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How “Hollowed” is Ground Zero Neighborhood?

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Thursday, August 19th, 2010

New York City, New York



The political pyromaniacs are on the loose in the nation’s capitol, with both parties pandering to their respective bases.  Neither democrats nor republicans could be accused of being “bathed in courage” on a litany of important national issues. Political demography is the sound bite of the day as shrill election rhetoric continues to mount.

Being a republican candidate this election season certainly is exhausting. These defenders of our American way of life are consumed by enemies galore, around the clock. As if Gays, socialists, Muslims, Arabs, and illegal immigrants were not enough, now they have to attend to the fear mongering over the Ground Zero mosque.

Except the proposed mosque and community center is not at ground Zero ““ it’s several blocks away and a few hundred feet from an existing mosque.  Yes, there will be a place of worship, but also a swimming pool, basketball court, bookstore, fitness center, performing arts center, and a food court.  Heaven help us, now our way of life is to be threatened by lamb kabobs and hummus!

There was no real concern expressed over the proposed Islamic cultural center when it was first proposed back in December of 2009.  The New York Times published a story at that time quoting the project’s developer.  “We want to push back against the extremists,” said Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf. Jewish leaders and a number of city officials, including the mayor’s office, said they supported the idea, as did the mother of a man killed on 9/11. An FBI spokesman said the Imam, (the leader of the mosque), worked for the bureau for years.

According to Salon Magazine, shortly after the Times story ran, conservative media personality Laura Ingraham interviewed “Abdul Rauf’s wife, Daisy Khan, while guest-hosting “The O’Reilly Factor” on Fox. In hindsight, the segment is remarkable for its cordiality. ‘I can’t find many people who really have a problem with it,’ Ingraham says of the mosque project, adding at the end of the interview, ‘I like what you’re trying to do.”‘” This is the same Laura Ingraham who presently has a book listed as number two on the New York Times best sellers list called, “The Obama Diaries,“ a blistering attack on the current administration.

Muslims have been praying inside the Pentagon since Sept. 11, but those opposing the Ground Zero mosque have been strangely silent.  That’s right. Muslims have infiltrated the Pentagon for their nefarious, prayerful purposes ““ daring to practice their religion inside the building where 184 people died on Sept. 11, 2001. They haven’t even had the sensitivity to move two blocks, let alone a mile, away from that sacred site.

As reported in the Washington Times,  “Navy imam Chaplain Abuhena M. Saifulislam lifted his voice to God as he called to prayer more than 100 Department of Defense employees at a celebration of Ramadan at the Pentagon. God is most great, sang the lieutenant commander and Islamic leader, in Arabic, as iftar “” the end of the daily fast ““ began. Uniformed military personnel, civilians and family members faced Mecca and knelt on adorned prayer rugs chanting their prayers in quiet invocation to Allah.

“In a ceremony following 9/11, Army Chaplain Abdul-Rasheed Muhammad, the first Muslim chaplain to serve in the military, read a verse from the Koran at the memorial service at the Pentagon on a Thursday, exactly one month after the attack. Muhammad, who became a chaplain eight years ago and works at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, ministered to rescuers in front of the smoldering Pentagon after the attack.”

So Muslims can pray at the Pentagon, but not several blocks away from Ground Zero?  Maybe it’s because most Americans, including virtually all of our politicians, see the Islamic world as a single confusing and troubling monolith. Paraphrasing a recent New York Times article by William Dalyrmple, in the Christian world, we have no problem making distinctions.  Just because someone is an Irish catholic living in New Orleans doesn’t mean he’s sympathetic to Irish Republican Army terrorists. “Southern Baptists do not condone the murderers of abortion doctors.”

But in America, we remain blind to the divisions and distinctions within Islam. There are 1.57 billion adherents to the Muslim faith around the globe, making up 23% of the world population. In the U.S., there are estimates of some 5 million Muslims. Yet American education rarely mentions this vast unknown population that many say is the fastest growing religion in the world as well as in the U.S. Without any basic knowledge, how can we determine friend or foe?

As far as the Ground Zero mosque, our politicians are falling all over themselves postulating that there should be no Muslim presence anywhere near this hallowed ground. In Louisiana’s hotly contested U.S. Senate race, Incumbent David Vitter is demanding that the President reverse his support for building the mosque, while his opponent, Democrat Charlie Melancon, says that such a building “near Ground Zero isn’t appropriate.” Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich one ups both of them by declaring that building the mosque would be like putting a Nazi sign by a holocaust museum.

On one hand, there is a good audience for pandering as some two thirds of Americans are against the mosque. But we all have to deal with trifles like the 1st and 14th amendments. Legally, there is little wiggle room for the opposition.  But does building such a center make good sense?  Probably not.  There is a difference between what any organization legally could do as compared to what they should do.

On the other, far from engendering good will and better understanding, Abdul Rauf and his fellow mosque supporters have started a firestorm that has rekindled animosity and distrust.  While there may not be a logical foundation for such vehemence — justified or not, it exists. To be tolerated, both sides, including mosque supporters must be sensitive to the wounds of  9/11 that have yet to heal.

In the current election season, one would think that the campaigns would focus on the economy, healthcare, Iraq, Afghanistan and who is best qualified to lead us. Instead, those who hope to lead are spending too much time exploiting the anger, self-righteous indignation and arrogance concerning the mosque placement at the expense of other very pressing issues.

British economist Josiah Stamp wrote:  “It is easy to dodge our responsibilities, but we cannot dodge the consequences of dodging our responsibilities.”

Too many elected officials are dodging the major issues facing this country today.  Unfortunately, it is the rest of us who will suffer the consequences.

Peace and Justice.

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers and websites throughout the South.  You can read all is past columns and see continuing updates at www.jimbrownla.com. You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownla.com. The show is televised at http://www.justin.tv/jimbrownusa.

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