What’s the Problem

Somebody explain to me what the problem is? In a neighborhood that has been settled by immigrants from the Middle East since the 1870s, locals are trying to build a new mosque. A private group owns the land and this is what they want to do. What’s the problem? Doesn’t the First Amendment to our Constitution guarantee the rights of believers to worship free of government interference? This seems pretty basic and it’s the First Amendment, not the Eleventh or the Twenty-First.

I know the site is two blocks from Ground Zero. It is also in lower Manhattan, an area that is still sometimes called Little Syria. From the World Trade Center site to the Brooklyn Bridge it is less than a mile so it is hard to be far away from Ground Zero and still be on the island. This is where Muslims live in Manhattan and where they lived before the World Trade Center was built. There are two other mosques in the area that are over crowded. How do you fix that? Build another mosque.

And who will be the builders? The Cordoba Institute, a group whose mission is “reinforcing similarities and addressing differences” led by a man who is Sufi. “Sufism might be compared to Christian monasticism, in that both emphasize a quiet, simple life focused on obeying and experiencing God. Opinions of Sufis differ within the Muslim community.” The board is made up of Jews, Christians and Muslims. This is not al Qaeda, this is the longed for moderate group that condemned the 9/11 attacks. And it’s not just a mosque they plan on building. The plans show a community center called Cordoba House, which will contain a mosque, but also a 500-seat performing arts venue, a swimming pool and a basketball court. These facilities will be open to all New Yorkers.

So let’s try this again – A group whose intent is to heal wounds and misunderstandings between the Muslim world and the Western world wants to build a community center that will contain a mosque in their own neighborhood in a country that touts as one of its founding principles that everyone is equal regardless of race, creed or national origin. What is the problem? Is it the loss of a “historical” Burlington Coat Factory outlet? Is it the much needed jobs in construction that the project will generate?

Let’s face it – it really is about the religion. Just as you shouldn’t judge all Christians by the actions of the Ku Klux Klan, you can’t judge all Muslims by the acts of al Qaeda, but this is what is happening. There is a bumper sticker that says “All I need to know about Muslims I learned on 9/11.” How about “All I need to know about Christianity I learned from the Inquisition?” I watched a man with a toddler in the backseat give the finger to a Muslim school playground while he drove by. The anger over 9/11 has not gone away. The frustration over two badly conceived wars is festering. My fear is that that energy will be focused to perverting our Constitution to make us feel better instead of doing the harder thing and upholding the wisdom of our founding documents. I find myself in strange agreement with Joe Scarborough this morning. What’s the problem?

Watch Joe Scarborough


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