.

I think the mosque is a very bad idea for several reasons, as do some American Muslims. They have not been as visible in the mainstream media, but they know that many Americans – about two-thirds – find the mosque grossly offensive. Most Americans are not bigoted towards Islam, but they are not stupid either. The mosque will enable extremists to boast that they have planted a flag at a key redoubt – which the vast majority of American Muslims oppose as well.

Beneath the public political division, however, lies a much deeper one, which has more to do with the West than Islam. The defenders of the mosque typically invoke rights language and regard their cause as a kind of crusade. Clearly, they do not condone Muslim treatment of women, strictness of life, condemnation of homosexuality, or spiritual beliefs. In fact, in international forums, these are the very things that progressives most deplore and work to short-circuit.

So why the enthusiasm? Because the overriding value for them – and even for Christians like Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama now – is tolerance, defined in a particular way. We do not see the same passionate defense of, say, Catholic bishops or evangelical Christians or even pro-America boosters because they are all part of the traditional order that, in the standard liberal paradigm, has to make room – for gays, lesbians, illegal immigrants, and now Muslims. It matters less, evidently, what openness and tolerance are towards, so long as it is not towards America’s traditional religious and political institutions. Opennes has become the supreme and almost sole public virtue. Once that is clear, you can understand why Feisal Abdul Rauf’s proposed mosque can be cause célèbre for a segment of our culture, though he called America “an accomplice to the crime” of 9/11, while a preacher like the late Jerry Falwell attempting similar “healing” would be ridiculed.

The deepest question is perhaps this: what if the sponsors were not professed moderates, but radicals? Or what if the operation is likely to turn radical or is already secretly so? We do not like local or federal officials determining permissible and impermissible forms of religion. And democracies don’t do well with such fundamental threats, since we tend to assume that people basically want to live and let live.

But there are painful precedents. Queen Victoria built a London mosque in gratitude to her Muslim subjects who were loyal during the nineteenth-century tumults. It became a kind of tony establishment Islamic center for over a century. Today, it sells radical literature and videos, and promotes militancy.

We don’t know if this remains a distant or immediate threat in NYC. Frankly, if the jihadists were smart, and many of them are, what better place to give potential recruits a thrill about the future caliphate – the world united under Muslim political rule – than to gather at the very place where you have struck America a murderous blow? Whatever the intentions of the proponents, there’s no simple way around certain truths that make this a deeply social rather than a merely legal question.

It’s unfortunate for the 99 percent of Muslims who abhor extremists as much as we do to be embroiled in such matters. But that’s part of what it means to belong to a civil order in addition to a regime of rights. You promote healing by going beyond the bare law, by showing sensitivity and generosity in concrete ways to those in legitimate and deep distress, which you claim to appreciate. There are mosques all over America and even New York City. To place another one at the moment so close to Ground Zero is a bad idea for Muslims and non-Muslims alike.           

Robert Royal is editor-in-chief of The Catholic Thing, and president of the Faith & Reason Institute in Washington, D.C. His most recent book is
The God That Did Not Fail: How Religion Built and Sustains the West, now available in paperback from Encounter Books.

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Comments (12)Add Comment
written by Joe, August 23, 2010
Good piece, Robert. At last count there are more than 100 mosques in NYC (all 5 boroughs) and, considering the location of this one and its size -- 13 stories -- no justification for placing a mosque in a downtown commercial area where few Muslims live. However, once built it would become a magnet for the potential jihadists and others on the growing radical fringe and provide yet another base for terrorist activity.

More than anything, this is Rauf's "in your face" insult to NYC and America by taking advantage of ordinances that Islam condemns and would overturn with Sharia law if they had their way.

So, what's next? A Japanese Shinto shrine near Pearl Harbor? Yet, I know of a man who owns private property who has been denied town and county permission to build a Bible camp because it does not meet zoning ordinances that define such a project as "recreational use."

The case has sparked a federal lawsuit under the federal RLUIPA ( Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act) that prohibits the imposition of burdens on the ability of prisoners to worship as they please, as well as giving churches and other religious institutions a way to avoid burdensome zoning law restrictions on their property use.

"Freedom of Religion," as Obama touts, may apply here; however, under RLUIPA, government has wiggle room because many plaintiffs have lost cases over this provision:

"No government shall impose or implement a land use regulation in a manner that imposes a substantial burden on the religious exercise of a person, including a religious assembly or institution, unless the government can demonstrate that imposition of the burden on that person, assembly or institution

1. is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and
2. is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest."

What this means is that "freedom of religion," or "freedom of speech" is not absolute. And if a "compelling governmental interest" can be shown in disallowing the mosque, i.e., "threat to national security," or whatever a smart lawyer can dream up, then there is a LEGAL basis to attempt to block this application.

