Tuesday, September 7, 2010

9/11 and the Mosque: It's Not About Religion

I know there's a great deal of furor about the Mosque overlooking Ground Zero. I don't get it. I don't get it for a few reasons, some less noble than others.

First, I don't get 9/11. I know that is borderline unpatriotic, but I just don't get why it was so monumental. Maybe it is because as I was growing up, bomb drills were as much a part of the school practice as fire drills. Except, I never experienced a fire at school. Two of the "bomb drills" I went through were real. I had to carry an identification card around with me to get to my house. I've waited in line for over an hour just to get home so the bomb dogs and guys with the oversized dentist mirrors could go through every single car queued up to get on base. I lived as a child knowing that my house could be bombed, that my dad could be killed. That I could be killed in a heartbeat. It wasn't frightening, it was just how life was. 9/11 didn't carry the same punch for me that it seems to carry for most people.

Plus, I was in Germany when the attack occurred. Not only did I not live through the national panic, I experienced the anti-American rallies in the aftermath. I even suggested to my companion once or twice that we take off our missionary name tags so we could travel incognito and not start a riot. I worked hard to improve my accent in German rather than worrying about vocabulary so I could pass as British or Dutch in a pinch. I never had to use that, at least, but I was trained by life as a child how to blend in when necessary and knew it didn't hurt to be careful. I don't think all military kids learn these things, but my dad always encouraged us to immerse ourselves in our resident culture.

Which brings me to second: 9/11 wasn't about religion. It was about politics first and culture second. A good part of my life was spent in a first-world country that is not America. I lived a couple of years on a third-world island. I have seen for myself the range of emotions towards Americans ranging from excited interest through disdain to contempt. I have seen what we Americans do that justifies those sentiments.

If the attacks were about religion, there are many better religious sites that could have been destroyed. But there were no attacks on the Vatican, nothing against Notre Dame. The targets were 100% political and 100% American—a country which theoretically professes no religious alignment.

So why not let them build a Mosque near Ground Zero? Even in a worst-case scenario and the alarmists are right, that it is mockery of our culture and the Christian religion, so what? Why indulge ourselves in the self-centeredness which the rest of the world despises instead of celebrating the parts of America which make us great—our tolerance, our open arms to conflicting ideologies and points of view? We can always reclaim that mosque as a badge of honor, reform it into the gesture of mutuality they claim it is. And if the alarmists are wrong, and it really is intended as a gesture of goodwill, it is churlish and hypocritical of us to refuse it.


  1. I guess I don't understand how you can argue that 9/11 wasn't about religion, simply because it wasn't about our religion. Islamist terrorists aren't against any specific other religion; they're against anything that isn't their religion. This isn't a holy war between two religions; it's a holy war against everyone who doesn't subscribe to their interpretation of Islam. An attack on a religious site wouldn't have made a lot of sense, symbolically. It would have suggested that their goals were relatively puny.

    That said, I do not have strong feelings about the GZ Islamic center. I don't have a position on it.

  2. I don't have a problem with the mosque, although I know nothing about it and the controversy. Sounds like a legitimate place to have a religious building.
    I do think that we should try harder to understand Islam. Unfortunately, understanding Islam usually means realizing how much the hate America and women.
    It is kind of like understanding that to communism back in the cold war, peace meant the whole world is communist. They weren't looking for peace in their own country and leave us to our peace in ours.
    So, we have to be careful when we assume that in their culture things like tolerance and love are virtues. They are not. As far as I understand it they are weaknesses.
    The Muslim world is big and encompasses many countries, cultures and traditions. However, there are some ideas that permeate all of Islam.
    I'm no expert so I could be wrong, but we make a mistake when we think that being kind, open, accepting, and tolerant invites them reciprocate. It can often actually make them respect us less. I do not have any answers.

  3. Obviously the answer is to become as narrow, cruel, close-minded, suspicious and exclusionary as they are. Protect Western values, in other words, by junking Western values in favor of the ones you [somewhat mistakenly] read into Islam. That is the answer, isn't it?

  4. If 9-11 had been about religion we would have had religious attacks on us going back centuries. It most certainly is about politics. They don't like us messing around in their part of the world. Read Osama Bin Laden's own statements on this.

  5. madhousewife—Because attacks on the White House/Pentagon/commercial World Trade Centers hardly translate to religious differences. They translate easily to political/cultural differences.

    Anonymous #1—the comments you make are a lot like saying that Christianity holds dear values like consumerism and Wicca-hating. Islam is a religion just as varied in tenets and practices as Christianity. True Islam, like true Christianity, subscribes to values of pacifism, love and family. The jihadists do not represent the whole of Islam any more than the Inquisition represents the whole of Christianity. Don't get the religion confused with the culture. You might find it enlightening to read the Quran and do some research on Islam (which literally means submission to God, very like what Christ taught) before making judgments on how followers of Islam see the world.

    Just because those who want to build the mosque happen to profess the same core religion as those who suicide-bombed the Twin Towers does not make them the same people or give them the same world-view, any more than I agree with gay-beaters or members of the Inquisition just because I am also Christian.

  6. I haven't read the Quran. But I read "Infidel."
    It was an uncomfortable read in many ways, but interesting to read about the Muslim idea of submission to God's will (the Quran).....which I try to achieve in my own religion. The book paints a scary picture of what submission to God means if you are taught that God wants evil stuff.
    "Infidel" claims that the Quran is full of things that have nothing to do with love and peace, but in fact the opposite. I think she is right. There is a lot about fighting and war and killing anyone who is not of their religion.
    I do have a problem with a religion that accepts their scripture literally that women deserve to be treated badly and make it impossible to stay religious (and live the Quran and submit to God's will) and also treat women decently.
    I am sure there are many, many good, wonderful Muslim people who try to be religious and good people too. Perhaps they concentrate on the nicer parts of the Quran? I don't know.
    And like I said before, I don't have a problem with the mosque.
    Christians have the Old Testament but we don't live it. We had hundreds of years of our religion being evil (inquisition?). We should remember that and work for basic human rights no matter what the religion.

