You know how it is, when you are searching around for days looking for something to blog about, and then a prominent news agency goes and drops something right in your lap. Such as this story from the Beeb.
It’s really quite an interesting conundrum. On the one hand we must agree that all religions have the right to practise and worship freely. But on the other, we must also respect the sensitivities of certain locations based on what has happened before. My own personal view is that the mosque should not be built, and I’ll explain why.
Yes, the proposed site is two blocks from Ground Zero. Yes, I’m in favour of advocating religious freedom. Yes, logically, these things should add up to me accepting the plans for the mosque, and, like Obama, preaching the necessity of religious tolerance. However, this case is different. This case is American, and involves the religion many still associate with the cause of the September 11th attack. Of course, this association is born out of naivity and foolishness (suddenly I remember the West Wing’s analogy – Al Qaeda is to Islam as the KKK is to Christianity), but nonetheless it is still prevalent. The disaster happened eight years ago. The wounds, I feel, are still raw, and the passion still runs high. The consequences of the attack are still being felt in Afghanistan and Iraq. Blood is still being spilt due to the attack on America. The situation, despite promises from politicians shows no sign of ending any time soon. If we add all this together we have a potentially hostile situation developing in New York, at a site which, in my opinion should be used as some form of war memorial.
And herein lies my biggest concern about the building of a mosque two blocks from Ground Zero. The users of the building will not be safe. The plans are already encountering difficulties and objections from the people who can object to it, politicians and press alike. Can you really imagine what it will be like in a few years time when the building is actually opened? Can you imagine the numbers of people who will be abusive towards the builders as they are erecting the mosque into the sky? Can you imagine the continued police presence around the site most of the time just to ensure that the project gets completed? I can, and whilst I acknowledge that there may be a great deal of speculation in what I’m imagining, I still maintain that the results will be problematic. The building is going to bring out the elements of American society which are conveniently swept under the rug. They are going to be vociferous, angry, and most likely, violent. The Muslims who come to use this mosque are going to be subjected to a barrage of abuse because of where the mosque is situated, and the connotations of the site. They will be users of the highest profile mosque in the world, and they will be acutely aware of this.
There is a comparison to be made, albeit a local one. The plans for a new mosque in Dudley have been met with a chorus of widespread disapproval, which culminated in a violent protest march earlier on in the year. This has raised tensions in Dudley, and is likely to continue to do so. I fear that this could be repeated in America, but on a larger scale, and with many more problems.
The simple solution, as I see it, is not to create such a problem in the first place. I’d suggest a relocation of the mosque to somewhere less controversial. I’d suggest not doing anything to antagonise a potentially hostile situation. I’d suggest leaving the Ground Zero site free of religious connotations. There is a bigger issue though, that of education and religious intolerance. The solution to this problem will take many more years to find I fear.