Wednesday, September 1, 2010

"Ground Zero Mosque"

There been quite a debate going on over the proposed construction of an Islamic Center two blocks from Ground Zero. Since this is America, relatively few people are willing to come right out and say that Congress should legally stop the building from happening. Instead, they say that the project's planners should be discouraged from placing a center there. It's a matter of sensitivity, most critics explain. A Muslim religious presence so close to the attacks would be hurtful to the families of the victims.

The families of the victims. Here's a question: does their pain put their feelings beyond question?

I think about Balbir Singh Sodhi. It really hurt Frank Roque's feelings that even after 9/11, this bearded, turbaned man could be allowed to run a gas station in the middle of the neighborhood. The presence of Balbir at the Chevron station and a Lebanese-American clerk at the Mobil one, of a family of Afghan immigrants in the very apartment Frank used to live in, that must have torn him up inside. And hadn't we all been attacked? Wasn't Frank, too, a sort of victim? Absolutely, Balbir had a right to work in his Arizona gas station--but out of sensitivity for Americans like Frank, a Sikh like Balbir (who looked awfully Muslim) probably should have kept a low profile, or else gone back to Mexico, or Iraq, or wherever it was he came from, right?

After Frank killed Balbir, people from their Mesa neighborhood, people whose children Balbir used to give free pieces of candy to while their parents paid for gas, questioned the assumption that the presence of bearded men with turbans should offend us. They mourned with Balbir's family--a family who should also be counted among the victims of 9/11, their husband/brother/father/uncle murdered by an American terrorist who called himself a patriot. People in that part of Mesa learned the hard way that pain and prejudice are a dangerous combination, and need to be fought with constant vigilance.

A sign put up outside Sodhi's gas station

This isn't the first time America has heard these stories, though. Newt Gingrich argued against the planned center by saying, among other things, that "we would never accept the Japanese putting up a site next to Pearl Harbor." It's interesting that he uses "Japanese" rather than "Japanese-Americans," which would be the more apt comparison, since the Muslims planning this center are based in New York and consider America their home. What Mr. Gingrich has perhaps forgotten is that we're more than a little embarrassed today that during World War Two, Japanese-Americans were rounded up and sent to internment camps by people who couldn't distinguish between neighbors and enemies, who felt the pain of attack justified bending standard protections on civil rights, openness, and trust.

Let's stand together as Americans now. Let's stand with Orrin Hatch, who followed up the question of whether the project is insensitive to those who lost loved ones by saying "We know that there were Muslims killed on 9/11, too." Let's tell the Sarah Palins, Newt Gingriches, and others who turned this building project into a national issue that we appreciate their concern, but we want to be led by people who can move beyond raw emotion into long-term wisdom.

And above all, let's not allow an atmosphere to develop in which pain and prejudice lead to anti-Muslim violence, and create still more victims in the long shadow of 9/11.


  1. well written James. Thank you.

  2. Wow. Well said. I'm sending this post to some of the Franks in my life.

  3. I hope that every American, regardless of where he lives, will stop and examine his conscience about this and other related incidents. This Nation was founded by men of many nations and backgrounds. It was founded on the principle that all men are created equal, and that the rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened. All of us ought to have the right to be treated as he would wish to be treated, as one would wish his children to be treated, but this is not the case.

    I know those opposing the NY Community Center continue to say that that the majority supports them, but as history has taught us the majority is not always right. Would women or non-whites have the vote if we listen to the majority of the day, would the non-whites have equal rights (and equal access to churches, housing, restaurants, hotels, retail stores, schools, colleges and yes water fountains) if we listen to the majority of the day? We all know the answer, a resounding, NO!

    Today we are committed to a worldwide struggle to promote and protect the rights of all who wish to be free. In a time of domestic crisis men of good will and generosity should be able to unite regardless of party or politics and do what is right, not what is just popular with the majority. Some men comprehend discrimination by never have experiencing it in their lives, but the majority will only understand after it happens to them.

  4. Extremely well written article, James. I have one question to ask all who will read this. When did sensitivity become more important than human rights? When did the possibility that someone might choose to be offended supercede the right to religious freedom? When did freedom of religion become less important than the right to be offended or the right to get your feelings hurt? I could go on all day about how stupid it is to associate the 9/11 disaster with Muslims in general. Thank you for posting Senator Hatch's response. I'm glad to know at least a few politicians are not trying to feed the ever growing idea that your feelings are the only important thing and others should be sensitive to them at all times.

  5. There is too much emphasis placed on "being offended" now. These days, anyone is allowed to be "offended" by any given thing they see or hear, and there must always be repercussions of some sort. Personally, I think everyone needs to toughen up. This nation is home to all kinds of people with different beliefs and ideals. If someone can't function in a nation practically built on differences, I suggest they take their ridiculous sensitivity elsewhere.

  6. In my experience, being offended has less to do with oversensitivity and more to do with pride. Can you offend someone who is eager to learn and loves being corrected? Maybe, but it's a lot easier to offend someone who already knows it all and loves being correct.

  7. Excellent post. This has changed my own thoughts regarding the placement of this community center.


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