  7. Anonymous—Your approach to self-education astounds me. I will never understand people who judge things based on what other people say, or extrapolate a judgment on an entire group of people based on the personal experiences of some.

    Yet, many people do just that.

    I have read parts of the Quran. It is very similar to the Bible. It is interesting that where Christianity is concerned, you easily toss out the "bad parts" that "no Christians live" but with Islam, you highlight the "bad parts" and marginalize those who follow Islam without extremism.

    And then, to put the cherry on top, you apparently see no hypocrisy in this.

  8. I believe I have mentioned that there are many countries and cultures involved in Islam so I do NOT think that all Muslims are a certain way.
    My point about Christianity is that as a Christian, I should acknowledge that Christian churches have a history of abuse.
    You want to believe that it is just a few extremists that believe literally in the Quran, in the oppression of women and other abuses. I believe that it is a little more mainstream, while still believing that it is not even close to all Muslims.
    I think that we should do more to understand Islam the way Muslims do, not just understand it the way we think of it through our worldview.

  9. Anonymous—True. I missed your point entirely, and I apologize.

    Whether it is mainstream or not, I don't believe that those building the mosque are aligned with extremists. And, even if they are, what difference does it make, really? We are America. Our strength historically has been taking whatever is thrown at us and making it ours. If they say it is a gesture of goodwill, then make it a gesture of goodwill whether or not they are being honest about their intentions. Above all, don't betray part of what makes us great by forbidding the legal expression of religious devotion.

  10. Silver Rain:

    Perspectives about 9/11 are certainly very personal. When my wife-to-be and I grew serious about each other, I took a job with an environmental consulting firm and moved to New York to be close to her. A year or so later (about 1978-1979), my company relocated onto the 90th Floor of the South Tower. I had a window office looking out kitty corner at the North Tower for a couple of years before we moved back to the Washington suburbs with plans to start a family.

    So it's hard for me not to have some visceral images as it would have been in my old office that morning, even though I was driving to work in Maryland on the day of the actual event. When I got to work on 9/11 and turned on the internet to follow up on what I'd just heard on the radio, the first picture I saw was the fireball from the second strike engulfing my old office window. (It's the famous picture that made the cover of Time Magazine.)

    In a complex as large as the WTC, there were always little fires starting somewhere. I often saw fire trucks pull into the plaza below and their firemen run inside. I wondered more than once what it would be like to be trapped in my office if a fire got out of control. I don't like heights to begin with, and I could barely bring myself to get close enough to the window to look down at the plaza.

    Had I been still living in New York, I would have just arrived at my desk that morning in time to hear a roar, and look up uncomprehendingly as an airliner flashed in front of my eyes and detonated the offices at the left of my field of vision. Perhaps the shock wave would have blown out the glass in my own window or not, but I know I would have still been standing there in shock when the second strike engulfed me and left my wife a widow and my daughter an orphan.

    So I understand what the big deal was. I remember when my own city suddenly sprouted anti-aircraft batteries on street corners. I remember in the days following how very liberal publications like the New York Times and the Washington Post were openly discussing not just whether we should go to war, but whether we would be morally justified in DOING SO USING NUCLEAR WEAPONS.

    The American people did not go mad then, and we are not going mad over our concerns about the ground zero mosque's real intent now.

    There are more than 1 billion Muslims in the world who are peacefully serving God. Among Muslims, however, are a small percentage of violent jihadists and their enablers who would murder to rule their billion coreligionists, let alone the 5-6 billion infidels on the rest of the planet. Although they are a small percentage, their absolute numbers are staggering: they number in the EENS OF MILLIONS.

    We do no one justice by pretending they aren't there, and asking questions designed to separate the innocent from the guilty. Do you risk letting a cancer grow because you are afraid of checking out your body to see whether a suspicious lump is cancerous or benign?

    There are some very suspicious features about what ideas the mosque's developers and imam have advocated toward the practice of Islam. They should not go unexamined.

    One does not need to think that a religion is good or bad to recognize that religious individuals can be either.


  11. FireTag—For YOU, I get it. For you, it was personal. Most people just saw it on a t.v. screen.

    But I think we tread dangerous ground when we seek to deny civil liberties to a religion. Should we examine unlawful activities by a religion? Of course. Building a building is not unlawful. Trying to deny the building of this mosque skips right over the line and sets a dangerous precedent.

  12. And I might add that allowing fear to make our legal decisions is the path to social and legal injustice.

  13. Silver Rain:

    The distinction between fear and prudence is not easily drawn. It's hard to tell whether you know something I don't -- or whether I know something you don't.

    You mentioned having searches to get on military bases when they were not normally required. I can remember when it wasn't necessary to go through metal detectors to get on airplanes. On the otherhand, you always had to have your car thoroughly searched when you entered a nuclear weapons site.

    It's all a matter of inconvenience versus threat level.

    I want to distinguish REAL threats from FALSE threats. That cannot be done by refusing to ask questions.


  14. Well, I've read the Quran, and as for living it, people live it the same way that they live the Bible and torch LDS chapels south of Houston ...

    I don't see the problem with the mosque. If we can have strip clubs and liquor stores there, why not a mosque, especially since there already is one in the area.


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