A new friend and reader of my blog, The Buddha Diaries, challenged me -- whether consciously or not--to offer my own thoughts on the brouhaha around that "mosque" planned for a location two blocks for the site of the World Trade Center. My friend forwarded me a paragraph written by a friend of his, in which the writer expressed the view that Mayor Bloomberg and other supporters were being naive in believing that their support would send out a message of tolerance to the Muslim world. "The Muslims," he wrote, "have an agenda... They will get the message from their leaders that Americans are weak, capitulate and the Muslim message of eventual conquest will be the mosque, a monument to their victory blocks from the Twin Towers. Sharia law will be the next thing to creep in."
I have to say that I disagree completely with this view. My own is shaped by my admittedly limited knowledge, based on what I have read and heard in the media, but it starts out from the belief that this whole thing started out as a non-issue. The plan was brought to public attention months ago, without the slightest negative response from anyone. It was a plan -- again, as I understand it -- not for a mosque, but for an Islamic cultural center; it has since been dubbed a "mosque" for mainly rhetorical purposes. It became an issue only once it was recognized for its political potential -- when those who stood to gain politically from its exploitation seized upon it and inflated it beyond all reason. That it is now seen as a part of an international Muslim agenda for world domination is, to my mind, wildly paranoiac.
I understand how the feelings of those whose lives were affected by the 9/11 attacks could be aroused by this, but I believe they have been manipulated and inflamed by others, more cynical than themselves. A two-block walk in densely-populated, densely-built New York can be made to sound like close proximity, but in reality it is a substantial distance. The cultural shifts are sudden and dramatic. As even Jon Stewart's The Daily Show suggested, with its own brand of humor, the proposed conversion of a former Burlington coat factory could hardly be considered an incursion into sacred ground; nor, as The Daily Show effectively documented, are the businesses in the adjacent area exactly monuments to hallowed territory.
No, I myself believe that it's not a Muslim but a home-grown, cynical political agenda at work here. The opposition to the construction of Islamic centers -- be they cultural or religious -- is by no means restricted to the area around Ground Zero, it's nation-wide. And there is no question in my mind that its origin is in religion based prejudices and fears. I was writing only recently about those "Christians" whose ignorance has now succeeded in blocking medical research that would bring hope to thousands upon thousands suffering from disease or physical debility. Today's New York Times National section headlines news about a pastor in Florida who "who plans to memorialize the Sept. 11 attacks with a bonfire of Korans." This is the loamy, fertile ground in which this issue has taken root and sprouted like an ugly weed. It is no longer just about an Islamic cultural center near the site of the World Trade Center. It has exploded in our faces into a debate about who we are as a people.
Is is a part of some "Christian agenda"? No. It has nothing to do with Christianity. It has everything to do with politics, with the exploitation of ignorance, prejudice and fear in order to further a political goal. My friend's friend writes that Muslims throughout the world "will get the message from their leaders that Americans are weak." My fear is that not only Muslims but other right-thinking people throughout the world will get a different message: that Americans have taken leave of their senses, that they have abandoned their fine principles to ill-thought, knee-jerk reaction to political rhetoric, manipulation and transparent lies. My fear is that, if there are victors in this, it will be those who sought to destroy the best about this country on that dreadful September 11, 2001, not those who seek to preserve and protect its ideals from the assaults within.