The challenge for U.S. prosecutors is to link Rauf to supporting and sponsoring terrorist activities, which shouldn't be all that difficult given his public anti-America rhetoric. It's just a matter of connecting the dots. However, under a U.S. Attorney General who is suing a state for enforcing federal law, the idea of challenging the mosque on legal grounds is prosperous on its face in the eyes of the Left and the current administration, which panders to all manner of minorities in the name of "freedom."

written by Pete brown, August 23, 2010
Fortunately the debate is probably academic. The supporters of the mosque are basically just real estate developers who became stuck with a ground zero property that, after the crash of 2008, can't be developed into condos as they had planned. This whole mosque idea is just a desperate gimmick to attract financing to get out from under the bldgs. They only own one of the two lots necessary for the project. Even assuming they can acquire the next door con edison bldg what then? To date, these clowns have raised a grand total (get this) of $18,000 of the necessary $100 million to build the project. Besides, they have no architect and no engineer and good luck finding reputable firms to take on something this controversial. The whole issue makes for great conversation fodder. But the overwhelming likelihood is that no mosque will ever be built. There's simply no money for this project apart from whatever one thinks of Islam!
written by Maggie, August 23, 2010
Muslims tell us that there is no distinction for them between religion and politics, between Islam and government. They are all one. So why don't we frame the debate from the political side of the equation, thinking of Islam as a governing body. Do we want a foreign political, military, legal organization to set up shop as a governing institution on our soil (which is pretty much what we have now in the various mosques and Muslim settlements around the U.S.) We can then see "radical Islam", AKA "militant Islam" for what it is, the military arm of that government, being anywhere from 1% to 10% of those "who just want to live their lives", just as we have all the peace-loving citizens 'who just want to lead their lives", and we have our "militant Americans", also known as the Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marines. Political correctness will be the death of us all, yet.
written by Robert Ormsbee, August 23, 2010
I believe that the existential Islamic phenomenon throughout the world is one of insidious, perfidious, deceitful and frightening proportions...tops (perhaps) of all great worldly dangers. What is it about Islam, that makes, molds, grows and manifests mad, radical, fanatic and insanely eccentric and murderous human misfits? What is it? It surely is "something" inherently profound and inducing within the context of the Koran (Quoran). What is it? If this is truly a "peacful religion," no such breakdown in human deceny could or would happen. If such a default is in the Koran, then it must be removed--extracted--absolutely, completely and for sure forever. Then...maybe the "religion part" of Islam can blend into the realm of human decenly, goodness and Godliness, with caring concern, honor, merciful love toward the salubrious well-being of humanity (maybe). That's partly how I feel. As of right now, I consider Islam, (along with homosexuality and abortion rationalities) to be one of the most dangerous and frightening conditions our troubled humanity.
written by jason taylor, August 23, 2010
"What is it about Islam, that makes, molds, grows and manifests mad, radical, fanatic and insanely eccentric and murderous human misfits?"

The same thing that produces all human misfits-sin. The surprise at the existence of human misfits is stranger then human misfits, even Islamic ones.
written by oferdesade, August 24, 2010
what's missing is a bit of historionic preshadowing:

in many years time, the arguments about tolerance/intolerance will be forgotten. what will be remembered is that a group of people crashed a plane into a big building killing thousands. the choice is whether to add to that the historical fact that members of that group then built nearby a place of worship (by then it will or will not include a library and community center - who knows, it may even have a sharia bank inside called twin towers banking) to comemorate their deed (positive or negative connotations in the eyes of the beholder).
it's like calling pius-12 a saint: who cares?! it's nobody's business but the church's.
only in many centuries time will it be said that the catholic church had nothing to do with the hollocaust (something both JP2 & B16 have asked forgiveness for) - how could they have: their representative at the time was "a saint"...
written by Maggie, August 24, 2010
Lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi. As we pray, so we believe, so we live. When you believe in a hateful, violent, destructive god, you lead hateful, violent, destructive lives, and produce a hateful, violent, destructive culture.

Cult; culture-- the same root: prayer and worship form culture.

Applying the law of non-contradiction, it seems to me that we need ask only one question: Is Jesus who he said He is (the incarnate Son of God) or was Jesus who Mohammed said he was (merely a prophet). Only one of these can be true. Therefore, one of them is a lie. What more does anyone need to know?
written by Matt, August 24, 2010
Suppose we turn the tables for just a moment. Imagine ourselves attempting to establish a Catholic Mission in another country, only to find that some Protestant group has committed horrific acts in that same region. Would we, as faithful Christians, respond by simply declaring our differences from that group, criticizing our opponents then forging ahead with our plans to build? Or would we rather follow our prime directive of Charity toward all people, working to give evidence of our good intentions by caring for people on whatever scale afforded to us in that location? I believe we would take whatever toehold was offered us and immediately edify our cause with good works and manifest faith, all the while pointing to the body of evidence around the world that shows the benefits provided by the Church to the communities she visits. After all, we strive to imitate Christ and the early fathers of the Church, who achieved His mission with no buildings, no monuments and frightfully little public goodwill toward them.

