August 16, 2010

The Mosque

I rarely tell my parents this, but I am often very thankful for my upbringing. Do all people feel they were "raised right?" I don't know, but I am frequently thankful for the example of trusted family members, and for the experiences my parents gave to my sister and myself. My memory is full of formative experiences.

In one such memory is of a trip to Morocco with my sister, parents and aunt and uncle. I remember wandering around looking at the beautiful tile work near some sort of mosque. At the time I only barely understood what a mosque was; I was 6 or 7 years old. But I did know that the people who built the mosque were not the same religion as we were. Despite that, my mother's fascination with everything we saw helped to instill in me an appreciation for the beauty of inspired human accomplishments, no matter what inspired them. I credit that experience with strengthening self-awareness of subjective judgment. But, really, I thank my parents for allowing me to see more things by looking past certain obstacles that society installs in our brains.

This idea of an Islamic community center within blocks of the site known as "Ground Zero" has caused many to balk, to comment on the craziness of the modern world, to cry out with offense, and to claim insult.

Were the 9/11 attacks carried out by an entire religion? I think that if we begin to attribute the motives of some who call themselves religious to all who share their name, we have a lot of tiring work to do condemning people.

That said, people clearly are offended, insulted and hurt. Some of these people are folks I care about. Some ascribe nefarious motives to the builders of the center; they lament that some will interpret its existence as a sort of triumph. Those feelings are real. But what, in the end, is the consequence of them? That is a decision we must make between our desire to save our feelings and our desire to stand by American principles. Is it important to deprive some extremists a thing they will see as a symbol (when extremists snap their fingers, do we jump?) or is it important to show the majority of Muslim Americans that we really are a nation of laws and principles?

We do not have a right not to be offended or hurt. This is fortunate, even though we and our friends will be unhappy at times because of it. It's fortunate because the principles at stake are much more important than the whim of personal feelings, even if those feelings are strong and shared by many. An ability to see past feelings to principles makes us better than extremists and shows that we believe in our principles; we don't just spout them meaninglessly.

Some people risk their very lives and even die for these American principles. Others of us make a different sort of sacrifice when we bear the brunt of an offense in the name of a difficult to defend principle. Both are noble.

Posted by James at August 16, 2010 1:14 AM
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My sister and I recently had a conversation about being "raised right" because she was shocked and extremely upset by a "Proud to Be WHITE!!" email that one of our parents had forwarded to her a few weeks ago. (They stopped sending these things to me a while back after I bit my father's head off.)

My first "raised right" crisis came some years ago when most of my relatives, including my parents, criticized me for leaving a note on the windshield of a parked car that I had damaged during a large family outing. (Normally I have no difficulty avoiding stationary objects, but it's a long story.) My relatives all thought that I was stupid and actually wrong to take the responsibility. (The whole thing was much more obnoxious than it sounds, but like I said, LONG story.)

Fortunately, however, we had many other influences - teachers, friends, neighbors, even fictional characters - who motivated or showed or taught us to become better people. (And plenty more who showed us what NOT to do!)

Posted by: Julie at August 16, 2010 12:55 PM

No parent makes good decisions 100% of the time. I always hoped I would be Atticus Finch. I am no Atticus Finch, sadly.

I can tell, from my children's reactions, that they bring outside influences to the family, and it is often for the better. While we often think of children as the recipients of our instruction in life, their role is much more interactive than that.

Posted by: James at August 16, 2010 1:17 PM

Well done, James - this issue is driving me a bit crazy because:

1. Among the "four freedoms" celebrated by Rockwell's famous WWII paintings was the freedom of religion. That should be enough of a reason for this to be a non-issue.

2. Because at least one Republican candidate arguing this issue has used as an argument that we would not be allowed to build a Christian church near a holy site in Saudi Arabia. So he wants us to be as bigoted as the Saudi's? When you lower yourself to the standards of your enemy, you are no better than them.

3. Because we so easily forget that more than 50 innocent Muslim Americans died in the attacks of 9/11. Some died in the Twin Towers, at least one was a first responder for the NYPD, and at least a couple were innocent passengers on one of the jets. Their families lost loved ones and at the same time suffered the intolerance of neighbors who instead of giving them sympathy for their loss, suspected them simply because of their faith.

3. The proposed mosque is frequently spoken of as being ont he site - it is two blocks away. Would 3 blocks be OK? A mile? This just gets silly.

4. When we oppose this mosque we are giving support to the terrorists who are trying to convince other Muslims that we are a nation at war with the entire Muslim world. That is why it was important for President Obama to speak out against this kind of intolerance, just as President Bush did and as Mayor Bloomburg did.

Finally, this is just another part of our insanely self-destructiove reaction to 9/11 that has turned this terrible attack into a victory for the terrorists. In the name of stopping terrorists we have invaded two nations, lost thousands of American soldiers who have been killed or wounded, run up an incredible debt that is now crippling us, changed our whole approach to airline travel, and proved that all the might of the greatest military power on Earth can not win wars against two nations with virtually no modern military weapons - which certainly has to give comfort to our real enemies.

OH - and killed thousands of innocent Muslims. We can get ourselves all worked up because some Muslims want to build a Mosque near the 9/11 site, but we can't understand why people in Iraq and Afghanistan - nearly all of whom had absolutely nothing to do with the attacks of 9/11 - we can't understand why they hate us so? We think the Muslim community should be more sensitive when we visited "shock and awe" on thousands of innocent men, women and children in Iraq? They are supposed to be more sensitive? it amazes me that more of them don't hate us even more. We are certainly the best recruiting tool the Muslim terrorists have.

Inall of this we have forgotten that the objective of a terrorist is to scare us into doing things that cause more damage to ourselves than the terrorists could possibly cause - and through our fear and hysteria we have given them the success they sought beyond their wildest dreams.

Now, having sacrificed lives, money, and honor - we are being urged to sacrifice one of our most fundamental freedoms and greatest virtues as a country - the freedom of people to believe, or not believe - as they choose.

Posted by: Greg Stone at August 17, 2010 1:00 PM

Perhaps it's not really funny, but someone joked that it's only fair to build a mosque there, since we've been trying to build a ground zero near Iraqi mosques since 2003.

Pure and simple, this is political scaremongering by a minority party who is trying to exploit a national tragedy to cast doubt on the wisdom of supporting the freedoms that they otherwise claim to love.

Rand Paul simultaneously supports an establishment's right to discriminate based on race AND criticizes the building of this mosque on privately owned property.

There's a word for that and it's not conservatism, nor is it libertarianism.

Posted by: James at August 17, 2010 1:57 PM


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