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Imagine all the people, living life in peace…

16/08/2010

I’d like to take a step back in time, to a Tuesday that’s been in our consciousness for nearly nine years: September 11, 2001. “9/11” has become far more than a date on the calendar; rather, it has taken on a life of its own — become its own culture.

Because of the events of September 11 we engaged in two ongoing conflicts. We increased airline security, added the Department of Homeland Security to the Cabinet and gave the executive branch unprecedented authority to “protect” us. (Hello, PATRIOT Act?)

Do you remember where you were that day? I do. When we first heard reports of the attack in NYC, I was sitting in Senior Choir waiting to be fitted for my new uniform. For the rest of the day (that is, until 5th period when I was pulled out of class by my dad) every teacher suspended their lesson plan and all eyes remained glued to the television, to see what would happen next.

It was unthinkable that such an attack would occur on our soil, and that the members of the Westboro Baptist Church would take such steps to demonstrate their hate…

Oh, excuse me. I meant Al Qaida. Because of course Christian extremists don’t commit terrorist attacks. Christians don’t spit venom and hate at those who believe differently from them…

Wow, I am just messing up all over the place here. I almost forgot to mention the funeral protests in which members of the WBC hold up signs printed with such inclusive messages as “God hates fags”, and the interviews like this one where even Sean Hannity — that’s right, of FOX News — calls out the heiress of the WBC legacy as a loony Lucy. (Or is that Psycho Shelly?) I overlooked the people who campaigned for Proposition 8, an unconstitutional piece of legislation that attempted to take from same-sex couples the freedom to marry (For more on the Prop 8 issue, see “One Love“.)

You may see where I’m going with this — don’t spoil it for everybody else!

Listen carefully, those of you in the back: Every. Religion. Has. WACKOS. Look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (I said look, don’t touch — we’ll talk about that later), an ongoing dispute over the ownership of ancient lands in which both Israelis and Arabs – Jewish, Christian, and Muslim – lose their lives because of extremist attacks. For every Palestinian attack on Israeli civilians, there is an equal or greater Israeli attack on Palestinian civilians. Of course, I’ve already mentioned Al Qaida and Christianity’s own Westboro Baptist Church. Scientology has L. Ron Hubbard (and Tom Cruise), the Mormons have an offshoot Fundamentalist LDS church which still espouses the tenets of polygamy and maintains that it is “mainstream” LDS adherents who have gone astray.

However, I digress. We all know that the whole reason for this discussion is the planned mosque and cultural center to go up two city blocks from Ground Zero.

I didn’t lose anybody close in the 9/11 attacks. By a frightening coincidence it turns out that Flight 93 went directly over my high school before its crash in Pennsylvania, but in fairness we didn’t learn about that until the dust had settled. I have stood at Ground Zero, though, stared into the broken foundation still filled with rubble and debris, and I felt the weight of the tragedy that occurred there — more at that moment in 2007 than at any other, I mourned what we as a nation suffered. Moments later, while taking in the plans for a Freedom Tower to stand in that place, my heart swelled with pride at the perseverance of the American spirit.

My reaction to the proposed mosque, then, was not initially a visceral one. I didn’t begin my survey of this topic with any deeply-rooted emotional ties to either side’s argument; instead, I’ve considered the practicalities.

Legality. Let’s see: a piece of private property was sold to a group legally allowed to function in the United States, which means they are allowed to engage in commerce, including the purchase of property. Congress has no right to declare eminent domain unless A) the land is specifically to be used for a public purpose and B) the government has made a good faith attempt to purchase the land from its lawful owners.

Location. Ahh, there’s the rub. Since the previous point demonstrates that the mosque is legal, the biggest question remaining is whether it is ethical. Is two city blocks a reasonable distance? Is this meant to be a political statement or a slap in the face of Americans? Concerns abound that the mosque will be a hive of extremist activity, that it will be used to smuggle a weapon into the heart of the city, or that in the best case scenario the publicity surrounding the mosque will distract from its true purpose: to be a cultural and community center.

After a lot of thought and a lot of reading (not to mention some heated debates), I think that this decision has the potential to reinforce everything that is great about America, as well as the potential to underscore our biggest flaws. We can celebrate this nation’s diversity and commitment to religious freedom for all, or we can place new qualifications on freedom and continue a nasty habit of excluding the “other”. And if you won’t speak up now, who do you think will be left to speak for you?

I’ll end by reminding you of my 9/11 flashback, and ask you to consider this: if this was a debate about a Christian church, would there be a debate? And if as a nation we become willing to punish an entire faith for the actions of a minority, who’s next?

It could be you.

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