That is the problem here: where is the body of evidence to suggest the good faith of "moderate Islam"? Where are all the Muslims who take great strides in promoting peace for all around them, regardless of stigma or suffering? Where is the willingness to promote peace and understanding on whatever scale is allowed them?
written by Sam, August 25, 2010
What I find really ironic among the supporters of this mosque is their zeal to have it built and their invocation of religious liberty to do so while at the same time forgetting that 1) religious liberty is a gift of the very Christian civilization whose Founder said "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and unto God what is God's") that they wish to relativize into irrelevance; 2) Sharia law in Islam is the real threat to religious liberty not Christianity; and 3) they don't extend the same religious liberty to the Greek Orthodox trying to rebuild a church destroyed on 9/11/01.
written by Lewis, August 27, 2010
While Dr. Royal is undoubtedly correct that it's amazing how little anti-Muslim prejudice there's been since 9/11, the kind of images coming from New York these last couple of weeks are disturbing.

The mosque protesters holding up signs with 'SHARIA' written in blood play much more easily into the narrative Osama and Co. want to peddle to their trainees than a westernized Imam running the Muslim equivalent of a YMCA (before it dropped embarrassing latter three letters early this year) -- all this around the corner from several 'ground zero' strip clubs. The story we are creating -- as these images of hostility are beamed across Al-Jazerra -- is likely to be much more powerful than any attempts by jihadists to claim they have 'planted a flag' at Ground Zero. That narrative would have been a stretch, but now I'm afraid the angry protesters have played right into their hands by casting this as a great clash of civilizations.
written by Jesurgislac, August 27, 2010
You promote healing by going beyond the bare law, by showing sensitivity and generosity in concrete ways to those in legitimate and deep distress, which you claim to appreciate.

So the relatives of people who died at Ground Zero, ought to be shown sensitivity and generosity in concrete ways - unless of course they're Muslims, in which case, diss them and their religion.

Muslim emergency service workers risked their lives at Ground Zero: some died there. Ordinary New Yorkers who happened to work in the Twin Towers and were Muslim, died at Ground Zero. Thousands of Muslim Americans serve in the US military. Now people are attacking their fellow Americans for their religion, and you have the chutzpah to say the people being attacked are just not showing enough "sensitivity and generosity"?

Matt: Where are all the Muslims who take great strides in promoting peace for all around them, regardless of stigma or suffering? Where is the willingness to promote peace and understanding on whatever scale is allowed them?

The Sufi Muslims who are building the Cordoba Center - the community center at Park51, falsely described as the "Ground Zero Mosque", even though it's not a mosque and is a couple of blocks from where the WTC used to be. They're building this community center as a gesture of peace, a community center for lower Manhattan, open to all. For which they're getting kicked in the face by Christian Americans.

ofserdesade: the historical fact that members of that group then built nearby a place of worship

No, they didn't. The Muslims building the Cordoba Community Center are Sufis - and are American property developers. The al-Qaeda group who flew the planes into the WTC were Sunni Muslims, were mostly Saudis, none were Americans, and were AFAIK none of them property developers with any interest in building public community centers open to the general public, regardless of faith.

To call them the "same group" would be like saying that the Quakers are the same group as the Westboro Baptist Church, and that a Quaker building a community center with a Meeting House ought to be stopped because Fred Phelps demonstrates outside US soldiers funerals and they're both Christians so they're all "the same group". Sufis are not Sunnis. American property developers are not al-Qaeda. This is really ridiculous.
written by Claire Corcoran, October 16, 2010
Maybe the group that wants to build the cultural center genuinely wants to promote peace and understanding, maybe not. If so, they were extremely naive to think it wouldn't be a deeply sensitive issue. For a contrast, look at how Pope John Paul II asked some Carmelite nuns to move their convent farther away from from Auschwitz out of sensitivity to the Jewish community who saw it as an encroachment. If they really wanted to build understanding, they could also help the parish of St. Nicholas Church raise funds to rebuild their church, which was flattened under one of the collapsing towers, and who have not been able to find any spot to rebuild within the city.

I have to wonder, too, what sort of peace an initiative named "Cordoba" really hopes to build, given that Cordoba was the former seat of the caliphate in Spain, and a symbol of Islamic triumphalism over the West. Whether it is intentionally provocative or not, it is clearly insensitive.

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