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The Cordoba House Debate: "It's Like A Dog Chasing Its Tail"

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A lot has been written and will be written about the controversy* surrounding the proposed construction of the Cordoba House, two blocks from the World Trade Center site in Lower Manhattan. The Cordoba House, an Islamic cultural center, also happens to include a space for prayer commonly known as a mosque. It is but one of several programs of the Cordoba Initiative, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving and cultivating "multi-cultural and multi-faith understanding across minds and borders."

Much of the discourse in opposition to the proposed Cordoba House has proven to be vacuous and fear driven. I have been so frustrated that it has been difficult for me to articulate my thoughts on the matter. To gain some perspective on the issue, I contacted a good friend, Kate, a proud New Yorker who was in Manhattan on September 11th. Kate always has a well reasoned, informed, and most importantly, sincere take on things. Here is what she said:

Okay, now for the mosque debate as it has been dubbed- never mind that this is intended to also be a place where Muslims and other Americans can find common ground. I guess I can sum it up like this: I am a Jew, my people have been through the worst of humanity, time and time again because of that fact. For me to deny anyone the right to practice their religion in a peaceful way goes against everything my people stand for. All Muslims are not terrorists, just like all Christians are not religious fanatics, and all Jews are not zealots. I have met many Muslim people who embraced me with open arms even though our people have faced a strained relationship over the years. I respect their dedication to faith and family.

Aren't we all being just a tab bit hypocritical? Haven't we fought for religious freedom throughout history? Isn't that why we sought out the new land? Wasn't that our foundation as a country? And isn't the ability to set up shop (i.e. a place of worship) wherever and whenever a religious group wants, aligned with our freedom of religion? I get confused when Americans want to uphold some of our constitutional rights like owning firearms, but not others. And I thought most Americans appreciate the 1st Amendment, but perhaps not the freedom of religion part unless it's Christianity. It's like a dog chasing its tail... eventually, it will bite itself. It's frustrating, and politicians spinning this issue to meet their own agenda is reprehensible.

Now let's look at the other side of the argument...no, not Newt or Sarah's perspective but the families of 911 victims. I cannot begin to act like I know what it felt like to lose a loved one in those attacks but I saw so much pain in every face I passed on the street and in those haunting fliers posted around the city of loved ones still missing in the wreckage. I recognize that there is still sadness and anger lingering in New York City and around the country but we cannot allow that to be misdirected. There are horrible, destructive, and evil people in this world and they have many faces but we cannot generalize an entire group of people based on the actions of some.

Well said, Kate.

The reasons given in opposition to the construction of the Cordoba House have been based on what Kate correctly refers to as, "generalizations" and "misdirected anger." These arguments have been largely the products of emotion rather than reason. What is most troubling is that for many, opposition to the Cordoba House is the unfortunate result of not only fear, but also prejudice towards Muslims. Republicans as well as Democrats have been guilty of perpetuating these sentiments.

Islamophobia, ignorance, and fear mongering have formed an axis of irrationality, the purveyors of which - exemplified by Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich - exploit for political gain. Others like Karen Hughes, Gov. David Patterson (D-NY), Howard Dean, and Abe Foxman apply an embarrassingly thin veneer of tolerance to their rhetoric while expressing opposition to the Cordoba House's construction at 51 Park Place.

In addition to hurting our security, as elucidated by James Lamond, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg eloquently stated, to deny the construction of the Cordoba House not only contravenes America's founding principles, but also sends the wrong message to a part of the World with which America shares so much and upon which our continued prosperity depends. Moreover, Spencer Ackerman discusses how this controversy is already being used to reinforce the extremist narrative that America does not welcome Muslims, despite our leaders' words to the contrary.

I sincerely hope that Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, Chairman of the Cordoba Initiative remains committed to the Cordoba House's construction at its currently proposed location. I also hope that the rest of the Nation will think as critically and introspectively as Kate, and that both reason and cool heads prevail.

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