Freedom greater than pride, anger

Another day, another ridiculous controversy. The setting? New York City, of course. The issue? One as old as organized religion itself: Muslim objectives versus Christian values. Dear, dear, this is bound to be a juicy one, isn’t it?

Let’s face it, even in this super tolerant American society of ours, both pride and prejudice determine much of our social interaction. This is especially true when it comes to religion, and even more so when the religions in question are Islam and Christianity. What else could we expect when a Muslim leader decides to build a mosque next to a site where thousands of Christians died but a conflict of monstrous proportions?

Now I, like any intelligent individual, realize that many persons of many religious backgrounds died in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. I also realize that although the men responsible for these attacks were Muslim, their actions do not reflect the values of every Muslim individual, or of the Muslim religion itself. So why the argument? Why, exactly, should Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf feel disinclined to build a mosque in his chosen location?

Naturally, the first answer to this question revolves around the concept of respect. Respect for the dead, respect for the United States and respect for religious values. According to many, Abdul Rauf should respect the fact that building an icon of the Muslim religion in such close proximity to Ground Zero would shock and offend the American people, Christian or otherwise.

I would, however, like to point out the obvious. One people cannot demand respect from another people while denying to return that same respect! The only way to foster understanding, and create an environment of dignity and peace is to allow the followers of all religions to practice wherever they please. Even if this ideal were not represented in our Constitution, religious freedom is essential to the American way of life and opposing this freedom is not only intolerant but quite obviously un-American. Americans have the right to mourn the 9/11 tragedy, and Muslims have the right to worship in New York City.

Many U.S. citizens oppose the mosque for personal and spiritual reasons, but some have far more earthly concerns. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich recently wrote, “For radical Islamists, the mosque would become an icon of triumph, encouraging them in their challenge to our civilization.”

It appears that our civilization is in danger. We’d better tear down all the mosques in New York City right quick, before disaster strikes.

Come on, people! Let’s be reasonable, shall we? The United States is not at war with Islam. As far as I am able to discern, Islam is not at war with the United States. So why these murmurs of panic? Why these rumors of endangered civilizations? It’s borderline absurd!

Adherents to Islam may be extremely dedicated to their values, but this does not indicate a desire to destroy any other way of life. It is only the most radical, violent followers of Islam who hate and condemn non-believers. Every religion has followers such as these. Should every religious person be identified by the actions of their peers? I think not. Should every mosque be identified with terrorism? Of course not!

Although Gingrich does make an interesting point concerning the so-called Ground Zero mosque as a triumphant icon, what radical Islamists think about the controversy is barely relevant. Who cares if they see the erection of this building as a victory? What they perceive is only a reality if we make it so. Instead of looking at this situation and thinking, “One point to the radical Islamists,” we should be welcoming the opportunity to show the depth of our own tolerance.

Fortunately, the American press has been present throughout this conflict, covering all aspects of the issue and providing the enthralled public with all necessary information. Oh, wait. Not quite. Coverage of this situation has been predictably iffy. Instead of asking the obvious questions (Is this wrong? Is this right?), many news writers and talking heads are asking the un-obvious ones: How will this affect the 2012 elections? What do voters think of President Obama’s comments? Should the president have supported the building of the mosque?

Honestly. Honestly? Let’s not make this about politics, please! Let’s not lose ourselves in projection and agenda setting. This situation is bigger than elections and polls. This is about rising above differences, coming to terms with the past and planning for a better future. This is about a moment of peaceful cooperation between two great peoples. While I believe that the conflict itself should never have arisen, its publicity is a platform. The American people, Christian, Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist, should take advantage of this opportunity to promote our most precious possession: freedom.

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