By Rev./CH. (Ret.) Kent Svendsen
I was angry when I first heard of the plans to build a mosque near the site of the World Trade Center site. That rather surprised me since I have actively pursued friendships within the Muslim community. I decided that the response was not motivated by bigotry and prejudice but by a reopening of old wounds. And while there certainly is and always will be bigotry and prejudice in the world, I don’t believe that it is the motivating factor behind the majority of those who oppose the building of the mosque. I say this because most people remember the day of the attack, and it still affects them. I remembered a relative of mine talking about running to get their children from a nearby school and seeing bodies falling from the tower onto the ground. I realize that it was those old wounds that were opened up when the idea of a mosque near the site was presented.
But I also realized that my judgment had been clouded concerning this issue. So I contacted friends in the Muslim community. After all, you can’t show love for your Muslim friends and still harbor anger against Islam as a whole. Here was one of their responses:
“My personal view is that legally the Muslims have every right to build a mosque at the privately-owned site. The American Constitution and our traditional values uphold that right, but morally the Muslims (in that faith community) would appear callous if they do not care about the feelings of their neighbors.
“Having said that, I submit that the process to educate common Americans about Islam should not stop so that the Americans do not think that a mosque is an abode of terror. It is not.”
My conclusion: If we don’t allow them to build the mosque, we will look just as callous as they will look if they do. It will also raise accusations that our nation is bigoted and prejudiced against the Muslim world.
The Muslim group says the reason they want to build the mosque is so it can be a place of dialogue and understanding between faith groups. Unfortunately, by building the mosque, they will erect roadblocks to those same goals. And while it might be cheered by a minority on the far left, for the majority it will become a thorn in their side.
So what is the answer? One way would be for the leaders of the group to acknowledge how callous and insensitive it would be to build at that site right now. Then choose a different site and invite all to come to the new mosque and be in interfaith dialogue. Perhaps a more radical idea would be to invite St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church (the church that was destroyed in the attack) to join them in building a joint worship center in which both Muslims and Christians worship in the same building.
The Rev. Kent Svendsen is an ordained United Methodist minister and a retired Army Reserve chaplain. His credentials include four years as an adviser and four years as a full Board of Visitors member for the Western Hemisphere Of Security Cooperation.
From the Sept. 8-14, 2010 issue