Fourth Edition, November 2011
ENL 257: Best Essays in Rhetorical Theory
3rd Place Winner
To Build or Not To Build
Controversy over the ‘Mosque at Ground Zero’
The looming controversy surrounding the Islamic Center near Ground Zero has sparked debate throughout the nation. The Center is associated with emotional strain from both the supporters and the opponents. Each group, whether for or against, has very strong opinions and valid reasons as to why this Islamic center should be constructed or not. From New York Muslims, to religious groups around the nation, and to the President himself, there are many who have their own specific stance on the proposed Islamic Center in Lower Manhattan.
It is obvious that many Muslims support the Islamic Center, and their reasons are mostly based on logic, and partly on emotion. Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the founder of this Islamic Center, decided to establish the proposed 13-story interfaith building as a means to expand his much smaller mosque located in lower Manhattan. For years his mosque was becoming more and more successful – yet also more and more crowded. According to a CNN article “A Look Inside NYC Islamic Center” states that “the arrival of a mosque a couple blocks from ground zero was driven mostly by the simple need for more space.” As new worshippers came to pray at Imam’s mosque called Masjid al-Farah, “many [former] worshippers inside said they felt rushed, knowing there were people outside waiting for a space to pray, while those in line worried about getting back to work on time” (CNN). For Imam Rauf’s Islamic followers, their constraints are caused by the need for more space. They would be deeply grateful for a new and larger mosque to accommodate the new and cultivating disciples. As for the location - Rauf's former, and smaller, mosque is located proximal to Ground Zero. To him, it was only logical to build an enhanced version of Masjid al-Farah close to Ground Zero as well.
In addition to the practicality surrounding the proposed building, Muslims also have emotional ties to building the Islamic center. Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and his followers insist that the proposed building is supported by “the downtown community, government at all levels and leaders from across the religious spectrum,” as affirmed in the CNN article “NYC Islamic Center.” Rauf goes on to say that it is “the right thing to do.” Head of the Islamic Society in North America, Ingrid Mattson also thinks it is the right to do to. She remarks that “freedom of religion is a hallmark of this country… we are going to live up to our values” (CNN). According to the supporters, building this Islamic center would encourage cultural tolerance and also exercise every American’s right to religious freedom.
Agreeing with this idea is the commander-in-chief, Barack Obama. His very controversial address at the White House Iftar dinner confirms his support behind the Islamic Center near Ground Zero. In the address, he strongly shares his belief that “Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country” (WhiteHouse.gov). Not only is this an issue to Muslims, but it is a constraint concerning every citizen in the United States, even the President whom is a follower of the Constitution. To affirm this notion, Obama asserts that “This is America. And our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable. The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country and that they will not be treated differently by their government is essential to who we are.” Many of the supporters, Muslim or not, can agree that religious tolerance and freedom begins with the construction of a mosque, an Islamic interfaith center, or the like, anywhere and at any point in time.
Conversely, there are those who oppose the building of the Islamic Interfaith Center. In fact, many do not dispute the actual construction of the building as a constraint, but the location. Those who oppose it are not comfortable with the proximity of Muslims near Ground Zero, physically and emotionally. Families of 9/11 victims find it offensive to construct a multi-story center associated with Islam so close to the ceremonial site of those who died. In a PBS Religion and Ethics discussion, Sally Regenhard, whose son died in 9/11, shares her grief. She expresses that she doesn’t “have anger towards Muslims. But it’s too close, it’s too painful, it’s too soon. I’m still trying to find remains of my son.” Actually, the issue of disrespect is not remotely associated to religious freedom according the opponents of the interfaith center.
PBS correspondent Bob Faw shares insight to the topic with a historical briefing. He states that “forty years after World War II, Holocaust survivors objected to a Carmelite convent proposed near Auschwitz and Pope John Paul intervened and moved the building elsewhere. That kind of compassion…should prevail at Ground Zero.” Likewise, a professor at Fordham University law school, and fellow opponent, discusses his reasoning for contesting to the building. He simply expresses that:
This isn’t about bigotry. This isn’t about religious persecution. This really is about sensitivity and a profound sense of loss. There’s something that just doesn’t feel right about the haste, the speed, the urgency with which their mosque must be there. I don’t see the tolerance in that. It seems to me the tolerance there is only one-way tolerance: religious liberty and freedom at all costs (PBS)
To these opponents, it is not Islamophobia, it’s the sheer question of respect and tolerance for those who died, and the too controversial construction of a 13-story Islamic center.
Ironically, there are several Muslims who are opposed to the building of this interfaith center as well. Although their religious freedom is in question, Muslims can agree that the Islamic religion is based around the notion of peace. The controversy surrounding this proposed mosque is cultivating less peace and more animosity towards the Muslim community, which poses as a constraint against the building of the Islamic center. In a New York Times article, “Islamic Center Exposes Mixed Feelings Locally,” many lower-Manhattan residents, Muslim or not, show signs of concern. According to the article, “a few said they wished the project had never been proposed in the first place.” The immense tension surrounding the construction has transferred into tension within the community.
Director of the Jamaica Muslim Center in Queens, Imam Shamsi Ali, admits that he is “more worried about the larger issue than about whether this project succeeds or not.” The “larger issue” is the return of Islamophobia, which was so palpable nine years ago subsequent to the 9/11 attacks. The article states that there has been signs of the Islamophobia, such as “more anti-Muslim graffiti in the subway,” interrogating questions regarding the “mosque on top of Ground Zero,” and the “worry that their children will be attacked in the streets because of all this drumbeat of anger” (NYTimes.com). The actual construction of the 13-story interfaith center is not the matter at hand for these American-Muslims. They are more concerned, and rightfully so, with the feedback from anti-Muslim citizens and the constraint of safety for their community. To pacify the opposition, and to soothe the Muslim’s uneasiness, many opponents suggest that if the Islamic center had been moved several blocks away from the consecrated site, there would be no problem.
It is evident that there is an unsettled debate regarding the proposed Islamic center near Ground Zero. The question of freedom and the issue of disrespect are very valid reasons associated with the appropriateness of the building. Each audience – a Muslim, a New Yorker, a grieving 9/11 patron, an American citizen – all have limitations as to why or why not the Islamic interfaith center should be built. Because the issue is inundated with emotional attitudes, it is difficult to make a “right” decision regarding the construction of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf’s Islamic center in lower-Manhattan.
"A Look inside NYC Islamic Center Imam's Mosques.” CNN Belief
Blog - CNN.com Blogs. CNN Belief Blog - CNN.com Blogs. Ed. Dan Gilgoff. 27
Sept. 2010. Web. 28 Sept. 2010.<http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2010/09/27/a-lookinside-nyc-islamic-center-imam’s-congregation-and-his-mosques/>.
"Imam: NYC Islamic Center 'is the Right Thing to Do' – CNN Belief Blog - CNN.com Blogs." CNN Belief Blog - CNN.com Blogs. Ed. Soledad O'Brien. Turner Broadcasting Systems INC, 7 Sept. 2010. Web. 05 Nov. 2010. <http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2010/09/07/faith-leaders-denounce-anti-muslim-sentiment-2/>.
"Remarks by the President at Iftar Dinner." The White House. Ed. Office of the Press Secretary. 1 Sept. 2010. Web. 05 Nov. 2010. <http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/remarks-president-iftar-dinner>.
"September 3, 2010 ~ Islamic Center Controversy | Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly." PBS: Public Broadcasting Service. Ed. Bob Faw. Educational Broadcasting Corporation, 3 Sept. 2010. Web. 05 Nov. 2010.
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