Guest column: What would founders do about New York mosque?

Aug 19

Guest column: What would founders do about New York mosque?
Parvez Ahmed

Florida Times Union, Aug 18, 2010.

The supporters of the mosque near Ground Zero, called the Park51 project, have argued that First Amendment gives American Muslims the right to build a house of worship wherever they wish so long as the project complies with local ordinances.

Some proponents also assert that building of a mosque near Ground Zero is a statement that America is not turning its back on the fundamental value of freedom of religion despite religious fanatics abusing a religion to perpetrate a crime against humanity.

The detractors of the Park51 project principally base their opposition on erroneous links between the terrorism being committed in the name of Islam by a handful of fanatics and the faith of Islam as peacefully practiced by the vast majority of Muslims.

Opponents have drawn encouragement from various polls that show nearly 7 in 10 Americans oppose the project. Opposition of some, but not all, victim families of Sept. 11, 2001, have also been cited as a reason.

When President Barack Obama weighed in on the controversy by affirming the right of the Park51 planners to build their mosque on a site of their choice, the decibel level from the partisan opposition went up a notch.

However, in this debate, the opponents have obfuscated several pertinent facts:

- How many Americans know that Muslims were among the victims of Sept. 11, 2001?

- Or a mosque already exists near Ground Zero?

- Or American Muslims have unequivocally condemned Sept. 11, 2001?

- Or al-Qaida has killed and targeted more Muslims than people of any other faith?

Either Muslims have the right to practice their religion or they do not. Raising questions about the “appropriateness” of the project or its “wisdom” are indirect ways to infringe on the freedom of religion.

Is the First Amendment sacrosanct or is it subject to a popularity contest? Our Founding Fathers anticipated this conundrum and laid out clear markers that we should use to guide our views.

George Washington, in a letter to the Jews of Rhode Island, affirmed the essential nature of America, “a government which to bigotry gives no sanction, to persecution no assistance – but generously affording to all liberty of conscience, and immunities of citizenship.”

In 1784, Washington sought to hire craftsman for Mount Vernon and said: If they are good workmen, they may be from Asia, Africa or Europe. They may be Muslims, Jews, or Christian of any sect – or they may be atheists.

Ben Franklin wrote in his autobiography, “so that even if the Mufti of Constantinople were to send a missionary to preach Mohammedanism to us, he would find a pulpit at his service.”

Thomas Jefferson, who owned and read the Quran, in 1816 wrote, “The most sacred of the duties of a government [is] to do equal and impartial justice to all its citizens.”

Park51 has a right to pursue the building of this mosque. Its proximity to Ground Zero does not provide any rational reason to pull back.

However, given that we live in an imperfect world where the public is prone to episodic bursts of cognitive dissonance, it is better for Park51 to seriously explore an alternative location so long as the new location can effectively serve its constituents.

They should do this to honor the peace- over-pride principle so well illustrated by Prophet Muhammad during the signing of the Treaty of Hudaybiyah.

An imperfect peace is preferable to a righteous conflict.

If Park51 were to relocate the project, will the opponents then turn their energy to support the other mosque projects around the country that are facing bigoted opposition?

Will opponents repudiate the church in Florida that is planning to burn the Quran on the 2010 anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001?

Will Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich educate their supporters on the reality of the American Muslim community, which is described in the Pew 2007 Survey as being, “decidedly American in their outlook, values and attitudes?”

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